The event industry has some problems with data: There is too much of it, it is spread across multiple databases, and it’s not standardized. Eric Ly, founder and CEO of Presdo, Inc., developers of the Presdo Match event networking app knows something about these types of challenges. As a Co-founder of LinkedIn where he previously served as the company’s first CTO, he also understands the tremendous opportunities available when data is regarded as an investment rather than a byproduct.
Ly believes the event industry has only just begun to understand the value of the data accumulated through the normal course of operating an event—not to mention the mounting business intelligence from mobile apps, beacons, and other devices. “There are many in the industry who are interested in data and want to do more with it, but we are just at the beginning of understanding what the value of data is. There’s a lot of data being collected, but no one is making valuable use of that data,” he says.
It’s not going to be easy.
In order to leverage data, Ly says, event producers have to be able to manage it. Therein lays a major challenge. Organizers use multiple data platforms—registration, membership, marketing automation, and mobile, to name a few—and each system organizes data differently. “Because attendees touch multiple databases as they interact with the event, it’s hard to track the activities of one single individual across the entire event lifecycle,” he explains.
There are structural barriers that prohibit the harvesting and integration of data from multiple sources too. The APIs (offered by existing software companies) that allow new applications to interoperate with legacy platforms are very limited in the events industry. When APIs are “open,” as in other industries, Ly says, “it’s easy for customers to link systems together in order to extract valuable insights.”
Another obstacle preventing organizers from leveraging data is the attendee himself. “The registration process is broken. Attendees give false information just to get through it. We need to collect good data about people that attend events and relieve them of having to fill out a registration form for every event,” Ly says. With personal data packets (LinkedIn profiles, for example) that can be universally accessed whenever an attendee registers for an event, registration and many other processes can be completed with one click.
Events could be contenders.
Despite the challenges, there are myriad opportunities beckoning event organizers. Outside the event industry, organizations like Google, Facebook and LinkedIn mine data to create exciting new products and services. “Uber is a killer example of how a company can leverage data to bring about a very compelling user experience,” Ly says. Event organizers can do the same. “The promise of event data is to provide much more transparency and ways to connect the right buyers and sellers together and ultimately bring more value to these events than has ever been possible before.”
A collective roadmap
In order to move to the next level of the data discussion—true implementation and placement of the event industry on par with other forward-thinking industries and movements—change has to come from all stakeholders. For example, while APIs represent a way for platforms to communicate, it’s one that the developers control and some event software providers aren’t as open to the idea as others.
Ly strongly believes that open-data standards, a common language that that no one company owns and that platforms could share, would make the integration of multiple systems that much more viable. They would enable event organizers to manage data more easily and give developers an opportunity to compete more vigorously to find the best solutions.
Event organizers themselves, including the ones that have yet to develop a strategic plan for data, have to take more initiative. “Change of this magnitude takes leadership by the events that are the most innovative and for them to show the rest of the industry how it can be done,” Ly says. But, he adds, it may be a little painful at first. “Certain things are going to break and it’s a hard thing to have to experience, but in trying we would learn the key [components and technologies] that could make these efforts successful.”
Moving forward on data may require the event industry to address some of the issues that are holding it back: legacy systems and processes, an aversion to risk, a lack of investment in new technologies. “There are enough good things going on around an event that one piece of technology failing won’t affect the event. There needs to be a lot more investment in new technologies to experiment and see the successes,” Ly asserts.
Events aren’t that unusual.
The discussions taking place in the event industry today are not that much different than those Ly was having with his LinkedIn colleagues a decade ago. “Ten years ago we were talking theoretically about what we could do with data. Now, [in the event industry] there are interesting discussions about what can be done to leverage data to create even more value,” he says.
Eric Ly’s outlook, forged from his role in arguably one of the most successful business startups of all time and a career steeped in the innovation of Silicon Valley, is positive. “The data that this industry has is not that different than the data exists outside of the industry. There’s a huge opportunity to learn from other industries about the value of data that we haven’t even begun to understand.”