What AI Means to Meetings

How artificial intelligence will boost ROI

Meeting Technology 2017 opener

Tech Beat
Read more about artificial intelligence in our blog post, "Better With Bots?"

Self-driving cars. Job-stealing robots. Virtual assistants with sex appeal. These are popular perceptions of what artificial intelligence means, or portends. For meetings in particular, AI has many promising applications -- from sci-fi to the here and now.

"Some people call AI the invisible technology, because they can't wrap their heads around it," noted event-tech expert Dhalia El Gazzar in a recent M&C webcast. "It's hard to explain how it will be incorporated into what we as event planners do."

Artificial intelligence is, for instance, the programming that allows virtual assistants to understand and respond to our spoken commands, or allows a self-driving car to react to a challenging situation on the open road. AI isn't something planners need to go looking for -- it will find them, as it powers new capabilities that will make their jobs easier.

"We talk more about the outcome than the AI," says Tim Groot, CEO and co-founder of Grip, a U.K.-based event matchmaking solution powered by artificial intelligence. "The purpose of Grip is to help organizers pull off a better event, with a more efficient and valuable networking experience." Using the platform, he adds, "it's easier for attendees to make sure they have the right meetings set up, and for exhibitors to have a higher return on investment in terms of connections with high-quality buyers." Ultimately, AI is driving the ROI for all involved.


The use of AI is what separates Grip from many matchmaking tools that came before it. Profiles are created for each attendee by finding and collecting data from the registration profile, LinkedIn, Google and Facebook (in each case only if approved by the attendee), and even scouring the web for additional information. Grip recommends to each attendee others with whom they should meet, and attendees can swipe, Tinder-style, to indicate whether they want to set up a meeting. But that's just the beginning.

"Beyond the data we've used for the profile," explains Groot, "a crucial layer on top of that is that person's behavior or actual usage. Who are they looking to meet with, who are they agreeing to meet with, who are they rejecting? But also, it's about other, similar people at the event: How are those other people interacting? How did they interact with people at last year's event? How can we use all of that data to improve our recommendations to you?" Grip continuously tweaks profiles and recommendations based on that behavior.

While Grip is sold as a stand-alone tool or one that can be integrated with an event's app, New York City-based SummitSync offers one app that is used by an attendee across a variety of events. "We've started to learn what people want with regard to networking, and how they do so across different types of events," explains SummitSync COO and co-founder Al Torres. "We look at about 50-plus different variables, like location, title, company, time of day, what kind of phone you use and a wide variety of other data, to create unique profiles. Then we look at the different events they're attending."

SummitSync has a database of about 10,000 events, primarily in the marketing, media and technology spaces. Its users (who now number more than 200,000) consult the SummitSync app to suggest meeting match-ups at any events they're attending or deciding whether to attend -- independent of anything the conference organizers use.

SummitSync also can partner with planners for individual events and, for instance, set up a closed network limited only to registrants for that show. But because attendees use the same app for all of the shows they go to, profiles are based on their decisions and behavior across the full range of events.

AI technology can crunch vast amounts of data, analyze it, and make decisions or recommendations based on that analysis. That fulfills a crucial role when it comes to meetings technology in general, where heaps of attendee data are collected, and the need to create personalized experiences is paramount. AI can streamline that process.

Think of AI as digital workers, says Gokul Solai, head of products and alliances for Chicago-based Novatio Solutions, and an AI and robotics expert. "When they modernized the automotive industry 35 years ago," he says, "they created physical robots to replicate the manual, repetitive work. Now cars are built more efficiently, and it frees up humans to focus more on cognitive tasks, like designing more efficient cars.

"In today's workforce," Solai adds, "a lot of the work that's being done is digital with data -- gathering information from one system and moving it to another, applying certain rules and making decisions. We create robots to replicate the digital work being done now, and that's why we call them digital workers. They're not physical robots, of course, they're software tools; but they interact just as humans would in a digital environment." By contrast, he says, having a human crunch data in the same fashion would be arduous and stultifying; it's more efficient to have that human make creative decisions based on the results.

It's also helpful to remember, notes Solai, that the digital workforce will augment -- not replace -- the seasoned decision-making abilities of a meeting professional. Because such apprehensions are common, Solai's firm has issued a whitepaper, Robots Are Here (Have No Fear): Navigating the Human Responses to Digital Workforce Implementation (mcmag.com/digworkforce).

The efficiency delivered by AI-based tools can be a godsend, affirms Mary Ann Pierce, founder and CEO of New York City-based MAP Digital and the MetaMeetings platform. Pierce works with financial-services clients for whom federal regulations stipulate that all live content from an event be captured and saved. Now that such previously ephemeral content has been digitized, says Pierce, it also can be analyzed as data.

Pierce uses IBM Watson, an AI platform for business, to do that work. "We can now use that data to go back and tell a story," she says. "That's becoming very exciting for us. Instead of having humans take several hours to do it, the machine crunches the raw content for relevance, insights and patterns. It can summarize key findings of a conference, or summarize the arc of a company or the industry over the course of a year. You can send that summary to attendees, or share it with the press or on social media. It's opened up a new world, leveraging what meetings already have plenty of -- content -- and creating new relevance and even a new potential revenue source for that content."
Right now we're in the data-collection phase of AI technology, notes Gokul Solai. "Just like humans make memories and learn knowledge from experiences, these artificial intelligence mediums need data to be able to have that experience and grow decision-making capabilities." We need only to look at the short-term plans of those already in the business, however, to get some ideas of what AI might help meeting professionals accomplish in the near future.

SummitSync, for example, is testing an enterprise version of the software that will help to predict which events will drive the most revenue for sponsors, based on the aggregate behavioral data of the attendees of past events.

Tim Groot wants Grip to be the IBM Watson of event networking, to offer Grip's API to organizers who want to integrate the matchmaking engine to connect people with products, exhibitors and each other, and to connect recruiters with job-seekers. "We are looking at a lot of interesting avenues," he says, "where matchmaking is a challenge."

Groot says the next stage of AI involves predictive technology. "We want to be able to anticipate your next steps based on your interactions and what you've been doing." An AI platform could analyze your profile in the context of a show schedule and suggest what you should do and where you should be at any given time during the program.

"The goal would be to create that magical experience," he says, "where everything you need is pushed toward you, where reservations and plans are made based on your profile. That's what we're taking steps toward -- figuring out how we can get a bit closer to that and create some magic."