. Five Top Tech Trends | Meetings & Conventions

Five Top Tech Trends

From consolidation to beacons and beyond

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Technology Innovation and the Future of Meetings
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Meetings tech is a complicated and fast-changing landscape, to say the least. Here, to help planners keep up with the pace of change, M&C identifies some important trends -- and what they're likely to mean to your future endeavors.

Better together?
Consolidation has become a major theme in the meeting-supplier universe, with the lodging industry stealing most of the headlines. But technology providers have been hot on this trend as well, and with so many suppliers serving so many niche purposes, acquisition frenzy has reached a fever pitch.

At the center of it all is Vista Equity Partners, the venture capital firm that has owned meetings-software supplier Lanyon since 2013. This past April, Vista agreed to pay $1.65 billion for event-tech giant Cvent. The deal is expected to close in the third quarter of this year.

The purchase has the potential to have a huge effect on the marketplace, as Vista Equity Partners will own the space's two biggest competitors, with a broad range of technology offerings and an impressive number of the Fortune 1000 as customers of one or the other. But the Cvent purchase is simply the next step for Vista, which along with Lanyon acquired Active Network (including StarCite), Passkey and GenieConnect over the past few years and then consolidated them under the Lanyon name. Most recently, Vista added marketing automation provider Marketo to its portfolio.

While it remains unclear just how Vista will incorporate Cvent into its mix, planners and suppliers alike are watching intently for developments. "I think there is a potential for improved products and improved solutions, with more integration and greater functionality," says Issa Jouaneh, senior vice president and general manager of New York City-based American Express Meetings & Events. "In our experience, integrated technologies have more successful rates of adoption with meeting attendees and planners. Both the attendees and planners benefit from a more efficient and seamless user experience."

Yet some worry that with giants like Cvent and Lanyon under the same umbrella, competition will be stifled. "There is the potential that, both from a supplier and buyer perspective, pricing could be impacted," Jouaneh acknowledges. "Hotels and venues want to know if this acquisition will impact their current pricing structure. And on the buyer's side -- whether that be on the service-provider side or the corporate side -- licensing fees and attendee management fees will be key areas to watch."

Meanwhile, in late May, Norwalk, Conn.-based Etouches acquired hotel-sourcing and booking platform Zentila. "I think this is a marriage made in heaven, for many reasons," says Etouches CEO Oni Chukwu, who adds that his company now can offer a breadth of services more in line with what Cvent and Lanyon do, and compete more directly with the big guys.

Are all such mergers truly "made in heaven"? Peter Micciche, CEO of San Francisco-based technology provider Certain, says that combining different company cultures, technology platforms and customer concerns might be easier said than done. "From my perspective, all of those things take a lot of time, money, resources and distractions to overcome," he notes. "It slows down the drive to innovate and differentiate."

Crucially, it doesn't appear that any one company is in a position to force out all competition. "Those market leaders still have a small piece of the overall pie of meetings and events spend, because the space is so highly fragmented," says Jouaneh. "These solutions have an edge and are leading the industry, but I would say there is opportunity for many players to significantly grow and capture more spend."

The power of marketing
As marketing executives play an increasingly important role in corporate meetings, meetings-tech suppliers are offering more ways to integrate marketing and meetings platforms.

In this regard, Certain has been ahead of the curve, having begun courting corporate marketing executives a few years ago. "Our driver was to create a tight relationship between marketing automation and event management," says Micciche. "Marketers can't get good results unless they have a great relationship with event professionals. Increasingly, we saw opportunities to bring these two together so that they would be able to focus on a common business goal: to create more value for their companies."

In April, Certain officially rebranded its platform as Certain Event Automation and rolled out new features to appeal to marketers as well as event professionals. For instance, Certain's new Event Intelligence functionality allows marketers to embed event data within a marketing automation platform such as Marketo, Oracle Eloqua or Salesforce. Thus, on-site attendee activity can more easily be scored within the marketing platform, marketing campaigns can speak more directly to attendee needs, and in general the line between attendee and customer is better erased.

Certain's repositioning is an obvious example, but the trend is pervasive. Customer demand for Salesforce integration with many technology platforms has intensified in recent years. And in May, at Marketo's annual user conference, the Marketing Nation Summit, app developer DoubleDutch launched its Live Engagement Platform, which provides Marketo and Salesforce integration and is focused on efficiently providing attendee engagement data to marketers, helping companies to convert sales leads.

That said, there no doubt remain countless corporate planners with minimal connection to marketing executives, at companies where the organizational structure has less overlap. Certain's Peter Micciche believes it's just a matter of time before that changes, however.

"The trend is only going to become more prevalent," Micciche notes. "I see this as a tremendous opportunity for event professionals to increase their value to their corporations by being active partners with sales and marketing. They can now come to the table with technology and say to their sales and marketing executives, 'We can focus your efforts in a way that was never before possible.' For those who embrace that, there's a competitive edge."

building better collaboration tools
Planners themselves are devising better ways to manage meetings. For example, EventCollab grew out of founder Tommy Melancon's frustration with using the popular Basecamp project-management platform, which didn't quite meet his needs for meetings and events. One key design element of this new tool is the use of "circles" to assign access for events, each circle a collection of meeting stakeholders who can communicate amongst themselves regarding a particular event they're working on.

Another recent advance, Hubb, was created by planner Allison Magyar and places a heavy focus on content management among its many features, offering a central platform to submit, review, approve, and publish papers and related materials.

In addition, many planners have had success adapting existing popular business collaboration platforms such as Slack, Asana, Streak, Trello and Glip. Most offer free versions, so there's little risk in trying one for an event or two.

Virtual reality comes of age
"Everyone has been talking about virtual reality for the last year or two," says Wilson Tang, vice president of Digital Experience at Freeman XP. "This year, the investment is starting to pay off." A big reason for that: lower costs, both for VR production and the equipment people need to use it.

In April, at Tianguis Turístico, an event that showcases the Mexican tourism industry and this year took place in Guadalajara, attendees could experience many of the exhibiting destinations via VR headsets. For example, at a display promoting Tuxtla Gutiérrez, a city in the Mexican state of Chiapas, attendees could use the technology to  fly through Sumidero Canyon, skimming the river while surrounded by dramatic landscapes. The virtual adventure came courtesy of drone-shot video footage.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority likewise is banking on virtual reality as a sales tool. "We have so much to offer in Las Vegas, and people around the world don't know about most of it," says Nick Mattera, the LVCVA's senior director of digital engagement. "We want to take the experiences and put them where people can touch them every day."

That means uploading 360-degree video excursions to GeoVegas.com, where anyone can explore Vegas restaurants and other venues from their desktop computers, accompanied by audio commentary from experts on-site. For more immersive experiences, users are encouraged to download a free Vegas VR app from either the Apple App Store or Google Play, which can be viewed using a smartphone and any inexpensive VR viewer such as Google Cardboard.

While the current crop of Vegas VR options primarily involve tourist attractions and popular restaurants and venues, Mattera says the LVCVA currently is filming meeting spaces and activities. Eventualy, he says, "you might see a ballroom, and then use augmented reality within the app to show different room setups." The bureau will launch the next generation of meetings-specific content at home this fall at IMEX America, he notes.

Beacon best practices
During PCMA's Convening Leaders gathering in Vancouver, British Columbia, last January, a group of planners, convention center operators and tech  suppliers met to discuss location-based technology -- namely beacons.

One supplier noted that a big benefit of the technology is the low cost of the hardware -- small devices, or beacons, which when placed around a venue can communicate with smartphone apps to pinpoint locations and help attendees to navigate the space.

But other participants wondered why some suppliers were quoting steep fees to install the beacons, and some were unclear on what infrastructure needs to be in place for beacon functionality to work with an event app.

Such questions about this promising technology are common, and the problem is that there is little agreement on the answers. That's precisely what the meeting participants were trying to address. The Global Beacon Alliance, as the group is now called, is striving to create standards and best practices.

"We want to avoid the confusion and gouging that occurred with implementation of WiFi," says Toby Lewis, CEO of U.K.-based event management company The Live Group and chair of the Global Beacon Alliance. "We need a body that can provide independent information, help create standardization and best practices on usage, and provide a meeting place for app providers, venues and event planners."  

The group went public with its mission in April. The best-case scenario: Major venues around the globe that use the technology eventually will register the beacons with the Global Beacon Alliance, giving event organizers a central location where they can access beacon information and then activate them for their specific events.

There is no official membership in the Alliance at this point, but participants thus far include representatives from PCMA, Cvent, Eventbase, Eventbrite and the Toronto, Vancouver and San Diego convention centers. "As an industry we've been too hit-and-miss with new technology," says Lewis. "We need to be more proactive and create ways to allow these new technologies to come into the marketplace in a fair and universal way."