As the events industry continues to compete in challenging economic conditions, our session on leveraging technology to create new revenue opportunities created a lot of interest during Confex last month. Over 50 people attended, hoping to understand how they can maximise the use of what, in most cases, they already have.

We started the session discussing the event ‘Jenga’ tower – this simple approach helps organisers understand the importance of the foundation and building blocks before adding revenue related solutions. Without the stable foundation blocks of connectivity and networking in place – just like Jenga – the tower is likely to fall when you add more weight (or in this case products) to the top.

We presented that the best ways to get a stable foundation include asking the right questions of a venue (see our 10 critical questions here), talking with experts on the actual requirements and placing orders early (often saving money).

With a solid foundation in place the opportunities then breakdown into several key areas:

Maximising content – If your event involves presentations or discussions, stream the content for free over services such as ustream or for internal events check if the organisation has a method to allow sharing of video. Publishing the content for free can be done with advertising subsidy but if you want to charge that’s also possible. Either method will allow those who can’t travel to join in.

Increasing exposure for sponsors – In addition to the normal sponsor opportunities technology can add more exposure and record those who use it. For example offering a free Wi-Fi hotspot to attendees for their email and a few other key bits of information (like post code) allows the collection of data for providing a service. A hotspot in one specific area will limit the investment needed.

The Smart Event

The Smart Event

Cashless/Contactless technology – Contactless systems allows payments to be processed quicker. This could be a ‘closed loop’ system like a token or loyalty system which enables the event to offer reduced rates and therefore collect data on what’s being consumed. ‘Open loop’ systems such as those with Visa or MasterCard enable reduced transaction times and drive up spend.

Exposure to social media systems – Allow attendees to check in to locations or use QR codes to download content immediately. Linking with social systems enables free exposure to the attendee’s networks such as Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn enabling your event to be exposed to people who may work in similar industries or have similar interests.

Smart applications – Apps continue to be expected for many events, allowing access to speaker’s biographies, voting functions, live Q&A and pretty much anything that can be imagined.

The audience at Confex asked good questions, for example; how much are things like splash pages worth to sponsors? Which of course depends on the exposure and type of audience. There was also interest in what information is available to help with new technology topics. A great resource is the ESSA technical guide available to all members.

Etherlive are continuously identifying ways in which we can improve the services which organisers can offer their customers, exhibitors and staff. Many of these people may be travelling for extended periods, have damaged or incompatible IT hardware or be travelling ‘light’ with just a smartphone or tablet device. Our work hub package has proved to be very popular, especially in the conference and exhibition sectors where a fully equipped and secure environment to work and print from is often requested.

A work hub ready for delegates

A work hub ready for delegates

A typical work hub provides;

  • Secure printing & copying
  • Fax
  • Device charging facilities
  • Full ‘desktop’ PC access
  • Desk telephones with low national & international call rates and a pin charging system
  • Skype booth with webcam and microphone
  • Wired & wireless internet access
  • Engineer onsite support

The Etherlive Work Hub creates a flexible, secure, dedicated work area which gives attendees the opportunity to keep on top of business without interfering with the event itself. Work hubs also work well for media and flexible organiser spaces.

By supplying a work hub you will be providing things that your delegates need and offering a service above and beyond expectations.
Please speak to our team now for more information about work hubs.

A $500 million event that happens once a year watched by 111.3 million people, supported by some of the world’s biggest sponsors, is put on hold for 30 minutes by a power outage. When this kind of failure can happen at the Super Bowl it’s not surprising that those who run and support events are kept awake at night worrying about what can go wrong – you only get one chance to get it right.

Power outages can happen to the biggest and best events, no matter what the location and with just about everything relying on power to some degree it’s important to look at how to mitigate any issues if the lights do go out.

The first step is to identify what power you have and the risks associated with it (it’s very easy to take for granted especially when in a permanent building), closely followed by identifying what services rely on it. From a technology point of view this list can be very long – access control, internet, telephony, two-way radio boosters, ticket systems, CCTV, Wi-Fi to name a few.

Each service should be reviewed for impact and with this information decisions made on whether to employ mechanisms to minimise risk. It’s also important to understand the interdependencies, for example a decision may be made to have a back-up generator for Event Control but if the phones and radio communication cease to function due to power loss elsewhere on site then the operation could still be impacted.

These days box offices and entrances struggle to operate without power as they rely on real-time ticket scanning and electronic payment. In these key areas it’s important to not only have a power backup plan but also a contingency plan to continue operating if the power plan fails – even if that involves manual checks over the radios or using runners.

Events don't have this option

Events don’t have this option

Many events now rely on a network for many of their systems – from ticketing & phones through to CCTV. That network needs to be designed with redundancy and power failure in mind. All key points should be protected by a monitored UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) – the monitoring is important so that central control knows if power fails how long the battery within the UPS can continue to operate for, especially as it can take some time for a power issue to be diagnosed and rectified on a large site. For critical areas, such as servers and core networking, the UPS needs to have a significant operational time which may involve the ability to ‘hot swap’ batteries to extend run-time indefinitely.

Modern VoIP telephones, CCTV cameras and other network equipment can be operated using PoE (Power Over Ethernet) which means they take their power from the network itself rather than a mains supply. The benefit of this is that the power required can be centralised and protected with a UPS so that the impact of local power outages in cabins and offices can be minimised.

Events will always have to deal with the unexpected happening – it’s part of the excitement and challenge of the live industry but sensible planning and preparation can minimise the impact.

Achilles was an all-powerful god with one deadly weakness in spite of his overall strength. As a baby Achilles was dipped into the River Styx, which was supposed to offer powers of invulnerability, by Thetis. When Thetis dipped the young Achilles into the river he held him by his heel and thus that part was not washed and become his weak point. The rest, which includes a poison arrow and a good shot, is history

The story from ancient Greece reminds us that everything has a weak point and with wireless technology its interference. Without acknowledging or managing interference the most expensive, well designed event wireless network will become useless.

In a recent industry forum interference became a topic with generated lots of questions so we have put together a brief list of some key considerations to ensure the wireless network at your event doesn’t suffer.

1. Manage expectations and set formal guidelines

Delegates and exhibitors should be informed in advance that any personal equipment will be subject to certain guidelines to prevent interference with the in-house Wi-Fi. It is recommended users are requested to sign a simple pre-registration form containing the guidelines prior to the event. Have technical resource or partner on hand should any exhibitor wish to ask questions.

2. Use a technology partner to scan the airwaves

Once guidelines have been set, wireless scanners can be used by on-site technology experts to ensure the agreements are being followed and to locate equipment causing interference. It’s not just other Wi-Fi devices that can be a problem – DECT phones, Bluetooth, alarms, telemetry systems and even industrial microwaves can all be sources of interference.

3. Manage other suppliers

Any wireless networks used by other suppliers should be taken into account during the early stages of Wi-Fi negotiations; wireless networks may be of equipment used by AV companies for example, so it is worthwhile engaging to pre-determine any possible interference and pre-assign channels so systems can coexist.

4. Get skilled up

Ensuring that the team running the event have access to technical resources or an on-site technology partner are essential in enabling an organiser to address any interference affecting delegates during the event.

Everything has an Achilles Heel

5. Put in place a back-up plan

If local interference cannot be eliminated, there should be a back-up plan to minimise the impact i.e. the installation of some hard-wire cables which delegates and exhibitors can use. Whilst wireless offers freedom, many venues suggest that those requiring a ‘guaranteed’ service should consider a backup wired connection assuming the device supports this.

6. Make the necessary pre-event considerations

Check the venue before choosing it in order to identify any potential problems; a good question to ask in the first instance is whether the in-house network can be turned off if it is not required for the event reducing interference.

7. Know your frequencies

Interference can often occur as a result of too many technologies crowding the same frequency channel;. A way of counteracting this is to advise those requiring a larger wireless range to use a 5GHz network, which can offer more transmission channels than the overused 2.4GHz. More and more devices now support 5GHz including a number of the current range of smartphones.

8. Use the right equipment

Domestic Wi-Fi equipment and even lower cost so called business equipment does not have the more advanced antennas and management to deal with interference effectively. Higher end professional equipment can automatically work around interference and deliver a much stronger & higher quality connection even when interference is present.

I recently attended a great session by TFL on the expected traffic impact from the 2012 games. The presentation (a copy of which is available here) highlighted some of the myths surrounding the games, and the work that is taking place with businesses to lower the ‘normal’ traffic (including out of hours delivery schemes and encouraging those who can work from home to do so) thereby reducing load on the network.

Those who have events running during the period of the games will already be aware of the impact to logistics and no doubt be planning transport strategies accordingly. NB: The Games are not just London based but involve many venues all over the country from July until September. This blog focuses on some of the tools you can use with your employees whilst off site to keep them working wherever they may be.

Keeping it in the Cloud – Free online applications such as Google Docs and Microsoft 360 have dramatically changed the way companies are storing documents and collaborating. Both services allow documents to be quickly shared with pre-authorised users (within your organisation or otherwise), updated online from multiple device types (smartphones, tablets and laptops) and also include services such as instant messaging and revision tracking. A subscription model is available for those that wish to rely on the service and access advanced features such as video calling. Security needs to be considered so anything highly sensitive should remain stored in the office.

Slow traffic at the Olympics

Could make getting into work a challenge

Keep connected on the move – Employees with mobile devices (e.g. tablets, laptops, etc.) can use them to access content by hopping between Wi-Fi networks or using 3G. One option is ‘Mi-Fi’, small pebble sized dongles that share out a 3G signal through a local Wi-Fi network. These avoid the cost of everyone having their own contract and are great for working on the train or during a site survey. As always 3G comes with the consideration that speeds will vary depending on how many people are using the cellular network in the area… and some rural parts of the country are still waiting for 3G coverage. Because 3G network performance is out of the control of individual companies, 3G or mobile connectivity should not be relied upon for critical services.

Work from the home computer – If employees don’t have laptops why not let them use their own computers? They can connect through remote systems to their email or documents straight from their browser and benefit from a proper chair and monitor. It may even be suitable to give the employee full access to their work desktop, in which case Logmein and Citrix are good places to start.

New ways to meet – One thing that can’t be replaced is face to face interaction with customers, however this is often not viable. So why not start encouraging more online video usage? The industry leader Skype is an excellent product that many already use. A good recommendation is to set up an account just for work purposes so you can logoff at the end of the day.

The key thing is to acknowledge transport and communications systems will be stretched at times and it’s best to put some plans in place now and offer employees flexibility to ensure everyone remains productive.

‘Cloud computing’ is one of the buzziest of buzz words. For many businesses it can bring benefits and for those working in the events industry it is particularly useful, facilitating simpler and more efficient ways of working for teams which are often at different locations and constantly moving from site to site.

In essence all cloud computing means is accessing data and programs from a central, secure internet location rather than from a traditional office computing environment. What makes cloud computing more interesting is that the services are generally provided with great cross-platform (PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, Android, etc) support and a flexible pricing model (often free for the basic service). The concept is not new – many email services have operated in this way for years – but the move to storing all documents and applications online is more of a leap for users. So what are the benefits and potential issues:

Easy Sharing – Automatically share the latest versions of documents with whoever you decide. This could be internal teams or approved partners including suppliers and customers. This saves you from emailing out lots of updates which then get out of sync as others chip in. Some applications allow mutliple people to edit the content at once, providing a chat window to discuss changes as they happen. Services such as Dropbox, Box and SugarSync are popular and many also automatically keep a revision history.

Ubiquitous Access – A bonus of using a system based on the internet is your access point, be it your phone, tablet, laptop or friends PC can, assuming you have the appropriate credentials, access information. So if you find yourself completing a site visit with your phone in your pocket you can upload your photos and notes to a central system straight away instead of having to wait until you get home.

Scalable Software – Beyond documents and image sharing, software and applications can also be operated from the cloud. Event management tools, project management, expenses tracking, word processing and contract management are just some of the areas which have cloud hosted solutions. Accessing these systems from home, smartphones or tablet devices then becomes much simpler because devices only have to access information from one online location. Microsoft 360 for example is a full version of the Office suite and storage which immediately gives you the latest Office platform without having to remember to update whilst allowing you to access from whatever device you want.

Keeping it safe – Keeping information off site on a cloud server does have security implications which need to be considered. Highly private information should still be kept locally, but there is a trade off between security and accessability, especially when many people already store most of their information with a mail host online. When looking at cloud hosting you should consider the security they impliment and ensure it meets your requirements. Key aspects are ensuring that all information is transmitted encrypted (generally HTTPS) and most importantly ensuring people use strong passwords. It must be remembered that cloud systems are accessible by anyone on the internet so weak passwords (names, dictionary words, etc.) get cracked easily – it is essential the strong password rules are followed – non-dictionary words, upper & lower case, alpha and numeric characters and where the system allows special characters (!?*& etc.). Also the longer the better for passwords as some systems use the password to create the encryption key.

Connectivity – We all get used to having connectivity all the time and get frustrated when we lose connectivity but using cloud systems takes this to a new level as without connectivity most cloud systems cease to function at all. Also cloud systems will typically put more load on an internet connection as all activity is being synchronised across the network for all of the users. So fast and reliable connectivity is essential is you want to use cloud services.

Cloud computing continues to grow at a fast rate and has a role to play in many businesses and with the right planning it can lead to a far more productive team.

What does it say about society that a report on two UK 4G trials hits prime time nine o’clock news on the BBC? Probably that everyone still can’t get their heads around billions of Euros being thrown about and is looking for a little good news or at worse a new topic.

I thought the report, which had to address a rather wide 9pm audience, was good. In summary, 4G is coming and the speed and performance look great. A quick Google search finds that Gizmo has been using the O2 London-based trial for a week and is giving it rave reviews.

So with that good news ringing in our ears, we may think the battle of mobile data is done, but unfortunately wars are never that straight forward.

I would highlight to the event world that, whilst 4G will help tremendously with getting data access where we want it, it won’t address the primary challenges.

The march of progress: when 3G was starting to hit the market in 2003, it was to be the fastest, most reliable service in the world. At that time, most people in the UK used GPRS services on their devices, which delivered a speed of 9 kbps (pioneers at the time were using data cards with their laptops); compared to that, the theoretical throughput speed jump of 3G (2048 kbps) was immense. 3G was released and what happened? Firstly, deployment was slow and the real world speeds were much slower than the hype. Nearly 10 years on, coverage is still patchy and performance erratic.

Then we all got smartphones. So now not only do we want access to web sites, but we also want to watch iPlayer. We don’t make calls any more: we want to use face time. You get the picture (no pun intended). These developments are brilliant and make us more productive, keep us in touch with our families, etc. but what we continue to do is increase our data demand exponentially. That demand will not stop; 4G will just catch up, arguably to behind the demand curve when it eventually comes to market.

All mobile networks end with a cable somewhere

All mobile networks end with a cable somewhere

Law and order; OFCOM controls all licenced wireless broadcasts in the UK. For any UK carrier to broadcast on a 4G frequency and therefore offer services they must buy the licence. The sales of those licences has just been pushed back until the back end of 2012. So first not only do the carriers have to buy the licence (a massive investment which even for the largest carriers is a significant spend) but then they have to actually start to pay to upgrade their base stations to 4G just like they have with 3G. Have they finished upgrading all base stations with 3G yet? Ah. Good point.

The density spike; a key point for our event customers. 4G fundamentally operates in the same way as all GSM technologies in that it’s designed to be broadcast from several central points to cover a town. The design relies on relatively consistent demand. Throughput is constrained by the amount of spectrum each company has purchased from OFCOM and not solely on the amount of hardware deployed. Therefore when that bandwidth is fully utilised during abnormal spikes of activity there is not much that can be done to improve service. You can’t deploy 30 base stations around a site however much you wanted as you can’t service any more customers than you can with say 4. Service can be cleverly deployed using the topography of the site but in reality you are designing around the limitations of the way the system is designed. Here Wi-Fi has the edge since each ‘cell’ is much smaller and can be deployed all over an event site.

The cost; as always this is the million pound question. The carriers learnt from a lot of mistakes when they deployed 3G – and we should all sympathise. They purchased the licence from OFCOM for billions (Vodafone paid £5.9 billion for the rights to some 3G spectrum in 2000) and then tried to charge per MB but no one bought it because they found themselves operating in a world where customers want unlimited tariffs just like their home internet. Now they have to pay again for 4G licences. How will the charging model work? People want data ‘free’ but there is a huge infrastructure cost at a time when chargeable call volumes are dropping.

Just a little food for thought, it will be interesting to see how the trial in Cornwall, which is looking at how 4G can be used to help get internet access to remote locations (a great application) goes over the next few months and how manufactures start to line up devices for us to enjoy this need for speed with.

QR codes link the virtual world with the real world. Like many technologies it sounds abstract but once appreciated it can be very powerful for the events world. A few of our customers have been asking what, practically, can one do with them…so we have listed a few applications.

For those of you who haven’t come across them before, QR codes are the next generation of bar code. A normal bar code contains just a set of numbers which can be quickly read by a computer (or you can read them yourself if you are so inclined) whereas as a QR codes can contain text and context information, such as identifying the text as a URL or an email address. QR codes can be generated for free (here is one example) and many apps exist to scan them just by taking a photo from a smartphone.

Using them in print media – Imagine you are launching a press campaign for a new event. You want people to go to a website to sign up for the event. The print advert cost you a bit so ideally you want to know how many people register as a result of seeing it. Normally to achieve this you would either use a hyperlink for registration which is unique to the advert (which can be hard to remember) or ask those who register where they saw the advert (good luck getting someone to fill that out). Now imagine you create a QR code which links to a registration form with a special string which highlights the exact advert. If someone wants to register whilst reading the advert they pull their phone from their pocket, take a photo of the QR code and they are immediately connected to the hyperlink.

Linking them into social media – Although this requires a little bit of technical knowhow a lot of companies are now linking QR codes with a Facebook ‘Like’ so that it can be instantly shared with someone’s friends. By using a small application interface (in Facebook) people viewing a poster at an event can ‘like’ it which then presents itself in their Facebook profile (they need to input their password and username). The event attendee would take a photo of the QR code which would then link them to the sign in function for Facebook.

QR Code Example

QR code in use

Used as a feedback link – I saw this recently on Eurostar. Just a simple poster as you leave their luggage area which reminds customers with any feedback to please send them a text message. Text is great, however on the same poster you could include a QR code with a specific email access. Much quicker for the person walking out of the area who doesn’t have time to stand and type in the email address to is to use a QR code

Put them on your business card – QR codes can contain a full digital business card, so no longer do your contacts need to type in your information.

Payment systems (and beyond) – Starbucks has a great example of this application working now. You pay for a coffee through their smartphone application then simply show the barista the QR code. They have a scanner at the pay point which confirms the QR code against their system and you get your super latte mocca frappe. Imagine that working at a bar? Or for a customer willing to pay access to VIP shower facilities? Endless possibilities.