Brian Scott, president and founder of ClearTone Consulting LLC, provides executive technology consulting services based on 35 years of technology expertise and 20 years of exhibitions and events industry experience.
The Data Future Is Already Visible. Can We Get to It?
Some folks can get really caught up in the “grass is always greener” syndrome. I can understand that tendency, of course, as I have my fair share of lawn envy, and I mean that both metaphorically and literally. Lately, for me at least, it’s been about automobiles. It seems everywhere I go, my eye is catching that certain car that makes me salivate. After the initial emotional rush, I can usually remind myself that I currently don’t have a car payment and then take a moment to recall exactly how much I dislike those.
The point is that the greener view, more often, is an illusion. It warns you that once on the other side of the fence, you will likely find yourself gazing longingly back at the yard you just abandoned. When it comes to how technology companies are coming to market and enabling an active data exchange ecosystem for their customers, the grass truly is greener in the commercial space as opposed to the association or event technology space. It’s not an illusion. I’ve crossed over and stood in that yard, and when I looked back at the event technology space, I thought, “Wow, that grass is brown!”
It’s not that I don’t love the event tech industry. In fact, it’s the opposite. It feels like my family. I grew up in this industry, and I want nothing more than for the entire industry to be incredibly successful. All boats rise with the tide, right? That’s why I make these rather alarming statements – to jar an industry (that I believe has been lulled to sleep) into an awakened state to help ensure that the tide is actually rising as opposed to receding.
Let’s talk about this data exchange ecosystem.
I’m going to torture you with yet another metaphor that I love to overuse: data is the new oil. In this metaphor, our oily liquid gold, our valuable Texas Tea, is a wonderful asset that has an immense amount of intrinsic value hidden beneath its obsidian surface. Unfortunately, to start realizing the value pent up in the data, organizations must move the data between systems. Sometimes they need to gather it together, other times they need to move it from a collection vendor to an analytic vendor. The point is that gas sitting in an underground tank at the gas station does not make your car move. It’s only when it’s transferred into your tank that you can start racing through the streets, distancing your competition and cutting off those darn mobile texters.
The real enabler of transforming raw data into purified business value is the ability to move the data easily, at will, whenever you need to, and doing so without having to pay a computer programmer $120K a year just to do so (No offense meant—I love programmers, as well). The consumer SaaS market has understood this essential enabler for over a decade and has subsequently created a data exchange ecosystem that is fueling incredible innovation. Every—and I do mean every—SaaS company that comes to market today does so with hundreds and hundreds of out-of-the-box data connectors ready to spin up at a moment’s notice to move data from point A to point B, all without a programmer.
This has occurred because all these product companies collectively realized that data in motion between vendors, even between competitors, is far more valuable for the customer than any data isolated and imprisoned in their own system. In fact, it’s already table stakes, and no SaaS product can enter the market without its data doors flung wide open. Go ahead and take the Pepsi challenge. Google any of your favorite SaaS products along with “data connector” and see what you get. I bet you’ll quickly come across a page that lists literally hundreds of pre-made connectors that allow you to push or pull data to and from the system. And this is something that even you could do! Pretty amazing, right?
Does this describe the event tech world you know today?
Admittedly, there is a small selection of vendors that have been living this principle, and to them, I say thank you. They get it. Unfortunately, for so many of the vendors in the marketplace, it may not even be on their product roadmap. The outcome for associations and event organizations is that it is still very time-consuming and difficult to get data in or out of the systems they use, ultimately making their business more challenging. And, when they do achieve integrations, I’m betting it still requires a developer to do so.
The future for the event tech industry has always been known. It is not the role of the event tech industry to be leading the world on the cutting-edge of technology creation. We are the collective benefactors of the much more dynamic and cut-throat consumer tech world. We get to take advantage of what they invent and productize—after the marketplace bloodbaths have subsided and galvanized winners have emerged. This is actually an enviable position. Let the other companies risk their war chests on new tech development. We’ll be happy to apply the proven tools into solving our customers’ needs.
The future is clear as can be. As an industry, we must quickly make our way into a free-flowing data exchange ecosystem, or I’m concerned we’ll not just be grounded by an outgoing tide, but we’ll be literally swept away by the tidal wave of external vendors and products that sweep in from the outside to fill the void.