The last several years have seen a prolonged period of experimentation from the largest and most sophisticated buyers of event technology.
For the largest multinational corporations, associations, and professional event producers, it has not been uncommon for federated event teams - or even individual event brands within a company - to be given the freedom to choose the event tech that works for them.
So within corporations, you might see sales, marketing, and employee communications teams all using different vendors for event registration and event app, with additional permutations when you start talking about EMEA, APAC, and LATAM. Within the largest associations, the regional chapters have typically been the wild west, using whatever event tech they chose. And for the big professional event producers, things tend to run brand by brand. We have many customers that are using at least 5 different event app vendors, and 3+ different registration systems. A prospect I recently spoke with is using 50 different event tech vendors globally.
It’s been a “let a thousand flowers bloom” mentality, but on steroids.
And my sense is that this was an entirely appropriate strategy when those decisions were made. Event teams tend to be federated, so having team-specific tech is manageable from a workflow perspective. Also, event technology - particularly on the mobile and attendee engagement sides - was still a relatively new category of software. It made sense to try different stuff and see what worked.
But something has changed, and many event programs are starting to get serious about their event technology strategy.
In just about every one of my recent conversations with our largest and most sophisticated customers, the topic of standardization - aka consolidating down to one or two vendors - is coming up. As evidence, many of the biggest event shops are issuing RFPs right now, with the goal of getting to one or two vendors.
There seems to be a couple of big factors that are driving those managing event programs to think about standardization. Here are the ones we are hearing most frequently.
Economies of Scale
Event owners are increasingly looking to instrument ALL of their events with technology, even the long tail of smaller events (this is a trend worthy of its own post, stay tuned). As event tech needs go up, so do expenditures.
As just about every vendor will offer volume based discounts, by allowing your teams to use multiple vendors, you may be costing your employer 3-5x what you would pay if you consolidated.
For large event programs that manage hundreds or thousands of events per year, these numbers get pretty big in a hurry.
At DoubleDutch, we’ve long evangelized the power of data from live events. Well, it’s finally happening. Our customer requests for outbound integrations into sales and marketing systems of record are through the roof. It’s gone from a “wow, that would be cool to pipe that data into our CRM,” to, “We need to have this custom Microsoft Dynamics integration or we can’t work with you.”
And of course, if you are pulling data into your global systems of records, you need that data to be consistent. Again, the case for one vendor over many is growing.
One of the historical drivers of event tech experimentation was the “what’s the worst that can happen?” argument. In the old days, if your event tech failed on a single event deployment, the damage was fairly limited. Registration might be down for a day or two in a several month period. Your attendees might be forced to use paper, if your app failed. These were certainly not appealing outcomes, but generally we are talking about inconveniences, not catastrophes.
With the advent of GDPR, we are in a whole new world. If your event tech vendor drops someone in an event tech management system without consent, or is unable to comply with an attendee’s right to be forgotten, your employer could be looking at devastating fines.
If consistent reporting and economies of scale are the carrots of standardization, GDPR is the stick. For event planners out there operating globally, the days of experimenting with that cool new event tech from that five person startup from the Ukraine (or San Francisco) are likely over. The bar has been raised in the name of privacy, perhaps to the detriment of industry innovation; frankly, the requirements to comply with GDPR are likely too expensive for smaller players to digest.
I don’t know if we we will look back on 2018 as the year the largest event programs standardized on a single event tech partner. It’s likely going to be hard to get all the way there; festival-like, 20,000-attendee, Tier One experiences are very different from afternoon, 50 person meetings. The list of vendors who can handle both is a short one.
But it certainly feels like we are going to see consolidation of event tech within large event programs, if not full standardization. There are now both carrots and sticks pushing the industry hard in that direction.