In the MeetGreen GreenStorming Hangout last December, I talked with Event Hero’s John Federico about the future of technology and events. One of the most interesting things to come out of the conversation was the idea of how data is impacting events. John said, from his viewpoint, “Events are about data.” With more attendee data, he said, planners can create a better, more customized experience. Collecting data on attendees is increasing with electronic registration systems, conference apps, and sophisticated tracking systems. Soon, we will be able to know exactly where attendees go and how long they stay there. What food did they buy and which vendors did they spend the most time with? But what are planners doing with all this data and what are the inherent risks in possessing it?

Even apart from meetings, the world is at an inflection point with regard to so-called big data and personal privacy. Information is being collected on all of us by government and corporations in a variety of ways. The government says it’s trying to keep us safe and corporations are trying to relate to us in a more personal way. As with everything, there is a tradeoff to be made. How much information and privacy are we willing to give up for increased safety, customized experiences and better deals?

From the meetings and events perspective, planners have an opportunity to create more tailored experiences for attendees using the data collected. If we know more about our attendees and keep learning over time, we can serve individuals better and even anticipate their needs. But there is always inherent risk as any digital system is vulnerable to hacking and at what point do attendees become resistant to too much information gathering? I think the answer to this last question is in direct relation to the value you are providing.

A Better Experience for Attendees

Attendees install an event app, then delete it. What about data about attendees like their hotel preferences, meal needs and other feedback? Too often this data is not retained or is disconnected and un-cohesive. If planners and organizations could get a better handle on attendee data and really understand it, a better experience could be provided. In fact, every year, we should be getting smarter about our attendees as we learn more about them. If the experience doesn’t get better and there isn’t a real payoff for the attendee, this is when they will start to push back on all the information they share.

Risks for Planners/Companies

Holding important data on a large group of individuals always comes with risk, and the more sensitive the information, the riskier it is. No digital system is perfectly secure and we have seen a rash of hacking attacks lately, including Target and Sony. Event planners have to think hard about the security of their data and do what they can to minimize risk and protect customers. After an audit of internal systems, it is important to look at the software vendors and cloud services involved. What are their security and privacy policies? Do they have a backup plan for customer data? It is also important to have a digital risk management plan in place in the event there is a security breach. Have a communication plan and messaging worked out, as well as procedures for investigating and correcting any hack or data breach.

Here Comes the Future

It’s often the younger generations that force us to change. MeetGreen was recently honored to have one of our own, Aaron Elliott, named a “Millennial to Watch”. Aaron brings a fresh, new perspective to our company, and it’s Millennials like Aaron, as planners and attendees, that will drive the change to better meetings through big data. As digital natives, Millennials are less sensitive to sharing about themselves. Just think of how much rich information is given away every day on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

And yet, in the end, it will all boil down to trust. Attendees will really appreciate the innovative, new concepts that will be included in their conferences. One of Event Manager Blog’s technologies to watch in 2016 is called “Matchmaking 2.0”, which involves intelligently bringing people together based on common interests and activities. How do we know the common interests and activities? All that data and tracking, of course. But trust is a fragile thing, and once lost, it’s not easily gained back. Planners should embrace the bold new technology, while also minding the risks in order to improve meetings and the attendee experience.