An Event-Tech Stack For An Event Stacked With Tech
An Event-Tech Stack For An Event Stacked With Tech21-Sep-2017
Two years ago, Tahira Endean joined a team tasked with a formidable challenge. The Government of British Columbia (BC), Canada in partnership with the BC Innovation Council asked them to build a single event representing all of the technology-focused companies, jobs, higher learning institutions, and youth in the tech-forward province. It turns out that putting all the innovation in one place wasn’t the hardest part. Using event technology to deliver an attendee experience that could compete with AI robot animals, $60 3D-printed arms, and a giant mechanical marionette was much more challenging.
Programming deep discussions and total coolness
“The #BCTECH Summit is designed to show how digital transformation is happening and how technology really is changing everything we do and how it is positively impacting our businesses,” Endean says. But having such a broad mandate, which included having to find a place in the program for every industry sector and concept, required some ingenuity.
To ensure the conference was navigable, Endean and event director Lindsay Chan organized content into streams—presentation groupings that somehow contextualized everything from mesh networks and social physics to bioscience and clean energy.
The number of diverse technologies needing “air time”—from satellite vehicle tracking systems and affordable ($60) 3D-printed prosthetic arms to self-healing Band-Aids and exoskeletons—prompted Endean and company to install an array of display form factors. They included the Marketplace (exhibit area), Startup Square, Innovators Corridor, Technology Showcase, Space, and Test Drives (of actual vehicles).
Programming also included Innovation Runway and Research Runway, showcasing early-stage research from post-secondary institutions and a Future Realities area featuring augmented reality, virtual reality, and mixed reality applications. Artificial intelligence robotic quadrupeds inhabited a park, and a “wearables” fashion show highlighted BC technologies.
The #BCTECH Summit features both business and (a one-day) youth education components. In 2017, the event facilitated several hundred hosted business-to-business meetings between firms looking for technologies and technology-solutions providers. Offerings included a pitch showcase and conference content addressing such topics as business transformation, investment, partnerships, women-led businesses, entrepreneurship, marketing, and social impact. A VEX Robotics tournament involving 16 high school teams was among several activities geared to youth from grades ten through twelve.
#BCTECH Summit’s event-technology stack
Placing discussions and technologies into tight categories and display areas for easy consumption and maximum exposure was only one of the challenges Endean and Chan faced for the #BCTECH Summit. The other was to utilize BC-based companies to power the event.
In a few cases, mainstream conference and exhibition event technology was available (Vancouver is the home of several leading event-tech firms). In other instances, event managers had to customize elements of non-event software and tools to get the functionality they needed.
For example, when organizers selected Picatic, an online ticketing service, to manage registration, they had to add the more robust data-collection capabilities required for a typical conference. The group worked closely with Traction on Demand, a cloud consulting and software development firm, to devise a check-in tool that also allowed attendees to direct funds to a charity.
QuickMobile, Vancouver-based developers of a mobile event app platform, provided #BCTECH Summit with two mobile apps. The first, designed for attendees, included a full complement of attendee navigation and engagement features, including a proximity-beacon deployment made possible through a partnership with Vancouver startup Fathom. A second app for the Investor Showcase provided detailed information to investors and technology companies pitching their products.
QuestUpon, the makers of “geolocative augmented-reality adventures,” treated young attendees to a mobile app. The app directed students through five event zones as part of a scavenger hunt. Players were able to view clues and collect items visible on the screen when they pointed their smartphone cameras at various objects. Besides being a form of entertainment and education, the app served a logistical function. “Students were guided through the event in five groups of approximately 300 each while the adults were in sessions,” Endean explains.
One event technology that did not hail from British Columbia, but was included in the #BCTECH Summit roster of support technologies, was room-diagramming software from Social Tables based in Washington, DC. Plus, colorful, throwable microphones purchased in 2016 from Finnish company Catchbox were carried over to the 2017 event.
The B2B team worked with software firm MeetMax to enable the summit’s hosted buyer matchmaking and appointment-setting capabilities and rounded out the technology stack with Tradable Bits, a social media amplification and moderation platform that collected and visualized the best social media posts from the event on social walls.
Deciding which event technology would make the cut
On paper, an event with so many moving technology parts looks very complicated. Even though #BCTECH Summit attendees are much more tech savvy than the average conference goer, putting overly complex technology in the hands of attendees was a concern for Endean. Every time we made a decision about [the technology we used for the event], we asked the same questions, ‘is it easy?’ and ‘does it enhance the experience?’ Sometimes organizers put technology in an event because it’s cool, but it’s not easy to use, so users get frustrated. It takes all the joy out of it,” she says.
Endean implemented some must-have tools in the summit but kept an open mind for the rest. Certain technologies were “obvious” choices for her. “To me, a mobile app isn’t even a discussion point,” she says. Other technologies came along that were both interesting and easy to use, so she tried to incorporate them. “We didn’t say yes to everything, but we definitely said yes to a lot of things we didn’t expect to say yes to or didn’t even know about when we started planning.”
One unexpected yes was to a thirty-two-foot-tall marionette, which had been operated by manual pulleys for previous events. Summit planners worked with a local maker group to create an app (on the spot) that automated the operation of the giant figure. By lunchtime on Youth innovation Day, the puppet danced in time to music from a disc jockey.
The best technology events are human-centric.
No stranger to complex events, Endean admits that #BCTECH Summit was still a learning platform for her. For example, to position innovation as a key economic driver, the goal of the event, “requires collaborations between large and small organizations and with people who are willing to take risks and who seek new perspectives,” she explains.
The manner in which the summit featured technology was crucial for driving conversation. “Because our conversations are between those developing, marketing, and evolving technology, allowing technology to be seen in its most natural or competitive-ready state is important and having a variety of places to showcase them was critical,” she says.
#BCTECH Summit could very well be the dream job for Endean. “Creating a space people want to be in by using both natural light and creative lighting techniques, playing energizing music with morning-until-night DJs, and seeing each partner and exhibitor bring their areas alive with amazing tech in action is what made me smile for three days. Technology is our future and being part of the team providing the platform to show it off, that’s pretty cool,” she says.