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UFI Panel: Debate over data control is over – so what next?

The debate over who controls attendee data has been “pretty much settled” but organisers must ensure they use it in a way customers want, an UFI panel has said.

On Tuesday, leaders from Clarion Events, RX, Informa Markets and Easyfairs all gave their views on the topic – with the consensus being that the planner should be in care of it.

This latest instalment of UFI Connects came after two previous discussions, with the first at the 2021 UFI European Conference focusing on how virtual event platforms use the information they are collecting.

It was heard that companies need to learn how to use data to improve customer experiences while also being transparent about why they are collecting it.

Stephan Forseilles, head of technology at Easyfairs, said: “The question of the data ownership itself is pretty much settled now – we know where we’re going, everybody has discussed it with their providers, everything is clear now.

“The volume of data that we get has just increased by a factor of maybe 10 or 100, because of those digital events and how we collect data on those events, so we have to learn how to use that.

“It’s very tempting to use the data in any way we can to try to achieve any objective we want.

“There’s a difference between what is legal and what our customers actually want – it’s a challenge now to make sure that the data is used in a way that our customers would want the data to be used.

“What are the rules and policies that you want to put in place, not just to be legally compliant?

“Of course everybody wants that, but to have a fair use of the data and use it in the way that our customers would like it to us to use it.”

James Samuel, portfolio director at Clarion Events, also agreed that it was about using the information in a way that would satisfy customers.

However, he added it was also about using it to learn and adapt future offerings so that services remain “relevant”.

He said: “If we don’t listen to them, don’t engage with them, then our community starts to decrease and once our community decreases, our value and our assets diminish and therefore actually our proposition starts to falter.”

Jo-Anne Kelleway, international industry ambassador for Freeman Company, agreed with the panel that the debate about data ownership was “over”.

However, she wanted to know more about how the biggest organisers in the world were monetising this avenue.

She said: “Other big companies  -like LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook and everybody else – have already learned that and are even building in ways to allow you to click and say ‘I really don’t want to see any more of that particular product because I already purchased it’.

“Have organisers started to look at that and do they know if they’re going to be doing that in house themselves or do you think they will have to outsource that to a tech provider who will be potentially better able to monetise it for them?”

Download your free Monetisation Blueprint to learn more about driving digital revenue.

Stephan believes the industry is not at the position yet, pointing out that it was not even one of their top priorities.

This is because the main ambition is to learn how to use this new information to improve customer experiences.

Sinead Davies, head of legal EMEA at Informa Markets, described this as not “a scary prospect” – but an exciting one.

She said: “The idea that you can get real time insights is very valuable and I think our customers would be very interested in that – and it will be really helpful to them.

“It’s about us having slick operating practices and technologies which allow those real time insights to become available in real time but in a format in which people can use and which is helpful to them.

“There’s some investment there – it’s all very well kind of getting the data instantly, but putting it in a format that is helpful for people also requires an additional level of work.

“I think it’s an exciting prospect and I think it’s something that our customers now expect.

“We live in a very real time instant world and on the consumer side, you would expect instantaneous insights.

“So just because we operate in predominately in B2B businesses doesn’t mean that is not also the expectation – because it’s how we live the rest of our lives.”

Merilyne Davies, data protection officer at RX, said: “Whenever data increases and we get excited, the idea is that it will be like kids in a candy shop and we want to take it all.

“Actually, there needs to be a cause around what actually do we need to drive our growth strategy.

“Because actually, we don’t need everything – just because we can doesn’t mean we should.”

She added: “You can get so much insight from the data, which is fantastic from a commercial perspective.

“But does the individual necessarily know or expect us to have that kind of insight?”

However, Sinead claimed organisers had to be “very transparent” about why that data is needed and what the benefits of it will be.

This includes showing them how it will improve their experience onsite and enable them to get a return on investment.

She said: “It’s not cheap coming to the shows, so better for them to be there and for them to meet the right people and connect in the right way.”

The discussion comes after a rapid move towards digital platforms over the last 18 months.

This move has created an explosion in attendee information and event data that is redefining the way organisers understand and shape the communities they serve.

However, not all event technology platforms handle this information in the same way.

An organiser-led model sees the organiser own the relationship with their customer as data controller, with the technology platform as the processor for the duration of the contract.

This information can be used for a single event or multiple events in a portfolio to make for a seamless journey and is the model followed by ExpoPlatform.

In a vendor-led model, it is the platform that can own the direct relationship with your customers and share that data with other organisers.

What’s next?

It is clear the industry needs to come together to find a way through this, with the support of Associations such as UFI and the VSef data initiative playing key roles in the landscape of event data for the future.

ExpoPlatform’s manifesto for event data sets out in more detail the importance of organisers keeping control of the data, rather than giving it to platforms.