If you haven’t noticed, the second era of event technology innovation is well underway … and actually, it’s exploding and rewriting the rules of what event professionals should expect from event tech.
Over the last 3-4 years, we have seen an unprecedented number of new technologies and great ideas coming to life that are already improving how event professionals manage their data and their events. And what’s more interesting is that these technologies are both improving on previous technologies as well as expanding into new areas.
Just think about it … not only are there better event management software solutions, event registration platforms and event apps, but you are starting to see really interesting innovations in new areas. Social media walls and eBeacons that transmit localized data to on-site attendees will soon be the norm. Electronic check-in will soon be used at weddings and social events as well as at conferences. Hell, we are even seeing great alternatives to microphones (how about using an app as your mic) and real-time polling (raising hands is so last year).
During the first era of event tech innovation – the late 1990s and early 2000s – the events industry saw massive improvements in specialized, computer-based software for event management/planning and hotel/venue management. During this era, we also saw the first online event software applications for things like event registration/ticketing and event marketing.
So what makes this new era in event technology innovation so different? And why should you care?
Here are 5 critical things you should to keep in mind as you evaluate event tech tools.
New Rule #1 – Simplicity and easy-of-use is in (and complexity is out).
- Big benefits – Shorter learning curves; faster adaption of technology by all team members
- Potential drawbacks – None, really
The previous era of event tech innovation was defined by software and applications that looked and felt like PC-based software from the 90s. And it also took after those familiar software apps with a fair amount of feature bloat and clunky user interfaces with too many dropdown menus and hidden functionality.
In addition, back then only larger companies and event businesses could afford software and applications due to the hardware and technical requirements in installing and maintaining those applications. As such, enterprise software that had tons of features and tons of complexity was more the norm.
Now, event pros simply don’t have time to read manuals and spend hours and hours in training sessions to learn how to use software applications. We are used to the ease and simplicity of smartphone apps. We are accustomed to user interfaces that are intuitive and self-explanatory (thanks to Apple). And we want to put new event technologies into practice immediately so we can start seeing the benefits now.
So if you are struggling to understand or learn a piece of event software, just know that there is usually something else out there that does the same thing that is probably easier and more intuitive. And you should really never again have to read a manual or consult with your IT department to figure out how a piece of technology works. It should be intuitive and have enough self-help tutorials and support resources that you can quickly learn the software on your own.
New Rule #2 – (Almost) everything is online.
- Big benefits – Automatic software updates; no software installation or maintenance on your computer/server; automated data backups
- Potential drawbacks – Limited or no access to data if you aren’t connected to the Internet
PC-based software is no longer the norm as most of the popular event management software applications are online. This isn’t surprising, as online software-as-a-service (SaaS) has dominated software development across the entire software industry for most of the last 10 years.
While some people are still accustomed to storing all their programs and data on their computer, there are a few big reasons why Web-based event software and technologies are the future.
- Your data is usually backed up daily by your software provider, so your data is still intact if your computer is destroyed/compromised or your hard drive dies.
- Most online software companies are constantly innovating and updating their application, and you usually get these updates and improvements without paying upgrade fees.
- You never again have to load, install, or maintain software on your computer.
Yes, with online software you may not be able to access your data if you aren’t connected to the Internet; however, high-speed access is better and more ubiquitous than ever. And, yes, if your data is in the cloud, there is always the possibility of it being compromised by a hacking attack. But you have the same risk with your data installed on your Internet-connected computer. So all these things pretty much cancel each other out.
As online software evolves, the pluses of using it will continue to outnumber the minuses.
New Rule #3 – Data and software access across all devices.
- Big benefits – Anywhere, anytime data access; data portability
- Potential drawbacks – Screen size limitations on smartphones; limited functionality for certain applications
10 years ago, smart phones were still glamorized cell phones. 5 years ago, smart phones and tablets gave us cool apps and games plus mostly reliable on-the-go Internet. Today, smart phones and tablets give us anytime access to lots of data wherever we are.
How did we get here? First, cell phones and tablets are now powerful computers in their own right and can process lots more data than in the past. Second, cell networks have more bandwidth to pass more data along. Third, telecom companies have figured out how to compress more and more data into data packets. And fourth, the Web browser technology on cell phones and tablets is so superior than what was available even a few years ago that you can do so much more on these devices now.
Event software companies are taking two paths when it comes to making their applications and data available on tablets and smartphones:
- Native app versions of their software for Apple and Android devices; or
- Mobile Web browser versions of their software that you can access through the Web browser on your smartphone/tablet.
And both options are viable because of the advances in mobile Web browsers to load and display data.
New Rule #4 – Consolidation of tools/features (i.e., more all-in-one applications).
- Big benefits – Data and tools all in one place; don’t have to pay for lots of separate tools
- Potential drawbacks – Included tools may not have all the features you need
This new rule also follows a larger trend in the B-to-B software industry, in that many businesses do not want to maintain accounts with multiple providers for all the tools and applications they require. The reasons for this are both convenience and cost.
Simply put, it is more convenient to have all the tools you need and all your data inside of one application. And it is usually much less expensive to pay one provider for many tools than many providers for one-off tools.
As for the potential drawback mentioned above, sometimes a specialized tool may have more features than the corresponding feature/tool in an all-in-one software suite, so you should make sure to adequately compare the options available to make sure the features you need for each tool are included.
New Rule #5 – No more long-term financial commitments
- Big benefits – Ability to change providers based on your changing needs; never again be held prisoner by a provider
- Potential drawbacks – Portability of your data from one provider to another
In the past, year-long contracts and software service agreements were the norm. And although some providers still do business this way, this is no longer the norm.
The trend in the broader software industry is to provide online software that is on a month-to-month subscription, and we are now seeing this in the events industry (sometimes with an option to sign up for a year-long subscription at a discount).
The benefits to event professionals are that you can now change providers quickly if your current provider no longer meets your needs, and you are not tied into a long-term contract and bound to a provider you don’t much care for.
However, one thing you need to be aware of is that even though you can more easily move your account to another provider, moving your data to another provider isn’t nearly as easy. The reason for this isn’t necessarily because event software providers want to make it difficult to you move (although it may seem like it) but more because of the technological constraints of porting data from one database to another database that is completely different.
To properly port information, there needs to be as close to a one-to-one relationship between fields in one database to another, and since there really is no standardization between databases in the events industry, it is difficult if not impossible to export all your data from one provider and port it perfectly intact into another provider.
To be honest, very few industries have such data standardization, so you should consult with prospective providers first to see how much of your data you can export and in what form in case you need to change providers.
What trends are you seeing in event technology and event management software? Provide your feedback in the comments below.