Events 4.0: The Digital Future Of The Event Industry

Events 4.0: The Digital Future Of The Event Industry

Events 4.0 refers to the event industry’s digital maturity and how many technological event-industry tools available might work together in the future. 

I first learned the term from an academic paper written by Ryan, W. Gerard & Fenton, Alex & Ahmed, Wasim & Scarf, Phillip. (2020). The article is called Recognizing events 4.0: the digital maturity of events and is published in the International Journal of Event and Festival Management. It’s heftier reading than I’m used to, and I’ll be adding my own thinking to the subject as we go through it all, but I found the concept fascinating. 

More than that, I think the concept of Events 4.0 is timely. COVID drove rapid innovation in event tech and a move to digital realms that will have lasting effects even post-pandemic.

Massive raves went digital. So did virtual conferences, weddings, and bar mitzvahs. And most event professionals expect digital to remain present in future live events. So sure, technology has eaten the event industry. But what on earth is Events 4.0? First, we’ll need to start with Industry 4.0.

A Brief Disclaimer

I’m not an academic, and I’m not used to parsing academic papers and writing about them. I may have misunderstood parts of the article, and I might be poorly communicating things I do understand. I’ve reached out to the author, and Dr. Ryan has kindly agreed to do an interview with me about these ideas. I’ll link to that here once we’ve had a chance to do it.

Industry 4.0: The Fourth Industrial Revolution

Industry 4.0 (I4.0) came from a project in the high-tech strategy of the German government. The focus was to promote the computerization of manufacturing. In an extremely high-level summary, which you should take with a large grain of salt, I4.0 considers that:

  • Supply chains are complex
  • Smartphones are involved
  • Data and reporting is commonplace
  • Non-digital things are digitized

While most I4.0 material concentrates on manufacturing, smart homes, and automation, it’s not a big leap to see how it applies to the event industry. The four design principles of I4.0 are:

  • Interconnection
  • Information transparency
  • Technical assistance
  • Decentralized decisions

I’m confident any event planner can already see that all four principles apply to modern events, even weddings. 

How Does Industry 4.0 Lead To Events 4.0?

Well, the way I see, there are a few ways that the event industry inches toward being digitally mature. A pivotal phase, in my opinion, is going from the binder to the Cloud. 

A few months ago, I was chatting to a MICE professional, and we’d gotten into the subject of binders. On-site, all the knowledge lives in binders. It’s the source of truth. You need a question answered? Find someone with a binder, flip through the pages, find the answer, find the point of contact, check with them in person (via radio, at least), and get back to work. But imagine all of that living in the Cloud and accessible in a few taps on your phone. At least, that’s where I see event planning software going.

But it’s more than that. Like Dr. Ryan says in the paper (pg.5 if you’re looking for it):

Successful events are no longer measured by simply achieving a respectable attendance. 

Ryan, W. Gerard & Fenton, Alex & Ahmed, Wasim & Scarf, Phillip. (2020).

Instead, successful events are about engagement. And it’s through event tech that event organizers can track, measure, and even influence attendee engagement. It’s about using data to evaluate the event and make it better, even in real-time, through customized experiences. Engagement-tech also includes virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and the entire event being digitally managed. Add it all up, and you’re heading into Events 4.0 territory.

Smartphones In Event Tech

Dr. Ryan and his team discuss the role of smartphones in both Industry 4.0 and Events 4.0. When it comes to events, a digitally mature event isn’t about going virtual – not at all – but instead, it’s about the use of and access to massive amounts of data, most of which lives in our phones. 

Many excellent event tech companies already provide event organizers with attendee-facing mobile apps. In some ways, the barrier to taking events to the next level in digital maturity is that events haven’t quite caught up to the available tech.

With smart badges, mobile apps, and augmented reality, event pros enhance attendee experiences in amazing ways. But as the customization increases, I believe we’ll see new experiences with fresh creativity that, well, I’m not sure I’m able to imagine. Just think of what an event designer can do once AR and VR gain broader adoption in events. 

Last-Minute Flexibility

On page 7, the authors of the paper describe the I4 characteristics most applicable to the event industry’s digital progress. There’s one that I wanted to touch on:

Flexibility to cater to last-minute design changes geared towards increasingly individualized customer requirements

In my discussions with hundreds of event planners working on sporting events, conferences, exhibitions, and weddings, one of the most frustrating, time-consuming, and unrewarding facets of their work is managing changes.

A last-minute change by a speaker might require tens or even hundreds of emails for many vendors. A speaker’s delayed flight can impact the planner’s team, the organizer, the AV, lighting, event IT, hospitality, and even the guest experiences. And I believe that the wide adoption of collaborative event software is the real game-changer here.

What Events 4.0 Is Not

I’d like to make a closing point, just to clear up any misconceptions about what Events 4.0 might mean. I don’t believe it has much to do with virtual events, at least not in the long term. Events are an in-person experience, tactile, aural, and energetic. Digital maturity and Events 4.0 is not about moving to the virtual realm.

No. It’s about using the massive advancements in technology to enhance the in-person experience. Nothing touched upon in the paper seems to be a threat to any aspect of the event industry. Rather, it’s about using the tech we have on hand, including concepts like Cloud Computing, Big Data, and Artificial Intelligence to make the event industry better for professionals and guests.