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TECHSPEC: Have we jumped the useability hurdle?

Technology has jumped a key adoption hurdle, says Corbin Ball, but meeting planners still have a way to go before the revolution is complete…

I recently attended an open-air concert in the small city where I live. Before the music began, I noticed what appeared to be three generations of women sitting in front of me (a teenage daughter, mother and an elderly grandmother). I heard a phone ring and watched the grandmother reach into her purse for her iPhone. She adroitly answered the call and then, as an afterthought, used the phone to take a picture of her family members before turning off the ringer and putting it back into her purse.

This got me thinking. I have always said ease of use is the most important thing to get right before a technology can take off. Has technology now become so pervasive and easy to use, that society has made it over this hurdle?

Most people in business in the industrialized world have broadband internet access, a website and an email address. The mail box has given way to the inbox, yellow pages to web pages, classified advertising to Craig’s List. Most people, even the technology laggards, carry smartphones. Computers are much easier to use. What once was ‘plug and pray’ is now ‘plug and play’. Google has become a first-stop for research. More than 2.38 billion people use Facebook, almost a third of the world’s population. And all the while, smart speakers such as Alexa are working their way into widespread usage.

In general, the technology infrastructure (broadband, the web, computers, mobile-phones) has been built.  Applications have become easy enough that most people can use them and society is adopting quickly many of these new technologies.

And what about meeting and event professionals?

The meetings industry is not known for its early adoption of technology. However, things are changing rapidly. Online registration and event apps are now commonplace. Mobile engagement applications (polling, surveys, social media links, second screen technology, gamification, etc.) are providing a richer experience for delegates. Online accommodation booking is now standard for large meetings. There are online tools to manage everything from speakers to floor plans. Web-streaming events and video conferencing has entered the mainstream, while social media is being used far more effectively to connect stakeholders and market events.

Despite these advances, we still have a way to go. Here are some key steps that must be done for this technology revolution to be fully implemented.

  • Eliminate nearly all paper in your office: One of the quickest ways to identify organisational inefficiencies it to look for the paper, and work out digital alternatives. Word docs are actually a terrible way of storing, using and sharing event logistics data. Online processes can put everyone one the same page.
  • Eliminate nearly all paper at your events: Meetings and tradeshows have historically been awash with paper (programmess, guides, brochures, course notes, etc). Technology can provide more efficient ways of accessing and transporting these data, it will help reduce the environmental footprint as well.
  • Eliminate email as a primary communications tool for events: Invented almost 50 years ago, email is interruptive, non-threaded, and inefficient – especially for tracking the thousands of details surrounding events. Project management and collaboration tools can provide all documentation sequentially in the same place and are more efficient ways to sharing meeting data.
  • Embrace mobile technology: Innovation is alive and well for events. Newer tools, such as text bots, wearable beacon technology, voice bots, new augmented/virtual reality applications are just a few of the newer options that meeting hosts can consider to improve the event experience.
  • Work toward software integration and data analytics: Never before have there been so many ways to measure the attendee journey onsite (mobile event apps, social posts, wearable beacons, mobile surveys/polls, NFC badges/dongles and more). This collective data can be used to improve future events and, individually, the data can be used to personalize future communications with the attendee.

Digital Darwinism is alive and well and the ‘race’ for meetings and tradeshow business will often go to those who use technology to be nimble, reduce cost and provide superior customer service.