2010: The Meetings Technology Revolution – Are We There Yet???

I recently attended a concert in the small city where I live, Bellingham, WA. Before the music began, I noticed a teenage daughter, mother and grandmother sitting in front of me. I heard a phone ring and watched the 70+ year-old grandmother reach into her purse to 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 said many times over this course of my career that technology needs to be easy enough for your grandmother to use in order for it to be fully adopted into the business process.  Ease of use is THE key to adoption!

The question arose as I watched the grandmother user her iPhone, 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? Are we there yet???

Society’s Technology Adoption:

Society is making progress in this digital revolution to adopt technology:

  • 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 have text-enable mobile phone at the minimum and an increasing number (especially business travelers) have web-enabled “smart” phones.
  • These smart phones are quickly morphing into “widgets” (wireless internet devices for geo-positioning, ecommerce and telecommunication) far more capable than mere “telephones.”
  • 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 350 million people are using Facebook – if it were a country it would be the third largest country in the world behind India and ahead of the United States.
  • Television has gone digital – one more step in the convergence of all data to IP (internet protocol) based systems.

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

Meeting 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 has become commonplace.
  • Online housing is common for meetings, especially for large, multi-property room blocks events.
  • Speaker management tools are used by many associations for their large, multi-session conferences.
  • Exhibition management and show floor plan applications are widely used – especially for the larger tradeshows.
  • 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 hundreds of 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.
  • Hundreds, if not thousands, of mobile phone applications are emerging to make meetings more efficient for planners, suppliers and attendees.
  • Meetings planners are beginning to use social media tools 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 ways 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 planners 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 significant logistics communication tool for events: Invented 40 years ago, email is interruptive, non-threaded, and inefficient – especially for tracking the thousands of details surrounding events. Wikis (online, collaborative websites) and new collaboration tools such as Google Wave can provide all documentation sequentially in the same place and are much richer and more efficient ways to sharing meeting data.
  • Meetings technology companies should step up to the plate and incorporate APEX standards for meetings logistics: Millions of dollars have been spent and tens of thousands of people have met in working groups to develop meeting industry standards. Yet, APEX (Accepted Practices Exchange from the Convention Industry Council) standards are not fully implemented (especially in the very time-consuming process of exchanging event logistics data).  The meetings technology companies must step up to the plate to provide the connecting tools to make this happen. The CIC should not be the technology developer or provider and should emphasize the open nature of standards allowing all technology companies to participate. Both planners and suppliers need to push for standards with their technology suppliers.
  • Figure out social media and use them to engage attendees and improve event content: Meeting professionals are just getting their toes wet with social media. There are huge opportunities for meetings to use the wide range so social media tools (social networking, video sharing, slide sharing, blogs, podcasts, social review sites, social calendaring, social bookmarks sites and more) to engage prospective attendees before/during/after an event. They can be used to market, design and manage events. They can be used to make better purchasing decisions. This drastic change from business as usual will feel uncomfortable to many, but, like it or not, this is the direction things are going.
  • Transform your event website (and other sites) from Web 1.0 (static) to Web 2.0 (interactive): Meeting attendees and association members will increasingly expect the ability to interact with you online… to respond to blog posts, to make suggestions for meeting content, to engage with speakers, to consume a variety of content, on their terms when and how they want it.  Associations are among the original means of networking. Meetings are the original social media. Social media tools at your website are a natural fit.
  • Embrace mobile technology: Mobile devices, a huge emerging force for meeting technology change, will be used for registration, micropayments, lead exchange, way-finding, surveys, ticketing, networking, audience polling, and more. Move your company toward the adoption of these tools for events

The benefits of this technology revolution include more efficient and less expensive meetings with greater impact. As we move into a 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.

©2010 Corbin Ball Associates


2 Responses to “2010: The Meetings Technology Revolution – Are We There Yet???”

  1. Concha Says:

    This article was most helpful. I am most pleased that I came accross this. I was wondering could you direct me to rss feed for your site?

    • corbinball Says:

      Glad you found the article helpful! There is an RSS feed in WordPress. My website (www.corbinball.com) is currently going through a full renovation and will be fully RSS compatible by the end of the year. In the meantime, subscribe to my newsletter http://www.corbinball.com/techtalk to automatically receive all new articles.

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