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9/17/2012
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Big Data Gold Mine: Live Events

Event attendee information is often wasted or underutilized, says Etouches CTO.

When registering for a trade show or conference, you typically provide your name, company name, and a billing and email address. The sign-up process may extract a few more personal details, such as your job title, social network handles, and areas of interest.

The event organizers also know if you're attending the full conference and registering for sessions there, so they have a pretty good idea of the topics you find relevant.

But beyond that, they know little about you. And Chett Rubenstein, CTO of event management software company Etouches, believes that event organizers are missing a golden opportunity to know you a little better.

"There's no knowledge about how you exist in the world beyond that basic demographic information," said Rubenstein in a phone interview with InformationWeek. "There's no knowledge of your social networks and other ways you interact. There's no knowledge of your past history."

[ Help show how big data affects our everyday lives. Invitation: Join 'Human Face Of Big Data' Project. ]

What's needed, Rubenstein says, is a customized experience tailored for individual attendees, one that goes beyond the standard follow-up emails and phone calls after the event.

Say, for instance, you register for a particular conference today. Perhaps you attended the same event last year as well, but back then you were employed by a different company and had a different job title.

"They probably will not be able to correlate you as a human being and tie those two data points together," said Rubenstein. "They're sort of tracking you as a specific name/title/company per event, but can't necessarily tie the two together."

Big data analytics can help event organizers synthesize and analyze this data, and gain a better understanding of attendees' behavior patterns. "We're starting to look at the (attendee) as a human being out in the world, and how over time they're attending events, progressing through their career, and expressing interest in different topics," Rubenstein said.

The problem of underutilized event data isn't new. A 2005 white paper, "Event Data Management: The Next Killer App for the Meeting and Event Industry," by former event technology consultant firm Tech3 Partners made a similar point long before the term "big data" was popular:

"So here we are in 2005, with a multitude of excellent technologies that help meetings operations, result in masses of data, and conclude with a plethora of related but unconnected data sets. In order to address broad informational needs ... it is now necessary to find methods for bringing all event-related data together, and to build flexible interfaces to that data so that it can be effectively used by every stakeholder across the spectrum."

The report went on to state: "All of these relatively new innovations have generated a mass of data that gets collected and stored, but remains relatively (if not totally) discontinuous and underutilized, or never to be seen ... Once the meeting or event is concluded, the planners and suppliers move on to the next one."

Fast-forward to 2012, and event planners are still grappling with these issues. One possible solution is to utilize the power of social media more efficiently.

"You can start to interact with your vendors through social networks, which people do now anyway. LinkedIn and even Facebook have become really important business tools for people to interact with vendors," said Rubenstein.

But if attendees do this networking on their own, the event planner is often left out of the loop. One option is to supply tools to facilitate event networking. For instance, software tools like Etouches' eSocial provide a communications platform where attendees can interact with each other--such as request onsite meetings--before an event begins. For event organizers, one of eSocial's benefits is that it provides summary reports that offer insights into attendee behavior.

Companies today are "talking about collecting huge amounts of data, and how to extrapolate information from that in a way that's meaningful and provides value," said Rubenstein. "We're applying all that stuff to the events space now, and we're thinking about the real value we can provide not only to our event organizers, but to the attendees of events."

See the future of business technology at Interop New York, Oct. 1-5. It's the best place to learn about next-generation technologies including cloud computing, BYOD, big data, and virtualization.

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