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January 6, 2014

The Future of Event Apps: Availability, Accessibility and Security

This week, event technology company QuickMobile is releasing a new white paper that looks into the future the mobile event app industry. The paper, “Seven Predictions for the Mobile Event App Industry in 2014,” shares the company's forecast on how the industry will advance into the next stage of market acceptance, moving from early adopters to early majority, as apps become commonplace at events around the world.

“We hear first-hand from organizers about what they want and what they want to do,” QuickMobile founder and CEO Patrick Payne told International Meetings Review. And while long-term goals have not changed dramatically in the last few years, the ways of reaching those goals have. “They want to engage attendees, and they want interaction...Everyone has a connected computer in their pocket, so they’re using technology in the best way they can.”

The pace of adoption of mobile event apps accelerated in 2013, and seems poised to increase in 2014. Mobile event apps have been adopted for all types of events--trade shows, conferences, symposia, team meetings, sales kick-offs, and virtually every gathering of internal or external audiences. “The ubiquity issue is very apparent,” Payne said. “We are starting to see all kinds of events using apps.” Even more significantly, Payne event attendees are coming to expect apps at events rather than printed programs. 

But while event app demand and availability is increasing, the programs are hardly ubiquitous: Most event owners and organizers are not yet incorporating mobile apps into their events, whether out of budgetary limits or lack of awareness. In fact, according to a March 2013 survey of more than 16,000 businesses worldwide, 75 percent of mid-market organizations (less than $1 billion in revenue) and 71 percent of corporate organizations (over $1 billion) “seldom” or “never” used mobile apps at their events.

Still, this situation is changing: Among QuickMobile’s seven predictions for 2014 is that mobile event apps will “evolve from being event-centric to binding an organization to its audience year-round. They will emerge as ‘Mobile Engagement Platforms’, embedding themselves deeply into the day-to-day lives of users and the organizations behind them.” They will succeed as powerful connectors where other solutions have failed because the value that can be delivered through a single, comprehensive enterprise mobile app outreaches that of any other medium or platform.

Payne spoke with International Meetings Review about the seven predictions and what he believes meeting planners need from apps. Over the next few days, we will look at each prediction and share Payne’s insights on how the industry will change in 2014.

Prediction #1: Enterprise-grade Mobile Event Apps Will Become Available to Everyone

In 2014, both event organizers and attendees will demand greater functionality, reliability and performance from mobile event apps, Payne believes.

“Availability and reliability, scalability, flexibility is expected by everyone,” he said. Organizations that use mobile apps and look to embed the technology effectively into daily operations will require a higher level of functionality and support. They will expect a platform that integrates well into their IT and business ecosystems, and is equipped to handle a wide variety of event types. “It has to work offline if there’s no Wi-Fi, and it has to change its content on the fly,” he added about the platform. 

This increasingly sophisticated platform, like other new technologies before it, will have explicit enterprise-grade performance requirements, as follows:

A. Scalability and Reliability
Organizations expect that the technology solutions they choose will provide consistent, dependable service, with the ability to scale according to their usage requirements. They expect these solutions to be available 99.99 percent of the time, translating to less than 6 minutes of downtime annually. Meeting these expectations requires sophisticated underlying server infrastructure with built-in redundancy and failover, as well as overt disaster management and recovery policies.

Vendors will also be expected to offer 24-hour support as the apps themselves become linked into the day-to-day activities of meeting organizers and attendees.

B. Flexibility
As smartphones and tablets become more powerful and users become more sophisticated, attendees will expect to have access to specific functionality that addresses the unique characteristics of their event. Certain meetings may require multifaceted in-app document management and note taking capabilities. Other meetings may not need that at all, instead requiring advanced interactive networking tools. Ultimately, genuine flexibility requires the ability to configure and deploy via a comprehensive platform according to the unique needs of the event and its attendees. Template solutions simply won’t work because they do not address the prerequisite for a wide variety of different functional components. Flexibility is the key to successfully addressing the unique needs of today’s meetings.

Ease of access will be similarly important. Depending on their internal resources and capabilities, different organizations will require different levels of access, single sign-on, and control. Some event teams will wish to build and maintain event apps themselves so they can maximize responsiveness to attendee needs. In order to achieve this, they will require a self-serve ready back-end content management system (CMS) that is accessible and intuitive as well as a permission-based login system that complies with organizational structure and security policies. Other organizations will prefer vendor or third-party assistance, to varying degrees. Vendors that offer solutions that span the full spectrum of customer needs, from complete independence to white-glove service, will enjoy the greatest success.

Language will also be a “flexible” app element, as global organizations will require their event app platform to have built-in multi-language capabilities to ensure adoption and usage across the organization’s entire geographic and linguistic footprint. Payne believes that English-only apps will have little appeal to multinational or multiethnic organizations.

C. Integration
As mobile apps grow in popularity, they will need to integrate smoothly and effectively into the broader IT environment. Whether through web-view or embedded directly into the native code, these integrations can enhance the overall event experience and increase organizational productivity and ROI. Broadly speaking, opportunities for integration include the obvious  (registration and social networking platforms) and the less-obvious (marketing automation, customer relationship management, content management, e-commerce and market research systems). The former are increasingly common today, allowing for easy updating of attendee lists, schedules, and speaker data to provide basic meeting utility and participation. Some of these integrations modestly increase adoption and utilization of mobile event apps. Others--including social platforms such as Jive, Chatter, and Yammer--promote wider app adoption and utilization, and enhance an event’s networking and collaboration opportunities beyond native functionality around in-app messaging and contact sharing. 

As for the latter set of integrations – those involving technologies that scale beyond the event itself – more and more organizations will expand their mobile platforms to drive value and develop new streams of monetization. With the inevitable momentum of mobile payment solutions (which can facilitate the registration process) to year-round collaboration tools that extend the depth and range of conversations, there is virtually no limit to how a mobile app can deliver value. Best-of-breed marketing automation and CRM systems such as Eloqua, Marketo, Salesforce and others will be routinely integrated into mobile event apps, particularly for trade shows and association events but also vital to certain types of internal events as well.

D. Security
Along with mobile apps come the increasingly stringent requirements for data security and privacy. This is no longer the exclusive domain of the enterprise: Organizations of every size and function are subject to mounting ethical and legal pressure to control and protect the information under their purview. Fiduciary responsibility and internal and external policies exist to govern what organizations must do in this regard, from data storage to disaster recovery, encryption to secure updating. By definition, Internet access and mobile devices carry inherent security risks, including but not limited to the apps that run on them. 

Only through a holistic approach to security – one that includes how mobile apps are built and maintained – can organizations effectively satisfy obligations to their stakeholders.

“Different types of meetings have different security requirements,” Payne said. At a small meeting with 150 people, for example, people might share information (even personal information) without concern--even publicly on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. For these kinds of events, security requirements may not be same as a product launch at a large organization, where details need to be more secure. “A lot of organizations, especially with internal meetings, don’t even want to share who the attendees are.” Security measures at a garden show are, understandably, very different from security measures for a corporation’s strategy summit. “Privacy and security must be malleable and flexible,” Payne said. “It used to be that only certain large organizations wanted security features. Now, they’re expected in every app we deliver.” Features that were once only available by request are now standard, he added.  

E. Branding
In 2014, mobile apps will be established as vital tools for brand enforcement.

An organization’s brand must be handled carefully, both externally – for customers and the public – and internally – for employees, management and shareholders. Regardless of the nature of the organization or the size of its event, a mobile app is yet another platform through which to promote the brand. This involves much more than a simple logo and a color palette; it applies to the very function of the app itself, and to the way it is used to share information and engage with attendees before, during and after an event. 

International Meetings Review will run the next six predictions, along with more insights from Payne, in the coming days. The full white paper will be available to download for free at QuickMobile.com as of January 7.

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