Event technology companies often tell me that there is no distinct event technology buyer role within event organizations. While many event planners love and respect new technology, most can’t do anything more than listen to a good pitch. Senior-level event managers and even the C-suite are hard to pin down no matter how the seller positions the technology.
The absence of a clear path for selling new technology into the organization underscores an even greater problem for event organizers. By making it difficult for new ideas to get through the front door or waiting until there’s a problem and looking through the technology haystack for a solution, organizers can’t react fast enough to the market forces impacting events.
Event organizers can handle this problem structurally. And while event technology companies aren’t completely off the hook (I’ll get into the complaints I hear from organizers about poorly trained vendor sales teams another time), this ball is in the event organizer’s court for now.
There are lots of reasons why event planners aren’t the best choice for managing the organization’s event-technology decisions.
The event lifecycle is a sales-opportunity killer. When an event is coming in hot, planners don’t have time to talk about new technology with a vendor. Getting a decision on an event app or platform purchase immediately before, during, or just after an event (or ever for a busy planner) is nearly impossible.
Understanding event technology isn’t a required skill for planners. Yes, there are tech-savvy planners in the business. They get apps. They understand the difference between an ISP and an API. But, the standard training, including the curriculum for meeting industry certifications (the Digital Event Strategist certification being the exception), doesn’t cover technology.
Most planners aren’t in a position to make decisions that impact the entire organization. So even if they like an event-management software platform, the more comprehensive the solution, and the more departments that are affected by it, the less able planners are to be the deciders.
The majority of planners operate at the event level and, consequently, can only buy technology budgeted for a specific event. That leaves planners and event-tech companies dependent on the event budget rather than how the technology fits into the strategy of the organization.
So if planners shouldn’t be responsible for event technology, who should be?
There is a solid case to be made for giving the job of purchasing and implementing event technology to IT were it not for the fact that they have lots of other responsibilities, not the least of which is keeping the organization up and running. Plus, they can’t always speak to the feature sets that get planners excited, attendees engaged, or sponsors buying.
The C-suite folks are likely candidates for taking on event technology providers, but except for the CTO (or, increasingly, the CMO), they’re not in a position to consistently monitor the tech landscape or make time for all the sales pitches from vendors. And it’s too costly for the organization to have them dealing with the day-to-day issues around procurement, implementation, and integration.
Some organizations make event technology adoption a team sport, asking multiple departments—operations, IT, marketing, and finance—to weigh in on decisions. But that approach can leave everyone and no one responsible for getting event tech adopted unless there is a decision-maker leading the discussion.
Not having someone whose job and expertise it is to evaluate and manage event technology at an organizational level is costing event organizers too. It means that the innovation setting other industries on fire can’t even generate a spark in meetings and trade shows.
It’s time for a new job function. Let’s call it the event technologist.
Event organizers have to begin taking the initiative to manage new and existing event-technology companies. To do so efficiently requires a person with the expertise and authority to manage this responsibility. Here’s what I think the job description for an event technologist should include:
- You report to senior management.
- You are available year round, i.e. you won’t be trotting off to every event in which the technology you select is being implemented or get sucked into the event timeline. You are a reliable resource even when chaos ensues at event time.
- You take a strong role in purchasing decisions for new technology. You develop requests for proposal (if that’s what your organization uses) that speak specifically to the technology under consideration and you align your carefully considered recommendations with the pre-determined budget and strategy.
- You take a rigorous approach to learning about new technologies through the various publications, resources, and events that are available to you.
- You liaise with and take recommendations from multiple departments within the organization so you can map the technical needs of the users to the feature sets of the solutions. You also develop or manage an internal communications system to keep departments up to date on new technologies entering the market.
- You hold regular “office hours” for event technology companies to learn about new solutions whether the organization is looking to purchase them or not.
- You are in charge of a technology budget.
- You maintain relationships with existing vendors, including making them accountable for sending data back to the organization in the appropriate format. You develop standards of performance and evaluate the vendors regularly against those criteria.
- You negotiate service-level agreements and review and/or issue contracts to new technology vendors. You have the authority to cancel agreements for non-performance.
- You oversee integration between your best-of-breed technology vendors with the goal of maintaining data integrity and functional efficiency.
- You have a degree in information technology or computer science or the field-experience equivalent. You must be able to speak the language of digital with vendors.
Event organizers don’t have much choice at this point.
Digital transformation is no longer a nice-to-have objective for the event industry. Event technology is the critical ingredient needed to evolve. Someone in the organization (not the event planner) has to manage the day-to-day tasks associated with maintaining the event-technology stack, and a few organizations (like the Association of Equipment Manufacturers) have already created this job function. Event organizers have to stop the ad hoc agony of working with event-technology providers if they want in on the innovation and benefits of the Information Age.
If you’d like more information on the innovation impacting events, check out our sister publication eventtechbrief.com.