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 brief observation got me thinking. I have expressed many times through my career that technology must be easy enough for a grandmother or grandfather to use it in order for it to be fully adopted into the business process. Ease of use is the most important key to adoption!
As I watched the grandmother use her iPhone, I pondered the question: have we finally arrived in terms of using technology? Has technology become pervasive enough and easy enough to use, that society has made it over this adoption hurdle?
Society’s Technology Adoption:
Society is making significant progress in this digital revolution:
  • 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 email box... the yellow pages have given way to web pages... classified ads have given way to Craig’s List.
  • Most people, even the technology laggards, are carrying around smartphones.
  • Computers have become much easier to use than just a few years ago. What once was “plug and pray” now truly has become “plug and play.” Many applications are web-based and easier to use.
  • Google is the first stop for research for many or most people in the industrialized world.
  • More than 2.38 billion persons use Facebook, nearly a third of the entire global population.
  • Smart speakers such as Alexa and other smart home devices 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.
Event Professionals’ Adoption:
The meetings industry has not been especially known for its early adoption of technology. However, things are changing rapidly.
Here is where we are now:
  • Online registration and event apps are commonplace meetings making meetings more efficient for planners, suppliers and attendees.
  • Mobile engagement applications for events (polling, surveys, social media links, second screen technology, gamification, etc.) are providing a richer experience for conference participants.
  • Online housing is common for meetings, especially for large, multi-property room blocks events.
  • Speaker management tools are common for large, multi-session events.
  • Exhibition management and show floor plan applications are widely used – especially for the larger tradeshow.
  • Web-based video and web conferencing tools have become easy to use, inexpensive and reliable adding virtual meetings as another tool in the meeting planner’s tool chest.
  • There are thousands of web-based software applications to help manage web sites, scheduling, banquet seating, event logistics, procurement, site selection, surveys/audience polling, travel and more. Increasingly these are being incorporated into the business process of running events.
  • Social media tools are widespread to connect with suppliers, attendees, exhibitor and other stakeholder to manage, market and improve events.
Where do meeting professionals need still need to go with technology adoption?
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 organizational inefficiencies it to look for the paper, and work out digital methods to manage these data. Paper (and flat files such as Word/Excel) are still central to many meeting planner processes: especially for event logistics and supplier procurement. Paper and Word docs are terrible ways of storing, using and sharing event logistics data! Alternatively, web-based processes for planning tasks can put everyone one the same page.
  • Eliminate nearly all paper at your events: Meetings and tradeshows have historically been awash with paper onsite as well (for programs, exhibit guides, exhibit brochures, course notes, and others). 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 logistics communication tool for events: Invented nearly 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 much richer and 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. However, it is imperative that these different data sources be combined and brought back into the attendee/customer database and marketing automation systems. The major tech companies with large portfolios of tech products are making progress on integration as well as newer, smaller cloud-based companies which are built at their core with code designed to be interoperable. This integration infrastructure is being built, but it will be up to the event tech companies to make the process back into an attendee record seamlessly easy. When vetting event tech products, a major question to ask them is how well they share data among other tech provers. Choose those companies that do this well.
The benefits of this technology revolution include more efficient and less expensive meetings with greater impact. As we approach a new decade where technology infrastructure has been built and technology is easy enough to use that your grandmother can do it, we need to take these final steps to fully digitize our business processes. 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. We’re not quite there in terms of full digital adoption, but we are making progress.

Corbin Ball, CMP, CSP, DES is a speaker and independent consultant focusing on meetings technology. Previously, Corbin ran international citywide technology meetings for 18 years. For the past 21 years, he has helped clients worldwide use technology to save time and improve productivity through his speaking, consulting and writing services. Corbin is a 2018 inductee to the EIC Hall of Leaders, the premier recognition program for the events industry. He can be contacted at his extensive web site Corbin Ball & Co. - Meetings Technology Headquarters (www.corbinball.com) and followed on Twitter.
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