Five tech developments driving meetings and events forward

Advancements in technology are moving at a cracking pace in the Meetings & Events space. Here are some trends to watch in 2018…

Face-recognition for friction-less registration

As event organisers adopt a range of automated check-in systems to speed-up registration, James Morgan, founder of innovation-driver Event Tech Lab, highlights face-recognition as one of the hottest developments:

“Using facial recognition to speed up queue times as well as add an extra layer to the security at events will provide both peace of mind and better experience for attendees.”

Ahead of the curve, Houston-based startup Zenus-Biometrics has just rolled out a live-streaming registration pilot at HRTechWorld in Amsterdam, which completes check-in even faster than the relatively new still-image service.

Panos Moutafis, president at Zenus inc.

“To the best of our knowledge, we are the only cloud-based face-recognition solution that offers the livestream option and we [have just started] our second pilot in Amsterdam.”

While some traditional check-in systems can take up to a minute per person, this new technology can work with video up to 10 frames per second.

It identifies attendees as they walk towards the device, calls up their information and completes the check-in process digitally. It works with any device that has a camera and enables staff to greet attendees by name as they walk through.

Attendees who opt into the system simply upload their photos before the event. The platform has a “check image” feature to avoid errors.

Moutafis says:

“Assuming the system specifications are met, our algorithms can sort the list of attendees and return the correct match 99% of the time, on average.

“We are constantly releasing new models that can maintain this accuracy when searching larger and larger databases. There are numerous nuanced features that we have been adding, but most are proprietary and we cannot disclose them at the moment.”

He adds that the technology has potential to check-in 500 people an hour so in some cases the cost will end up as a few cents per person. For security purposes, Zenus receives only anonymised images from the registration company, which are processed and instantly deleted. After the event, the metadata is also deleted.

Conversational chatbots and voice recognition assistance

The chatbot – an automated program with artificial intelligence (AI) that conducts conversations via auditory or text methods –  and it’s seeing exciting advancements, according to Carolyn Clark, senior vice-president marketing at the non-profit Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) in Chicago.

“The latest trend is the shift in their conversational nature.

“As humans, our preferred method of communication is through voice, but conveying tone, inflection, and intent through chatbots isn’t a perfect art.

“In the events industry, Eventbots by Sciensio and AtlasRTX have launched chatbots.

“You can ask questions, schedule meetings, get directions, and more. Polling, Q&A, feedback, alerts, announcements, and updates are available as in-app experiences as well.”

Sciensio’s Concierge EventBot, developed specifically for use at noisy events, does all that by having meaningful individual conversations with thousands of concurrent users via text.

The texts are written in a conversational tone to convey the “voice” of the event and can be personalised to respond to an attendee, sponsor or speaker.

As well as delivering quick polls or surveys, the bot also logs all interactions which can then be used for analysis and reporting.

Typically, users simply text a question and get an answer, but they can also request human assistance via the bot.

Sciensio founding partner Robert Caldwell says:

“Most of our bots have 93-95% of questions answered by the chatbot, with the remaining questions handled by humans.

“Our focus on intelligent conversational design makes our bots easy to deploy, easy to use, and delivers an improved user and client experience.”

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Experts predict advancements in AI will drive efficiencies across Meetings & Events.

For instance, Felix Undeutsch, head of MICE & Groups at Expedia, reckons that instead of relying on static daily delegate rates, AI can be used to improve predictive pricing, resulting in better revenue management, and play a big role in fully automating RFPs (requests for proposals).

He adds:

“We may even see the introduction of chatbots being used to respond to RFPs automatically or even in customer service scenarios.”

PCMA’s Clark says AI will be a featured trend at PCMA Convening Leaders 2018.

“By collecting attendee on-boarding information, including interests and professional goals, a simple AI system could easily automatically pair-up conference attendees to meet each other,” she says.

This simple networking system could transform an event with thousands of attendees. Whereas previously, it was done manually and not always successfully, automation allows for multiple filters against each individual to pair them appropriately.

“In the future, a good AI system could pair you with attendees to network with, and even further connect you to those who are physically near you at any given moment via GPS tracking.”

Streamlining online MICE bookings

There are lots of developments in online booking systems, with many start-ups aiming to corner the market by cutting out the cumbersome RFP process.

Asemblr, for instance, is offering solutions to help corporate event organisers to plan events from start to finish, both online and on mobile devices. As well as venues around the UK, it offers a database of suppliers, from AV and production to transportation and speakers.

Founder David Lovett-Hume says:

“We’re the only platform in the UK that aggregates event venues and suppliers and allows event planners to search select and book them all online, saving valuable time and money.”

“We’re working with bots and AI to make the planning and booking process as automated as possible for both user and supplier. The next release of the platform will allow you to plan ahead, avoid disruption and organise an entire corporate event without leaving the office.

“Because both time- and cost-savings are important to [to event organisers], in 2018 I believe you’ll see a shift towards more end-to-end bookings of meetings and events taking place online, and event planners will start favouring venues and suppliers that offer transparency of pricing and ease of booking through live availability.”

Expedia offers MICE booking technology that automates the booking process for meeting organisers in real time and can respond to RFPs up to 20 times faster than the manual process.

The white-label Meeting Market technology was trialled in Germany, has just been rolled out in Asia (through a partnership with Minor Hotels) and will be launched in the US at the end of the year.

Planners can instantly check availability and pricing, and configure and book meeting rooms, accommodation, F&B and equipment and book directly with a few clicks.

Undeutsch says:

“The technology can connect directly to a hotel’s PMS, which reduces the time spent on manually maintaining availability via Extranet.

“The solution aims to enable hoteliers to increase revenue from MICE.”

Established online booking tool Meetingselect enables users to plan meetings, source venues, analyse reports, measure savings – and book conferences for up to 2,000 people.

Meetingselect managing director Judith Huisman says:

“We actually booked a whole city with one online request.”

The self-booking tool is linked to a management information system that helps companies understand the costs.

“We offer a full end-to-end solution to manage meetings.

“For instance, unique in the market is our centralised invoicing solution, so separate suppliers do not need to be added to financial systems. Goodbye to discussions with suppliers about payment terms.”

Catching the Airbnb vibe

US-based Bizly makes it as easy to book an unused small meeting room in a luxury hotel or restaurant at the last minute as it is to book, say, a hotel room.

Think Airbnb and you get the picture. By the year-end, this startup will be booking small meetings across 10,000 venues in the US.

Chief executive Ron Shah says it is the only platform that features both hotels and restaurant private dining rooms and adds:

“Bizly wraps the entire booking platform around corporate compliance and reporting features. Companies can manage their team, make sure employees are signing the correct event contracts, automate budget-based approvals, and access robust reporting so they can manage their small meeting spend.”

The company launched its enterprise platform in May with end-to-end functionality. It is currently building a registration marketplace that will allow large companies to book their small meetings on Bizly and then link to their existing event software for registration and to consolidate data.

It also has a consumer presence through its iOS app, which has a new chat-interface for building customised events.

Image by Christian Fregnan via Unsplash

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