Technology: What to Focus on Now

We asked three leading tech experts — women all known for being ahead of the curve — what business-event organizers should be keeping top of mind going forward.

Author: Michelle Russell       

Keeping up with the ever-accelerating pace of technological change is a challenge that is not getting any easier. So Convene asked three tech experts, all of them sought-after speakers, to help narrow the task by answering this question: What is the one thing about technology that business-events organizers should be thinking about going forward?

Andy Cunningham: Technology as a ‘Supporting Player’

Andy Cunningham

With all the technology in front of all of us all the time pulling us away from human contact, people are seeking out live experiences more than ever. It’s up to business-events organizers to make them more compelling and to use them as brand builders. Technology should be a supporting player in these events to enhance the experience.

More data about attendees enables better event design. Virtual and augmented reality add interest to any venue. Blockchain makes ticketing easier. IoT provides attendees with smart wearables to guide the live experience. AI anticipates attendees’ actions, giving organizers a means to delight them at every juncture. All of this great technology should be deployed to create a better live experience — one that garners loyalty, generates word of mouth and builds brand.

Cunningham is founder and president of the marketing, brand, and communication strategy firm Cunningham Collective, and is best known for her work in the technology space where, alongside Steve Jobs, she launched the Macintosh and the world-famous “Think Different” campaign.

Samantha Radocchia: Blockchain

Samantha Radocchia

One of the most impactful technologies is blockchain — a backbone network infrastructure technology. It’s converging with IoT, big data, additive manufacturing, machine learning, and AI to power exponential, industry-wide shifts.

In order to understand how industries are changing, and how to be involved in the movement, conference organizers need to know which topics are relevant and interesting to their attendees.

Based on my experience as the cofounder of a blockchain company and a regular speaker at industry conferences, here are the areas I believe upcoming events will be covering:

Finance is focusing on cryptocurrencies and tokenization — In the early 2010s, bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies were viewed in a negative light by most people in finance. However, the principal value of blockchain in this industry — that the network and nodes validate transactions, rather than banks — has helped the technology gain traction. As more people and institutions get involved, new opportunities arise. Now, tokens are being created to represent traditional financial tools, like gold and natural resources. And security and asset-backed tokens are capable of representing stock, equities, or assets. Equity tokens, which function like traditional securities, will help to bring more liquidity to early investors. Even tokenizing assets like fine art is opening up new investment opportunities in old markets.

Identity is being shaped by blockchain-based identities — Blockchain is converging with the trend of digitizing important personal data, and together they’re accelerating the move towards paperless, permanent identities. Having an immutable link to your identity, even without a passport or ID, has enormous consequences for governments, financial institutions, and individuals who want greater control over the data they generate.

Supply chains are becoming more connected and transparent — The linking of the physical and digital worlds is one of blockchain’s most important feats. And those in the industry are already seeing the effects of the physical-digital link on supply chains in commodities and pharma. For instance, the Responsible Gold platform is tracking conflict-free gold from the moment it leaves the mine to its eventual resting place in a vault. That allows investors to confidently buy gold, knowing it was ethically sourced. In pharmaceuticals, the MediLedger Project blockchain is helping drug manufacturers and suppliers meet the Drug Supply Chain Safety Act’s regulatory requirements, while also adding value to the ecosystem through the streamlining of chargebacks and settlements.

Blockchain’s influence on supply chains won’t stop with those industries, however. There’s still a lack of transparency and accountability in supply chains throughout industries like cosmetics and personal care, coffee, luxury goods, and many more.

As blockchain affects some of the most essential industries, event organizers have to be cognizant of how these shifts will impact the nature of conference agendas and speakers. If they understand where and how innovation is happening, they’ll be able to help organize the events where people gather to contribute to the evolution of emerging technologies.

Radocchia is the co-founder of Chronicled, which leverages blockchain and the Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to deliver smart supply-chain solutions for pharmaceutical, retail, and financial industry clients.

Clara Shih: AI

Clara Shih

 The one thing about technology that business leaders and event organizers should be thinking about is how they should be better preparing their employees, communities, and schools. AI improvements generally happen “gradually, then suddenly,” to borrow an Ernest Hemingway saying. People are remarkably resilient, but they need time to develop new skill sets and a growth mindset if they didn’t need one before.

I will never forget visiting an insurance agency and meeting a veteran staff member who had just been shown AI technology that could complete in a few minutes what he had been doing by hand for eight hours a day, every day, for 20 years. His eyes swelled with tears, and after the initial shock he resolved to focus his time on business development and sales activities, which was his initial background prior to being sucked into rote manual servicing tasks.

The next decade will turn many lives and organizations upside-down and make the last decade seem like child’s play. What are we going to do about it?

Shih is CEO and Founder of Hearsay Social, author of The Facebook Era, member of Starbucks Board of Directors.

Learn more about these three speakers at And look for more tech insights, along with trends in lodging, exhibitions, and travel, in our 18th Annual Meetings Industry Forecast in our November issue.

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