The Mature Approach to Event Technology Implementation

Skift Take

The meetings industry is evolving, including in its approach to event technology implementation. Having an internal IT team is crucial. Leaving it all to be handled by partners is no longer an option.

IMEX recently announced a new partnership with event technology company ExpoPlatform. The two companies have worked on this event technology implementation for over a year. A new website, registration, and appointment system are now live for IMEX Frankfurt 2023 and will soon be put to the test.

While this partnership is exciting for the companies involved, it is also an example of how the meetings industry has evolved in its approach to technology integration.

Technology and Data Expertise Required

Technology is now clearly a core team for every event organizer, particularly trade shows. In the past, having strong teams working in logistics, sales, admin, and finance would suffice. This is no longer the case, and leaving technology to be solely handled by partners is no longer an option.

Iconic events such as SXSW and Web Summit employ teams of developers and technologists, key to their success, and the same applies to show organizers like IMEX.

But it’s not just about software or website development. It’s also about data. The value of data is more apparent than ever, and having teams that can expertly manage it is crucial.

The large deals announced in the last few weeks, including Informa acquiring Tarsus, Hyve being acquired by private equity firm Providence Equity Partners, Blackstone acquiring Cvent, and Swiss Post acquiring SpotMe, are all, at least in part, about securing access to and managing valuable first-party data. The end of cookies in online marketing is likely accelerating this gold rush to event data.

Partnership Powers Event Technology Implementation

For ExpoPlatform, discreetly showcasing its capabilities to more than 4,000 buyers per show is incredibly valuable. While the platform is white-labeled and the data is controlled only by IMEX, the marketing advantages alone are worth shouting about.

From IMEX’s side, this partnership marks the first time in its history that it moves away from custom software initially developed by RefTech before the first show in 2003. There has been more than one attempt to modernize the company’s tech stack. Despite significant investment, all previous attempts were aborted.

“We’ve tried to do this before [but] we were having to build everything bespoke,” said IMEX CEO Carina Bauer. “I think back to 2007 and the key principles of what we’re doing now, we tried to do in 2007,” she added.

Understanding the Complexities of the Specific Event Technology Implementation

The challenges of evolving IMEX’s tech stack may sound surprising to outsiders, including event technology suppliers. However, looking closer at IMEX’s needs, the unique and demanding requirements become clear.

IMEX requires robust software to manage the more than 70,000 business appointments at each show. Challenging because there are several types, including one-on-one and group appointments, which can be made between buyers and exhibitors with different roles. For example, booth coordinators, who manage the large stands at the shows, must have visibility of all appointments scheduled for their booth, which requires complex access control.

In addition to this, different types of education sessions occur at IMEX. Some sessions are organized by IMEX and take place at dedicated spaces, while others take place at exhibitor booths and are in the same areas that host sales meetings, again adding a layer of complexity to its event technology needs.

Boosting Internal Capabilities

IMEX now has a robust internal IT team led by Gary Coombes, who joined IMEX as chief information officer in March 2021, something IMEX never had before. Previously, it mainly relied on the support of event technology providers. “The biggest single difference is the internal resource and [having] a team of people who really understand what they’re doing,” Bauer said.

Still, Bauer doesn’t see IMEX as an IT company. “We’ve got a real focus on simplifying the processes and systems that we’re using, making it a much better experience for our customers,” she said. She also sees a shift towards making more data-driven decisions.

Onboarding Coombes was crucial as he spent six to nine months evaluating the different products in the market. He also looked closely at the technology IMEX was using at the time and assessed what part of IMEX’s specific requirements were not being met.

Platform Requirements

ExpoPlatform took a committed approach to its collaboration with IMEX. “Our participation as an exhibitor at IMEX Frankfurt 2022 wasn’t just […] as the technology company looking for potential customers. But it was also part of the discovery stage where we wanted to experience everything from the user perspective,” said ExpoPlatform CEO Tanya Pinchuk.

ExpoPlatform already had several features and modules that met many of IMEX’s needs.  It then developed additional systems to match the requirements but added these to the main platform available to all its clients. This approach essentially means that IMEX drove, at least partially, its product roadmap. “ExpoPlatform had a good amount of complexity and was willing to develop more for us,” said Bauer.

This approach means that IMEX is not running a bespoke platform that would require continuous updating and custom development. Instead, IMEX will benefit from new updates made to ExpoPlatform as a whole. Conversely, all of ExpoPlatform’s clients will benefit from the additional development carried out based on IMEX’s needs.

“We are a product company. Everything that we develop is available. As part of our product, even if we exclusively work with an organizer and take the feature requests on board, has to become a part of the platform,” said Pinchuk.

Evolving the Event Tech Stack

IMEX’s tech stack has changed with the entire registration running through ExpoPlatorm, including the new-look website for IMEX Frankfurt 2023. At the base of IMEX’s tech stack is a customized version of the customer relationship management (CRM) tool Microsoft Dynamics. HubSpot is the main marketing tool.

ExpoPlatorm has taken over lead scanning, now available at no cost to exhibitors and fully managed via the integrated app. This has impacted Martiz, which previously managed lead scanning and generated significant revenue from exhibitors hiring scanners to exhibitors. Maritz will now provide only the check-in and badge printing process and continues to partner with IMEX in educational content.

“If Amazon can do it, we can do it. This is what our clients expect from us,” said Pinchuk. With expectations around event technology higher than ever, both companies were keen to highlight new features launched for the upcoming IMEX Frankfurt show in May. In addition, to lead scanning for buyers and exhibitors, ExpoPlatform has released new networking features, enhanced exhibitor event management, personal email and calendar integration, flexible appointment management, and a seamless desktop-to-app experience.

IMEX Joins the AI Party

With all the buzz around Artificial Intelligence (AI), attendees will benefit from the AI built into ExpoPlatform’s recommendation engine that powers educational sessions and networking suggestions. As a result, Pinchuk expects that attendees will enjoy a positive experience at the first show. Still, the AI will keep improving, so returning attendees will receive more robust recommendations at future shows. 

“We can build much more mature profiles of each individual, and not only with known factors that we take into account like interests or categories of products that they represent or provide but also in terms of how they use the platform,” said Pinchuk.

Future Plans Focus on In-Person Interaction

IMEX is all about in-person interactions. While ExpoPlatform has many features that focus on online interactions, the overall philosophy is to use online actions leading up to in-person interactions. “I’m a big advocate of in-person interactions. Even if I am the founder of a technology platform, I think that we are here to facilitate, rather than to somehow replace [in-person interactions]. We want people to come to the show. We want people to meet in person,” said Pinchuk.

As the ExpoPlatform develops, IMEX may implement new features, although neither a virtual add-on to the shows nor an online community is part of the current plans. “It’s not to say that we’ll never have an online experience again, but I don’t think we’re looking to build a community that would take people away from LinkedIn, for example,” said Bauer. “[We’re] looking at virtual as in providing insights, education, or community building throughout the year.”