The Exhibition Industry’s Missing Link: Moving Data with Ease

October 14, 2021

Brian Scott

Brian Scott, president and founder of ClearTone Consulting, provides executive technology consulting services based on 25 years of technology expertise and 20 years of CIO/CTO experience within the exhibitions and events industry.  Brian provides  expert technology consultation in the areas of technology strategy, software development, systems integration, data warehousing and analytics, cyber security, data center operations, cloud computing, and end user support.  He works with his customers to overcome technology challenges, leverage tech to drive growth and revenue, secure valuable digital assets, and execute projects to meet the organizational objectives.

If you and I have a business conversation lasting much more than five minutes, there’s a good chance the subject of data is going to come up. I’m sorry, I just can’t help myself! I simply love the fact that data makes the world go ’round. For an IT professional, it’s been the steroid that has really juiced the entire technology industry. Now, if you look at what’s going on in the consumer/commercial SaaS world, it’s flabbergasting how data is enabling innovation and growth. In actuality, though, it’s not simply the existence of data by itself that drives value. There are two vital aspects of data that must exist for any value to come of it, and these two aspects can be challenges.

The first of those two tougher challenges is having the resources with the time and skills to manipulate and extract the value. Anyone who’s tried to build BI teams or capabilities within their organization knows that this is quite the challenge. Don’t even think about trying to hire an actual “data scientist” unless your checkbook is as plump as a Thanksgiving turkey in November, and you’ve got the mature data infrastructure in place to keep such a person satisfied and engaged. But this blog is specifically about the second challenge: being able to access, move and integrate the datasets themselves. It is this second challenge in which I find the entire exhibitions and meetings industry ecosystem sorely lagging its larger commercial and consumer counterparts.

An Ever-Engaging Ecosystem

The data exchange ecosystem that has quickly matured over the last several years is truly phenomenal. But first things first. What is a data exchange ecosystem? Fair question. It’s simply the widespread availability of enabling technologies that allow the exchange of data between platforms with very little friction. Huh? This means that regardless of what SaaS platforms your organization may be using, such as Google Sheets, Salesforce, Slack, Airtable, Mailchimp, AWS, Microsoft Azure and on and on and on, a relatively inexpensive, non-technical resource is able to easily access and transfer datasets between one point and another to create business value. In the SaaS world, these data transfers are often done with tools like Zapier, Integromat or Automate.io.

Zapier is the leader in this space and is not only a fast-growing, successful business in their own right, but their function enables innovation, productivity and collaboration in all areas of business. They’re a SaaS company that juices innovation and created a new marketplace all by itself. They accomplish this by taking the slow, costly and difficult job of moving data between systems and simplifying it behind an easy-to-use interface so that almost anyone can execute it. (I say almost, because there are folks out there that should just let others move the data. You know who you are.)

On its own, Zapier would not have been able to achieve this, much less exist at all, if the SaaS companies of the world did not foresee the immense value of entering the marketplace with a completed set of APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) so that anyone could easily connect to their system and pull data out or push data in. This was in their original go-to-market blueprint, and they knew removing barriers to access of data would ultimately make their tool that much more valuable and sticky with the market. And by George, they were right!

Zap That Data!

It’s now so easy to move data that these SaaS companies are experiencing a higher level of adoption than they would without these APIs available. For example, an organization sets up a Google sheet to track specific projects. Oh, that information is needed within a ticket tracking system? No problem, just use a Zap and you’ve got it. When customers interact with that ticket system, you’d like to update their record in Salesforce? No problem, use a Zap. You’d then like to pull that specific customer data out of Salesforce into Airtable to merge with another system’s user data for analysis? No problem, set up a Zap. Not only are businesses becoming more productive and automated, but new companies are emerging faster because the barrier to entry continues to lower. It’s a feedback loop that feeds all aspects of the ecosystem. It’s the data exchange growth engine!

So, here’s my million-dollar question: Where are the event tech platforms regarding this paradigm? Unfortunately, except for a small set of standouts, the truth is they are late to the game and have not adopted this data exchange ecosystem-first mindset. No event tech product should hit the market without a mature API as part of version 1.0. They should have a user-friendly Identity Management system employed, so it’s easy for users to set up accounts, authorize with the API and get their data out or push their data in. If every single event tech provider adopted this mindset, think how different our industry would be. How many times have you been engaged in a discussion where folks are lamenting the pains of data integration with the vendors? Yeah, get more fingers to count that on.

Change of Mind

I propose that adopting this mindset would be life-altering to the events and exhibitions industry. Quite honestly, it’s not just life-altering, it’s required for survival. How long do you think our industry can survive building products and systems by the year 2000’s rules? It’s simple. There is money to be made in the events industry, and where there is money to be made, an open market will continue to evolve with many brands dying off at the hand of new outsiders that are more forward-thinking. It’s inherent in the system and like it or not, we’re not immune.

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