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2018 State of Event Tech: Part 1

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In past years, I’ve used this piece mostly to talk about technologies, engineering disciplines, and features that I believe are significant for the event technology landscape and how they might change the game. Things like AR / VR, Bots, Security, Machine Learning, etc.

While each of these technologies remains exciting and should eventually positively impact our industry, I do not believe that emerging tech is the full story in 2018.

The stories to watch in 2018 are not only feature or technology level. 

There are macro, foundational forces at work that will have significant impact on the event tech stack, as well as crowning winners and losers among the various vendors.

So I’ve decided to break this piece up into three parts.

As always, feel free to reach out if you want to talk shop.

Here is Part One of Three.

The Macro Forces Shaping Event Tech in 2018

In 2017, we saw a number of macro forces unleash themselves on our industry, and we see no sign of these letting up.

Here are a few that we are watching as we roll into 2018:

Industry Consolidation and Solution Expansion

We believe the writing is on the wall for event technology point solutions, and vendors wishing to remain viable and independent will need to build or buy themselves towards a more complete offering. We haven’t seen a foundational new technology emerge since the mobile event app that could carry a best of breed player to traction. Notable recent acquisitions on the heels of Cvent’s mega 2016 merger with Lanyon include DoubleDutch’s acquisition of event registration system Eventgrid, HGGC’s acquisition of eTouches, and Certain’s acquisition of event app Gather Digital. We are hearing rumors of others. Other modern entrants appear to be trying to build or partner themselves towards viability, which can be a formidable task for small engineering teams. Bluntly, we believe that it’s an Aggregate or Be Aggregated moment. And there are those who won’t be able to pull off either.

Tax Reform, GDP Growth, and Live Events

Historically, spending on live events and tradeshows have correlated tightly with GDP growth. With the US economy growing at its fastest clip since 2015, and with significant corporate tax reductions on the way in 2018, it is not a big leap to expect that event spend should be healthy in 2018.

Yes, there are risks. The industry continues to be under extreme pressure to prove its ROI. While progress has been made in instrumenting face to face events with technology, there is more work to be done to get to full coverage. And once that happens, there is also more to be done in unpacking what all of this Live Engagement data is telling us. But from our vantage point, live events remain a critical part of the marketing and employee engagement plans of most corporations and associations in 2018.

All signs point to another year of healthy industry spend.

Cvent Fatigue

With the Department of Justice’s approval of the Cvent and Lanyon merger in late 2016, the industry is dealing with one player that is significantly larger than everyone else. While scale has its benefits, a power imbalance is not great for anybody except Cvent itself; not event owners, not technology and services partners, and certainly not attendees. We believe that whoever emerges as a viable competitor to Cvent will feel some market tailwinds as the industry looks to avoid being held captive.

Apple

After sending just about every mobile event app vendor into a mad scramble in 2017, it appears that Apple has finally settled on an arrangement that should mostly preserve the status quo for branded event apps. But with mobile app adoption on the rise, and the macro trend of mobile apps penetrating smaller events, Apple’s App Store clutter problem is not going away any time soon. Here’s to hoping that they invest in their search capabilities in lieu of sending us all into another tizzy (just kidding Apple, you know we love you).

Jokes aside, the industry has a fair bit of platform dependency on both Apple and Google Play - always a stressful thing as a vendor, but 2018 should be uneventful.

Where are the new players?

We haven’t seen much in the way of new event technology players in 2017. There are some smaller, feature level players like Glisser and Slido that continue to do good work and hang in there. But we haven’t noticed anyone achieving escape velocity, nor have we seen significant new funding come into the space; the funding that has been announced has gone to existing players. Without another major platform shift (think AR / VR), we may not see another, new venture backed entrant any time soon. Let’s face it, the space is competitive right now with a near monopoly, and a number of well funded upstarts.

When will the big event service players invest heavily in tech?

There are some very large, very well resourced, (mostly) service companies that play heavily in events. Companies like Freeman, American Express, Maritz, George P. Johnson, BCD M&I, MCI Global, CWT, GES, and more. Who will be the first to truly put their back into redefining themselves as a technology company? Most seem to be making investments. Freeman has a portfolio of event tech companies, and is undertaking some ambitious digital projects. AMEX recently acquired Banks & Sadler, which has its own reg and app technology. Maritz is extremely savvy and has its own tech, as does GES.  But nobody has gone all in yet.

When will the big enterprise software companies care about event tech?

And speaking of companies sitting on the sidelines, to date, the largest enterprise software companies - Salesforce, Oracle, SAP, Microsoft, Adobe, IBM - have largely stayed away from event tech, even though event spending is often the largest marketing spend for many of their customers. Who will be the first to dive in?  Or will it be the PE companies like Vista and HGGC that assemble the next generation of enterprise software companies by cobbling together their acquisitions around event tech?

Ultimately, the fate of the event technology will be decided by, well, the technology.

And there are a number of mega trends that are certainly exciting and that will have a profound impact on our industry. Bot based communication is showing promise in driving incremental improvements in attendee experience.  Augmented Reality will be a force multiplier on attendee experience, but is likely dependent on a major platform shift, like what we saw from desktop to mobile. Virtual Reality will make events more accessible to larger audiences, and will likely help the industry’s business models. From a developer perspective, React Native is helping vendors spin up new features, faster, and will make its presence felt in 2018. And ultimately, we believe that our industry will be reshaped by Machine Learning and narrow AI, as the power of the event data set is unlocked. You can see some of our opinion pieces here, here, and here.

But 2018 is about foundational, macro, business forces. The struggle of the incumbent to hold off the upstarts, and the scramble of the upstarts to survive and thrive. Layer in the game theory of what adjacent player might place event tech in their roadmap, and 2018 should be interesting.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this series coming later this week: 

Part 2: For Event Planners in 2018, Time is the Great Constraint

By Lawrence Coburn | January 9, 2018

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About the Author: Lawrence Coburn

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