by Michael J. Shapiro | January 01, 2017
Over the past few years, some brilliant, often disruptive ideas have changed the nature of the travel and meetings business. M&C's third annual look at top meeting innovations presents 10 more of these developments, some already at work in the marketplace, and all promising to make waves in the future.

1. Artificial intelligence. Artificial intelligence refers to the way computers and software "learn," essentially adjusting to human behavior to improve their performance and utility. You'd be hard-pressed to find a tech trend generating more buzz than AI. Uber just made headlines by acquiring New York City-based AI startup Geometric Intelligence, which it is spinning off as its new Uber AI Labs division. The acquisition gives the rides app a leg up on its development of self-driving cars. That new division also will be focused on the more immediate and practical concerns of better estimating rider locations and travel time. 

Artificial intelligence is of paramount interest throughout the travel industry. AI-driven chatbots and virtual assistants, for instance, will see to it that our smartphones soon become our own mobile travel agents, responding to spoken requests to book flights and hotels.

The U.K.-based tech company Grip is getting a lot of attention in the meetings industry by using AI to process attendee profiles and behavior data to make matchmaking suggestions for professional networking. Grip has opened up its application-programming interface so that event-app and registration providers can simply integrate the technology for events. Grip emerged the winner at the #IMEXpitch technology competition at IMEX America last October. 

3. Cloud-based solutions. Since seemingly forever, many meeting planners have been heavily reliant on Excel spreadsheets, resisting more automated systems. Granted, this isn't solely about the slow adoption of new technologies; in many cases, meetings-management platforms simply haven't been customizable enough to meet every planner's specific needs. With each year, though, the latest platforms deliver new innovations in the service of Excel-slaying, cloud-based collaboration.

Shoflo, which took home the Tech & Innovation Watch Award at IBTM World late last year in Barcelona, Spain, is a collaborative online platform that focuses on the production logistics of an event. Schedules, production run-downs and cue sheets, and other on-site event documents can be shared and edited in real time, from any device, using the platform. 

A number of innovative cloud-based collaboration tools have emerged in recent years, from companies like EventCollab and Hubb, and Shoflo reveals a natural progression. It delivers the on-the-fly, real-time control necessary to ensure programs are flawlessly executed. 

With an ever-increasing variety of cloud-based platforms making their way into the marketplace, ditching quickly outdated paper schedules and still-ubiquitous Excel documents just might be an attainable goal after all.

4. Second-screen technology. The motivation behind second-screen technology is to harness the power of the smartphone in nearly every attendee's hand -- and to use that power for good rather than evil. In other words, it makes the mobile device an engagement tool and not a distraction. Second-screen tech has all but replaced audience-response systems. But what's most innovative now are the improved implementations that are proving the effectiveness of the technology when it's used in thoughtful ways.

Case in point: At its October 2016 annual meeting in New Orleans, the American Society of Landscape Architects partnered with FreemanXP to use FXP |touch, Freeman's second-screen tool, at its general session panel about diversity in design. "We knew it needed to be a two-way conversation, and we needed to engage our members in the process," notes Susan Apollonio, education programs director at the ASLA.  

Like many second-screen tools, FXP|touch, which is accessed via a mobile website, allows attendees to chat, ask questions of the presenter and take notes on slides, all to improve engagement with presentations. 

At its general-session diversity panel, ASLA pushed questions to attendees about demographics and diversity through the tool. Responses were broken down and displayed onscreen in real time, onstage. During the presentation, attendees submitted questions to the panelists. Apollonio and the Freeman­XP team organized and filtered the questions in the background.

Audience questions were then posed to the panelists -- not during the session, but for a "Continue the Conversation" meeting afterward in the adjacent expo hall. Attendees moved en masse to the expo, eager to discuss the questions they submitted and engage with the panelists in a more informal setting.

Not only was conversation lively, the setup accomplished the additional goal of bringing more attendees to the show floor. "It was a tremendous success," says Apollonio. "It literally brought our audience close to our speakers. For me, as a techno-skeptic, that's what makes technology great -- when it can bring people together."