Meeting Technology Trends for 2015

What does the meeting industry of the future look like? Corbin Ball is an international authority in the field of meetings and predicts the trends for 2015.

Kevin Van der Straeten
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What does the meeting industry of the future look like? Corbin Ball is an international authority in the field of meetings and predicts the trends for 2015.


Hi Corbin, welcome in our show.  


Thanks, it's a pleasure to be here with you. 


You did predict some trends for 2015 for the meeting industry.  


There's a lot happening. I've been looking a lot at the meetings technology full-time for the last 17 years, and right now is an amazing time. It's one of the most exciting times I've ever seen. There's an explosion of new ideas and new ways that technology is changing events. I think that events are gonna change more the next 5 years than they have in the last 15 years. One of the major drivers for all the change is mobile technology. I think that that is something that's gone into mainstream. A couple of years ago I made a prediction that it would be mainstream by now; it has. I think most events now have mobile event apps for them. Especially the larger the more likely it is. The big change that happens is that even technology laggards are now carrying around smartphones. So everybody has a smart device to carry around and that becomes a tool for engagement, for a whole range of things. And so in this coming year we're going to see it be increasingly adopted into the basic way of how events are managed. 


But does that also mean that we are looking at things like iBeacons and things like that?  


iBeacon is definitely going to be one of those areas that's going to change. Right now a recent poll indicates that meeting planners have been interested in replacing paper at events and that's a good first step. But there are so many areas that have not been tapped into that it's... Those are the things we are going to see. Beacon technology holds great promise for how people will be engaged. There's a saying that every touch is trackable on the mobile abb. Well, it can go to another step where actually every movement can be trackable. And that makes it sound like Big Brother, but the analytics that come out of that can provide a goldmine of information to the event host, but also provide great benefit to the meeting attendee, for to be able to connect with others. To find out where the other person you're trying to find is, or to find your way through an exhibit hall, or to get geo-information based on where you're at, or just some of the few things. You get automatic check-ins. You can send out polls to people that are specifically in the room without having them to open up the app. They can get a pop-alert. There are many ways that can help. I think beacon technology is one of those big trends, big changes you're gonna see this coming year.  


But mobile apps, iBeacons, and so on, all leads to Big Data. And that's one of the next topics.  


I think so, and kind of the step between that, what mobile apps provide, is a very strong set of analytics. I used to call meetings 'the black hole of event data management' because you have computers before and after, but not during. And now you have a huge amount of potential data that can find out what people like, where they're going, what they're interesting in, what they don't like, what the social media does. And so those analytics is ultimately going to be considered one of the most important benefits of the media and event app. But takes us down to the larger scheme of Big Data. And Big Data can be seen at a couple of different levels. So traditionally Big Data is about large corporations search-combing through huge databases of information, to find out people's behavior and so forth but that can be applied on an event-scale as well. Especially when you have mobile apps coming in, providing a lot of that data. But what they register for, what they interested in, who they connect with in exhibit halls. These are multiple points of data that an event attendee gives when they go through, and that information can be very valuable on a large scale to see what people are doing and what they like. But on the individual scale that they can provide the event host and can provide more targeted relevant information to the attendee during the event or in future events. 


But are we as a meeting industry already ready to interpret this data and really work with it? Because I see a lot of companies collecting this data, but not really doing anything with it. 


Well, that's the challenge. Data is easy to create. They say that information is cheap but knowledge is dear. And that's the challenge. It's being able to convert that information into useful information that can be acted upon. And I think that that's where the meetings technology companies really need to step up to the play. To realize that this is an important area and refine their products, so this information can be delivered to them in a better packaged way, so that they can use it more easily. 


But one of the risks of all the data is of course data breaching, hacking, and things like that.  


This is an indication of the times we live in. I think there have been some major data breaches this past year. What Sony is going through right now is a perfect example of corporate data breaches. And the challenge is that the hackers are getting more sophisticated and much more prevalent. And so I think that that is going to reach the meetings industry. And it's essentially a word of caution when I made that prediction, is because it's on a meeting basis... Meeting hosts really make sure that the data they're collecting is protected and on a base level make sure that it is PCI compliant, that their registration company is without... On an individual basis we all need to become smarter about not clicking on unknown links and making sure virus protection is up-to-date and all those standard things. But the reason why I mention it now is because this past year you really see an increase in this activity, and I think it's just a matter of time before they're going to be trying to be tapping into large meeting databases for identity theft and other reasons. 


One of the other things I wanted to talk about with you is: Skype just launched its new real-time translation service, being able to translate conversations between English and Spanish, I think it is. This opens a lot of opportunities for our industry.  


We have come a long way with voice-recognition and real-time translation. Especially for meetings. We are living in this international world where the thing about it is: we bring people together. And hopefully bring people together from all different societies and nationalities and languages. And the challenge is the language barriers in some cases. And I think that all the tools; the Google Translation tools and Word Lens and these different ones are a step in the right direction. But with Skype coming out is a perfect example. It's still in a trial stage with that, but it indicates where things are going. In these next few years the Star Trek universal translators will be reality. We'll be using our mobile devices as translation instruments, to be able to speak to anybody in any language. In real-time, or just with a few seconds lag. And that is gonna change the dynamics of the world, but particularly for international meetings. And the world is becoming a smaller place. And these tools will eventually, I think, replace the translation booths in the back of meeting rooms for international meetings. 


But for all that kind of technology you need a fast internet connection, and even in 2015 in a lot of event venues it's still a problem to get good free wi-fi. 


Yeah, and when you say 'free wi-fi' it depends on what you mean by that. And it's true... I think that what's happening is that we've seen such an explosive growth in media and event apps. The surveys that have come out: 3 years ago, fewer than 9% of meeting planners were using mobile event apps. The latest survey that has just come out is that 85% of meeting planners are currently using or will soon be using mobile event apps for their event. So that's a huge explosion and it's kind of like the snake trying to get it's jaws around the rat when they're going through and we're in that expansion phase right now. We're getting at the point where we're starting to digest this huge explosion of data usage and things, I think, are going to get better. But still the problem is: the larger the event, the more likely it is that you're not going to have satisfactory free wi-fi. And when you say free wi-fi, there's a cost for that, and I think that people expect to have the same quality as in their homes with good quality, easy access, free wi-fi. The challenge is when you're a large event. You say, imagine a meeting room with 1000 people, and everybody at the same time wants to pull out their mobile event app and interact with it. That's a huge demand on bandwidth, and so I think that there's compromises to be had from the venues and the meeting planners. And I think that in at least the near term the compromise will be throttle bandwidth, if you want a kind of base level where you can answer email and tweet and do those things. That's provided throughout a facility for free. But if you want to stream HD video and people are having heavy demands on it, then I think the meeting planner would expect to pay some for that. Because it is a cost and most meeting venues are for-profit entities and they do want to make something on this as well. 


Sure, maybe a last one to conclude with: one I find very interesting is everything to do with drones. Aerial video and things like that. 


It's new and there's still some regulatory curdles to go through with this. In the articles of my website I have a number of links of examples of aerial photography, drone photography. And it's a whole new perspective. You can look at things. For example, you can float through a meeting space and photograph it in a way that you could never do before. It was impossible. Even if you used very extensive photography setups, you just couldn't do it. Now you can float through and get a really good view of what the event space is like. And then fly outside and see the whole outside of the facility. But for using them for events, there is some very spectacular footage that you can get for that. There are liability issues though, if a drone fails and falls on someone. So it should be proceeded with caution, and there may be regulatory hurdles that are coming. But that being said, it still is a whole new perspective of photography that also could have applications for events. 


Okay Corbin, thanks for all your insights in the future of our industry. 


Very happy to help. 


And you at home; thank you for watching our show. I hope to see you next week.