The Internet of Things (IoT) is going to change event management forever. That’s not hyperbole. The capacity to connect appliances and devices is bound to have an enormous impact on the logistics, planning and execution of large events.
This year, Gartner research tells us, there are 8.4 billion devices connected to the Internet of Things – 3.1 million of them being business-use devices, a field dominated by security cameras and smart meters. By 2020, there will be 12.86 billion devices – and many of them will be what Gartner call ‘cross-industry’ – a category which includes lighting, heating, air conditioning and security systems.
These logistical considerations are imperative to event organisation and over time, more and more event infrastructure will be part of the IoT. This is before we consider the rise and rise of wearable tech – smartwatches, smart rings and headsets, all of which are designed to connect with the IoT in ‘smart’ environments at home and at work. Statista claims 325 million wearable devices were connected to the IoT in 2016, and predicts that number will double within five years.
This convergence of a connected infrastructure and an increasingly connected crowd points to a hyperconnected event experience – one where logistics, creative delivery and attendee experience are merged seamlessly into one. So what areas in particular are ripe for disruption?
iUtility reports two major areas in which the IoT can impact event catering. Firstly, sensors can track food safety, preparation and delivery in real time; data loggers can also track the journey of goods from production to consumption. Catering staff can be automatically notified when coffee machines, fridges and stands are low on stock, and have replenishments on the way before personnel at the point of sale know they’re needed.
On the logistical front, the IoT can link the supply chain with real world stats on attendees at similar events, cross-referencing with other factors like weather (more cold drinks for hot days, more hot drinks for cold ones) and recorded preferences to estimate how much food or drink will be needed for a specific number of attendees. The result? Less waste, better use of spend.
Access to information
Attendee experience is at the centre of event plans – and event success. NFC devices, such as the iBeacons used at SXSW 2016, can connect with attendees’ smart devices so they can sign in to the event itself, access schedules easily, and provide accurate mapping and directions around the event space.
For exhibition stands, beacons already allow staff to read visitor data off their wearables – think smart lanyards or wristbands. This allows them to pitch personalised interactions based on each visitor’s pre-registered interests and movements around the show.
Now go a step further. Smart lanyards could direct attendees to specific talks based on their actions, or even recommend other attendees they should meet, based on their interests or job roles. The IoT promises personal, tailored service delivered pitch perfectly.
Location tracking is already a powerful tool in the event organiser’s arsenal, showing where visitors have been and when. But what if the event reacts to this info in real-time? Based on where an attendee goes and how long they spend there, you will be able to build a personal heatmap of interest, and automate push messages, content and app features based on that interest.
There’s a logistical impact too: if a particular talk or panel looks like it’s going to be more or less popular than anticipated, you could move the location at almost no notice, and transmit the schedule change directly to devices. You’d save people standing up, you’d ease pressure on cramped and oversubscribed talks, and you’d turn the awkwardness of a half-empty room into the exclusivity of a small (and fully occupied) one.
Although currently underutilised compared to process optimisation and automation (according to iscoop), the ‘soft’ applications of the IoT are becoming more and more apparent. The ‘connected customer’ generates vast amounts of data from each of their interacting devices; marketers can harness and analyse this data to direct relevant, personalised content to them.
For event organisers, this means post show information and feedback opportunities which are directly shaped by what each attendee did, where they went, and how they interacted with event systems and apps on the day.
Security and safety
Smart buildings allow event organisers to pre-empt possible hazards or problems. With doors and windows controlled wirelessly and connected directly to cameras and beacons, guests can be welcomed – and unwelcome visitors kept out – with the minimum of human intervention.
The same systems also allow air conditioning, heating and lighting to be managed remotely, making them responsive to congestion in the event venue or sudden changes in conditions outside.
Business Insider UK correctly calls the first advantage of the IoT as far as event transport is concerned – closing the gaps in signal, coverage and function that allow delegates, speakers and attendees to drop off organisers’ radars while they travel. Connected cars, buses, trains and planes allow for information to be relayed in real time, for delays to be reported automatically, and for arrival times to be monitored by the organisers.
Cars can be there to collect your VIPs – on time, every time – and attendees sharing transport can be guided together with a prompt or push message, fostering the networking and connection opportunities that make a good event great.
The Internet of Things has huge potential for event managers, but harnessing those capabilities demands an open mind, and commitment to joining up each aspect of your event’s plans, infrastructure and goals. For all that, the basics of best practice – setting goals, focusing spend on achieving them and building a before, during and after show journey for your attendees – won’t change. What’s called for is a clear vision of how the event should work, and how each connected device can make that vision run smoothly, efficiently and effectively.