- Big Tech are crafting technology to disrupt events
- VR, AI and AR will enable more immersive, interactive and experiential events
- Cost and courage to take leap forward are obstacles
While the future of the business events industry is undoubtedly human, the sector needs to be ready to integrate different types of new technology that can enhance attendees’ experience in events going forward.
This is according to Ayesha Khanna, co-founder and CEO of ADDO AI (an artificial intelligence solutions firm and incubator) who was the closing keynoter at the recent hybrid SMF IBTM Wired event held in Singapore.
Aside from presenting a futuristic outlook of hybrid reality with man-machine powered events and social robots alleviating Zoom fatigue when humans meet in digital spaces, Khanna said Big Tech – like Apple, Facebook and Google – was developing technologies that would disrupt events by making experiences more interactive, personalised and dynamic. These were aimed at millennials and the next generation of digital natives – the alphas.
Event spaces with virtual reality (VR) headsets could create a social presence with avatars, sound projections and haptic gloves to make virtual attendees feel like they were in a real meeting. This was getting close, Khanna said.
She added that augmented reality (AR) has already successfully delivered specially curated art tours when travel was restricted, and could, for example, transform a customised experience for someone attending a car launch, she added.
While meeting planners and event organisers do not have to be technologists, Khanna advised that they needed to know about the developments to make decisions to help them know the customer – how he or she is feeling, for example – to create a better experience.
Non-human influencers, Khanna pointed out, were also growing by the day. The young and vivacious Lu, created by a magazine company, for example, has 25 million followers on social media. Khanna added that these non-human influencers were creating a new era of continual engagement and were cheaper to sign up “than big speakers”.
Technology is not omnipotent
Event technology solutions have no doubt been pushed to the forefront during the pandemic and GlobalSign.in founder CEO Veemal Gungadin, who is also founder and CEO of event technology platform GEVME, said he had seen a 50 per cent jump in meeting technology spend, while total budgets did not increase.
But is the industry ready to take the next step, embrace emerging technological solutions to create new realms of customer experience beyond green screen magic and 3D movie thrills? Will AI, VR and AR be less sexy once face-to-face and high-touch interaction can resume, and is the industry excited by the possibilities?
According to Oscar Cerezales, chief strategy officer, MCI Group, technology is important, but it is only an enabler.
Cerezales said: “Technology without design is useless, and there is no correlation between great events and great technology used. However, there is a correlation between great events with great design – UX or user-based with neuroscience, design thinking, etc.”
What the industry needs to learn from Big Tech, he pointed out, is “how to scale up, how to grow-build-stick-monetise communities and how to develop platform business models”.
To Cerezales, it is a phased process – first, a simple pivot from offline to online; second, adding design to the experiences; third, acceptance that it is not about an event but a year-long campaign with multiple touchpoints with their audience, be it corporate customers or association members and the public.
“This process requires courage, a testing and prototyping mindset, plus a learning and collaborative ecosystem. Finally, everyone has to learn about the what and how of modern outsourcing needs,” he pointed out.
Focus on need, partnership and ROI
The AI, AR and VR future of events, according to Kenny Goh, founder, miceNeurol, an event technology partner and event planner, is “frightening and confusing to the industry” preoccupied now with “bottomline issues”.
Moving forward, Goh advocates the setting up of a partnership model where the four main stakeholders – event technology company, production house, venue and content owner – approach a hybrid or virtual event on a “cost-share” basis with the Singapore Tourism Board or Singapore Exhibition and Convention Bureau as the catalyst.
PCO and turnkey agency Ace:Daytons Direct is a frontrunner in using AI to create virtual platforms and data in matchmaking, according to managing director Nancy Tan.
Tan said: “But emerging technology, production, satellite and equipment costs have to be affordable for clients and so far, demand among our primarily medical association clients is not a lot, only if it is a necessity and if adoption would result in higher ROI.”
“It is different if you are a gaming event or conference. Then, AI and VR are a must,” Tan opined, adding that such technology would add value to a high-end product launch.
“It is good to have but to ‘hype up’ an event comes at a price”, Tan commented, noting that AI has been around since 1950 and the first VR headset was developed in 1968.
Gungadin agreed there had been “no impetus” for the industry to “reimagine” events with the sort of technology due to the cost and “if it’s not broken, why fix it” mindset.
However, he said there was a need now to reimagine the experience for those on-site, as well as to create a distinct experience for those online.
For him, the next big trend is leveraging big data to better understand the customer, to create a better customer experience and to deliver a 365-day user journey – the omnichannel, and it is already happening.