In the last decade, event apps have evolved into a versatile tool for planners and attendees that is now indispensable. They make event visits more productive, raise the ROI for all stakeholders, and provide valuable data that give event planners essential insights. But while the event app market is at its peak, the world of event technology is changing. Innovative technologies and booming acquisitions open up new possibilities for event planners. But what role will such a crucial and attendee facing tool as event apps play in this changing world? We'll take a closer look at promising new platforms, how they compare to traditional approaches and predict what the 2020s might hold.
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A Decade in Review
Before we address what is happening today, let us take the end of a decade as an occasion to look back wat event apps have come. Ten years ago, a new tool for conferences emerged: mobile apps with core features that focussed on programs and content. These enabled attendees to swap their 300-page printed programme for a mobile app on their iOS, Android, and even Blackberry device. While event professionals were initially uncertain whether this new way of conveying event information was the future, smartphone adoption outnumbered that of basic mobile flip-phones within a few years, and it was clear that mobile event apps were here to stay. Their core features evolved from a programme- to engagement focus, offering attendees new ways to engage with session content and the ability to chat with their peers. With growing adoption and increasingly wifi-dependent functionality, new challenges emerged for suppliers and organizers alike. Attendees at some major conferences were even asked to disconnect from the wifi on their devices so that keynote presenters had enough bandwidth to complete their presentations.* Gladly, the arrival of 4G and 5G improved international phone rates, as well as venues that offer reliable coverage have made this a problem of the past.
Another crucial point in the evolution of event apps was the "App-ocalypse" of 2017. Apple updated its App Store guidelines and added new rules that banned all apps created from commercialised templates or app generation services. While some believed this would be the end of the white label event app, Apple soon published an amended version of the guidelines that clarified their intentions and sparked a movement to less quantity, and higher quality event apps.
Consolidation: The Future of Event Tech?
Today, a booming number of acquisitions is reshaping the event tech world. Influential event tech companies are acquiring small and new tech suppliers to form all-in-one solutions for event planners. This is especially the case in markets that have reached maturity, like event apps and online registration solutions. The consolidations are obvious: The resulting all-in-one solutions are administratively efficient as you don’t need separate RFPs, contract negotiations, or points of contact for each tool you decide to use. All your technology is connected, meaning you never have to leave your software to plan your programme, send registrations, or create your event app. Recent studies by EventMB confirm the trend: While only 8% of event professionals considered using all-in-one platforms in 2018, this number grew by more than 25% in 2019.²
Not all good news
But there is a catch. The research also showed that, while 37% of event planners prefer to use an all-in-one platform, it is more important to them that the provider has excellent support, integrates with other tools and – unsurprisingly – comes with a reasonable price tag². These are points where many all-in-one providers are lacking, especially when talking event apps.
The pricing is often tied to a package, indicating that (1) there are no options for event professionals to negotiate for the best deal and that (2) the packages are designed to fit a broad range of clients. For event apps, this could mean that you end up paying for features that don’t align with your event objectives, while other features are missing because they are too niche.
When it comes to support, most all-in-one suppliers follow a 100% DIY model.³ Here, the customer signs up for an account within their event management software and begins his work e.g. with the guidance of an online tutorial. While the idea of more time-efficient and self-guided training is promising, it proves to be difficult in a world where 40% of event professionals are still uncomfortable with event technology² and support is one of the most deciding factors in their buying decision. Especially with an attendee-facing tool like your event app, it is crucial to have quick and knowledgeable staff available to help you with any problems that might occur.
Looking at the integration possibilities, all-in-one platforms are often created as closed ecosystems, where planners have everything they need to plan a successful event on hand. The downside may be that they won't talk to other systems.
On top of that, many clients of acquired event app developers are unsure whether their app is future-proof or if they will be forced into bigger platforms that don't deliver the same pricing, service or experience they previously agreed to. So, how can event planners take advantage of the rising number of all-in-one solutions without compromising on their event app?
The Future is Custom
The solution could lie within the power of a customized event tech stack - either consisting out of multiple independent tools or as a combined solution where dedicated tools complement to your all-in-one platform. With the constant development of new tools, the ability to create a well-functioning event tech stack has become more critical than ever for event planners. Done right, an event tech stack delivers cost-efficiency and the ability to integrate new tools with existing software and dedicated teams of product experts.
A well-functioning event tech stack doesn't happen overnight. There are two key ingredients to create a good environment: Finding the best-in-class tools and creating a perfect data flow. To find the ideal tools for your event, you should not only consider what you need at different stages of your event planning but also your event format and the vision you have for the event.
A great beginning is to take an inventory of your current technology. Look at the platforms you are currently using throughout your event, may it be for marketing, planning, or attendee engagement. Diagram them in a way that lets you visualise their dependencies. How does your data flow? How do the tools you are already using connect? You should get a good picture of what is covered in your process and, more importantly, what is missing. Is there a gap between stages? Do you lack a particular feature? Aim for a seamless end-to-end process. Your tools need to complement each other, and there should be no dead ends where data is lost or needs to be entered twice.
Integration is key
To achieve this "seamless" process, integration is crucial. As Julius Solaris said in 2019's Event App Bible: "import/export is a thing of the past." Integrations connect your different tools and make them work together automatically. Extremely fragmented stacks will leave you frustrated and will cost you valuable time, energy and data.
The good news is that most tech suppliers are well aware of this need and offer integration services. In 2019, more than 87% of event apps offered integrations with registration systems¹. When scouting for tools, look for a provider that goes the extra mile and not only provides integration from a set list of software. Your providers should be able to customise connections between theirs and your existing software to fit your event.
While acquisitions open up a new and exciting world, it also forces many organisers into event apps that are not fitting their event objectives. Especially when it comes to a tool that is the touchpoint between you and your attendees - you should strive for nothing but the best. The key to unlocking productivity, efficiency and ROI could lie in the ability to customise your event tech stack. As the technology industry continues to evolve, an event stack can give you the power to choose the tools that work best for your event. You should seize it.
¹Ungerbock, July 2019; ²The State of Event Technology, Event MB, October 2019; ³Event App Bible, Event MB, January 2019