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by Michael Shapiro | October 14, 2011

ITN International took top honors in this year's EIBTM Technology Watch, beating out 55 other companies among the record-setting number of applicants. ITN, a U.S.-based event analytics provider, won the prize on behalf of its Citywide Attendee Credential, a badge that doubles as a pass to public transit and/or tourist attractions in the host city. In terms of the event proper, the badge can be used for lead retrieval and attendee tracking, and to grant access to given functions. The technology driving it is based on the near field communication protocol, or NFC.

It sounds like a pretty nifty idea, but the first question that came to my mind was just how much NFC infrastructure must there be in a destination for this to be useful? I mean, obviously a city's rapid transit system and event venues must be using it already, or be on the verge of installing it. "Yes," acknowledged consultant Corbin Ball, who heads up the Technology Watch panel of judges. "But I expect this will be the case much more broadly in the near future. It isn't common in the U.S. But we need to catch up with the rest of the world!"

ITN actually tested the product in Amsterdam, working with the city's tourism board and the organizers of the International Broadcasting Convention. The test was successful, according to ITN president and CEO Ivan Lazarev, proving his company can support the approach. NFC is widely used in parts of Europe and Asia, and is built in to many of the mobile phones that are sold there.

In the end, added judge Michelle Bruno, who is president of Bruno Group Signature Events, it was the intriguing way in which the technology supplier partnered with the city and the show organizers that swayed the judges. The scoring, after all, is based on innovation, concept and value; the fact that such a solution would still be a deployment challenge stateside is another matter. The collaborative benefits to both the show and its host destination are certainly appealing.

The Technology Watch judge panel also named four other finalists, a glance at which offers up a pretty good summary of the most important technology trends in this industry -- all of them revolving around mobile functionality.

Wifarer has developed an "indoor positioning system" that refines existing Wi-Fi platforms within a venue to better pinpoint a mobile device's location -- to less than 5 feet. That's a potentially huge boon to the effectiveness of location-based apps on trade show floors.

GenieMobile provides a do-it-yourself mobile app tool for events at a relatively low price point. I've seen some free and cheap tools that do this pretty poorly, but according to the panel GenieMobile offers an impressively robust menu of options. The tool creates native apps for iOS, Android, BlackBerry and WindowsPhone, as well as mobile websites.

Active Network's ActiveEvents Insight is a suite of mobile and tablet applications for event organizers that provides on-the-go access to registration data, lead retrieval, social networking, exhibitor management, session tracking and scheduling, event mobile app usage, housing, financial statements, speaker resources and content management. Whew. All of which means we really are a lot closer to being able to completely manage an event onsite using only an iPad.

Triqle Event Intelligence offers basic "What's On?" functionality, which publishes real-time event program information to any mobile device with an Internet connection. It's the same kind of functionality that has become increasing popular in many event mobile apps, and it makes scrolling through a show program unnecessary. Attendees can find out what's happening now, and where, without a lot of fuss.