As the CEOs of Twitter, Facebook, Google, and other Silicon Valley stars have spent time in front of Congress over the past year, the questions they’ve fielded from lawmakers about privacy policies have spotlighted for individual consumers how companies are collecting — and aiming to profit from — their data. Those questions also have served as an essential reminder for the events industry.
“We point to the biggest names in tech sitting in front of Congress as the canary in the coal mine,” Ken Holsinger, Freeman’s vice president, data solutions, told Convene. “The events industry needs to work together to steward and protect each attendee’s data and extract value for the organizer and attendee alike.”
Before identifying opportunities to create that value, Holsinger said, every planner, supplier, vendor, exhibitor, and sponsor must answer one fundamental question: Who owns the data? “At Freeman, we have taken a hard stance that the data is owned by the individual attendee, shared with the organizer, and managed carefully by vendor partners,” Holsinger said. “It’s a permissive and transparent relationship where the attendee understands that he or she is allowing an organization to access and use his or her data, but they should be informed and in control. More importantly, they don’t have any idea who the registration vendor is, who the mobile app provider is, or who the housing vendor is. They need a clear way to access and manage their data.”
Over the past few years at Freeman, Holsinger has been working to connect the dots between many of those third-party organizations that contribute to an event’s data ecosystem. Freeman calls the initiative Fuzion, and it provides a foundation for a range of platforms to use a common language to share and protect data. More than 90 partners currently are involved in the project, and Holsinger said that Freeman is adding more on a regular basis. While Fuzion has played a big role in advancing in the industry’s approach to data integrity and data storage, he said that it’s only the beginning for the company’s ambitious plans to unlock new possibilities to deliver more personalized and more powerful experiences.
Building a Pyramid to Predict the Future
While event professionals have been hearing plenty of buzz about big data, the concept can be confusing. Holsinger breaks down Freeman’s approach to data in to simple terms that align with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Fuzion is at the bottom of the pyramid, addressing the basic needs of how organizers collect data and how they store it. “This is the engine that powers a smarter events industry,” Holsinger said, “by bringing disparate data from all kinds of third parties together.”
At PCMA’s Convening Leaders, Freeman will unveil the beginning of the second step in the pyramid: Quant. “The next piece of this hierarchy is what an organizer can actually do with the data,” Holsinger said. “We’re building Quant to act like the dashboard of your car. When you look at the dashboard, you have instant access to dig much deeper into the most relevant details that lead to actionable decision-making based on your role and the timing within the event cycle. It’s designed to give an organizer a real-time look at the insights that matter most when they need them.”
Understanding those insights relies on understanding other events, and Freeman’s 2016 acquisition of Exhibit Surveys, Inc. (ESI) will play a big role in the first phase of Quant. “The team at ESI has 50 years of benchmarking data, and they will serve as consultants to help compare customer data findings with industry benchmarks and established standards,” Holsinger said.
For example, if a show’s social performance is lagging behind similar shows in the same category — 200 tweets, for example, when there should be at least 300 tweets at a given point in time — Quant can alert organizers of the need to boost hashtag usage and motivate attendees to contribute to the conversation. At Convening Leaders, some of the consultants from ESI will input insights into a machine-learning environment to help train the platform for future predictive analytics. “Ultimately, we want the average event to be able to gain intelligence without having a team of consultants behind the scenes,” Holsinger said. “That’s where we’re going. We’re going to start training the system now and the platform will get increasingly smarter with more shows and more information.”
Those machine-fueled insights will pave the way to some very good news for humans. “Event organizers have been using an increasing number of technology solutions, but all those tools haven’t really saved any time,” Holsinger said. “They’re busier than ever before, but we’re looking ahead to a future where everyone involved in the show — from the marketer in the pre-event phase to the operations manager on site — will have the right information at their fingertips at the right time in the event sequence to help them make decisions and simplify their lives.”
Interested in learning more about how Freeman is working to build the “dream dashboard” for event organizers? Be sure to check out Holsinger’s session at Convening Leaders at 10:50 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 8, on the Elevate Stage in Hall C of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. If you can’t make it to Pittsburgh, download Freeman’s white paper “Data Integration: A Beginner’s Guide.”