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.
Evolution, Conglomerate and Single-Function Event Tech Vendors
The event tech marketplace is a unique animal, reflecting the industry it serves. There are a handful of event technology providers that offer a broad swath of functionality. They’ve built integrated enterprise systems offering services like registration, housing, speaker management, exhibitor services, floorplan management, virtual events, mobile apps and more, all within one system, database and brand. Of course, there are many more vendors that offer a more singular functional set that, in some cases, are considered “best-in-class” offerings. These products often provide a deeper set of functionalities within their specialty. Well, what are the considerations an event organizer should take to decide which type of solution is best for them?
It takes a surprisingly large number of event tech products to effectively pull off a large conference, exhibition or meeting. There are a handful of vendors that have been around for decades, and a number of new arrivals enter the industry every year. Many, if not most, of the tenured vendors have continued to grow their suite of offerings to provide event organizers a one-stop shop to meet their needs. This strategy is based upon the premise that there is value in having a single system to interact with, a single source of data and a single account management contact to help support an organizer’s needs.
Evolution and Conglomerate Vendors
In reality, these multifunctional vendors come in two flavors. There are evolution vendors that started with a single-function system and over time extended it to incorporate additional functions, and there are conglomerate vendors that have purchased various companies or systems over time and subsequently integrated these systems to various degrees of success in an attempt to present the ‘single system’ experience. Each has their own advantages and disadvantages.
From my experience, there is significant variation in how well a conglomerate vendor has successfully achieved an integrated system. I’ve heard some frustrations from event organizers regarding how the vision of the integrated system they were sold fell short during implementation. That said, those vendors that have done it well, which is very hard to do by the way, do provide a solid, integrated experience. One advantage of the conglomerate approach is that each individual function that was purchased over time, which originally stood as its own business, is often closer to a best-in-class system. These acquisitions often included the staff who held the industry expertise that helped create their successful system. This expertise is highly valuable.
My experience with the evolution organizations is that even though many have developed a single architecture and database underlying their multifunctional system, they often fall a bit short of the industry’s best-in-class capabilities in any single function. I believe this is often due to the challenges of stretching a single technology team over all the functional areas. With more functional areas, it becomes harder to give the attention needed in each area to stay competitive compared to single-function vendors. Over time, these evolution organizations often struggle to compete well within any single function and must rely primarily on the value proposition of an integrated, multi-functional system.
On the positive side, a significant advantage for the evolution vendors, assuming they architected their system well, is they should easily deliver comprehensive data and reports encompassing all the multiple functions. This data should be clean with relationships between functional areas clear and understandable. For example, the company information for the speakers, attendees, sponsors and exhibitors is all related and clean over many years. You may have picked up on my repeated use of the word “should.” Just because a multi-functional system has a single, integrated database, doesn’t mean the vendor has invested adequately to ensure customers receive the data insights value that is potentially possible.
Single Function Vendors
With that as our comparison, our last category is the single-function vendor that claims to have a best-in-class product. Believe me, I know how difficult it is to discern the truth behind that claim, but in theory, a company focused in a single-functional area should be able to produce a superior functional product compared to the multi-functional vendors simply due to their singular focus.
Many of these products can provide superior user experiences, unique capabilities and novel solutions, but by definition, the data resulting from their implementation must ultimately be extracted and integrated into a datastore elsewhere for organizations to have a comprehensive database incorporating all functions. Therein lies the rub. These vendors will always result in more data work by the customers that desire a single data store to mine. With that said, I’ve also noticed in the marketplace that newer vendors entering the industry often provide a superior data integration or API capability, as they’ve built their systems with data interoperability in mind.
Now that we’ve defined these types of event tech offerings, you may have noticed I am characterizing each option by how the data is captured and related. I’m a tech guy, so of course I’m thinking about relational data. But the reality of our world today is that if you’re not making all event tech decisions based at least in some part by the downstream data considerations, then you’re not functioning with a modern mindset, and you’re missing a huge opportunity.
Developing an organization into a data-centric culture comes from basing your decisions upon data-centric considerations. It might be hard to hear, but I’ll say it: A tech solution that has a great interface and an enticing value proposition but fails to move your organization toward realizing a better, consolidated, high-quality data store that can be mined for strategic value is not a tech solution you should pursue. It’s hard, but don’t sacrifice the larger and more critical data strategy for the short-term flash of the latest sexy product.
I know I didn’t tell you exactly which kind of vendor you should use. That’s because that decision is solely based on where you sit along the ‘enterprise data continuum,’ the capacity and capability of your IT staff, the change tolerance of your organization and the specifics of your strategic objectives. All these characteristics are unique to every organization. But I will leave you with this advice: If you’re not actively investing in developing a strong, data-minded culture and basing your event tech decisions primarily on how well it supports your strategic data vision, then you may want to recheck that approach.