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.
You May Not Know It, But You Are a Tech Company!
What exactly defines a “technology company?” Wikipedia says it’s an electronics-based business related to internet-related services, software, yadda yadda. There’s no doubt that Apple, Samsung, Dell and Amazon are tech companies. But let’s consider Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, which are all classified in that category. They are categorized as such, given that their services are delivered online or through mobile and their revenue is generated by selling data or access to information. Makes sense. On the other hand, these companies offer the ability for people to connect, communicate and in many cases, conduct business.
Doesn’t that start to sound a little familiar to you? When last I checked, exhibitions and conferences were in the business of enabling connections between individuals and companies, delivering information (often in the digital realm), supporting communication (often in the digital realm) and offering access to information. I’ve heard many event organizers say that all they really are is a “brand and a database.” Well, that sounds mighty similar!
I suspect most event organizers and certainly most associations would not classify themselves as a tech company. I’m sure all of us were comfortable with that classification years ago, but from my perspective, the game has changed. Let’s take a quick peek at what services and experiences are being offered to association members and how they’re being delivered today.
How about education? With the help of a global pandemic, the delivery of continuing education has largely moved to online. This migration was in full swing pre-pandemic, but COVID forced the complete transition virtually overnight. I know, I know. Many associations rely heavily upon meeting revenues as a significant portion of their topline. And the biggest earner is the large, annual face-to-face meeting.
Okay. But how are people registering? Digitally. How are people planning their trip and visit? Digitally. How are people booking their appointments during the meeting? Digitally. How are people exchanging contact information on the show floor? Digitally. How are attendees discovering new networking contacts they should meet? Digitally. How are session attendees providing feedback on the speaker or obtaining their CEU credit? Digitally. How are event organizers tracking onsite behavior? Digitally. How are attendees consuming their drinks in the hotel bar? Okay, that one remains physical, thank goodness.
The fact is, whether you’ve realized it or not, the value, as well as the engagement experience provided by today’s associations, is largely digitally delivered. This is not going to diminish and, in fact, will continue to accelerate in a more digital and technology-centric direction. The successful event organizations of the future are those that realize their livelihoods rely upon great technology, deployed and integrated well, generating actionable data and enabling superior experiences. That future relies upon smart data capturing, effective data mining and agile utilization of insights to drive business value for all participants. In this way, event organizations and associations are, in fact, technology companies. They deliver value and services digitally.
Let’s do a thought experiment for a moment. Let’s assume you’re a successful entrepreneur with a well-connected investment network. You’ve also decided your next venture must be in the wonderful world of events. You’re confident that your killer event idea could easily grow to tens of thousands of attendees, and you’ve got a pickup truck full of investors writing checks and expressing expectations of significant returns. It’s all riding on your shoulders to build an organization that will generate growth like the iPhone (I can dream, right?).
What kind of people are you going to seek? What kind of skills should they have? How do you define thought leadership in this area? Is it resources with little to no experience mining data? Is it resources that have only used a single system for the last 15 years and have little interest in learning a bunch of new ones? Is it a technologist with no experience in pulling disparate data sources together into a single and consumable view? Is it resources that print out their emails for archiving (true story behind that one)?
It’s doubtful that would lead to success. You’re looking for top-notch, data-centric, tech-enabled, digital-minded, out-of-the-box thinkers that are driven to create incredible experiences by leveraging the best technologies. They don’t wait for you to tell them what to do. They bring you ideas born out of data analysis and tech product investigation that give birth to entirely new and exciting ways to engage attendees and support the primary objectives of the event. They vet potential vendors with deep, penetrating questions regarding the quality and availability of data, security and privacy, and reliability and scalability.
How is it that all your staff know how to speak to all these things? It’s because they work for a tech company. They work for the events company of the future. They’re talking in real-time over Slack. They’re in numerous Discord servers. They have friends all over the world. They can do every single thing they need to do for their personal life over their phone. They have their favorite Reddit groups. They always Facetime. The quality of Wi-Fi is more important to them than the quality of the restroom. Their lives, not just their hobbies, are likely to involve gaming in some way. And most importantly, they’re looking to make a difference by working for a forward-thinking organization that has a vision of the future that makes them want to put in those extra hours.
Now, with that in mind, how does your organization compare? Would you build your organization to look exactly like the one you have? Will this meet your investors’ expectations? Something interesting to ponder. Don’t think about it too long, because like I said in the beginning, whether you know it or not, you work for a tech company. Time to treat it like one.