Host City: The major events industry has been slow to digitalise until recently. What’s changing and why?
Joe Cusdin: Something which surprised me coming into the industry is how each major event had to start from pretty much nothing – they don’t inherit tools or people from the last event.
They have to build a large team, and provide the systems they need, in a relatively short period. Major events don’t come to the same place often, and organisers often hire from the local area, so many staff might not have relevant experience and learn on the job. Once the event is over, it shuts down quickly so sharing lessons and transferring knowledge to future events has not been prioritised.
For these reasons, most of the technology used in major events focuses on the event operation itself – accreditation, ticketing, workforce management etc. Little focus is given to the planning phase, which can last many years. By the time the team identifies the benefits to their planning processes of adopting digital tools, it can be too late to make the change.
These principles can now be shared via social media and at conferences like Host City, but also overseeing bodies (e.g. the IOC, or Commonwealth Games Federation Partnerships) are starting to take more control, and a longer-term vision. This is great for innovation, knowledge sharing, driving efficiencies and reducing procurement cycles.
When we started Iventis, we were the only company offering this type of product in this space. Since then, we’ve seen other organisations have emerged which we think helps validate the use-case. Building a software product that is both easy-to-use and flexible/detailed enough to meet the wide range of needs in the events industry is incredibly challenging and has taken us several years, working closely with major events around the world to refine.
Host City: What kind of mapping and visualisation systems are typically used in major event planning and what challenges do you think event organisers face when using all these different tools?
Joe Cusdin: Almost all major events use some sort of specialist CAD software for their site plan/overlay drawings, but only skilled, technical staff can make changes or variations to those. Larger events might also use GIS (Geographic Information Systems) for wider mapping, especially in transport/logistics, but this is also a specialist tool and won’t be accessible by everyone who needs it.
Because CAD and GIS software is expensive and requires specialist staff to manage, it creates a bottleneck in the planning workflow and additional costs. Almost everyone involved in event planning needs to create visual, spatial plans using the context of venues, facilities, and cities.
As a result, at every event I’ve been involved in, most of the planning happens informally using widely available apps like PowerPoint, Visio, Word or even drawn by hand. These are the tools everyone has access to and are comfortable with. The problem is that they are not designed for these purposes, so the plans end up in many different formats and locations making them hard to find, share, consolidate and analyse. Planners spend a lot of time making them too, manually collating data, imagery and taking screenshots of CAD PDFs or Google maps to draw on.
I observed individuals, or whole functional areas, working in this siloed way and it seemed inefficient. I saw problems arise where teams didn’t have access to each other’s plans or were using outdated information. It was hard to bring several plans together to see if they fit or overlap. What resulted were some costly mistakes, duplicated work, and the over-scoping of requirements. As the team grows and deadlines loom, the problems multiply, and managers have a hard time getting the information they need.
Host City: How does your approach bring these systems and data sets together – do you seek to replace them, or is it more about enabling them to be more compatible?
Joe Cusdin: We believe specialist tools like CAD and GIS have their place, and for technical specialists like engineers, analysts, or architects, they remain essential. Rather than replace them, our software pulls in data from both CAD and GIS – such as venue designs or city-wide map data. These two data sets are not easily integrated, and other tools such as ‘digital twins’ only add to the complexity.
What we want to do is bring the power of centralised, geospatial planning to a much wider audience – in the case of events, the hundreds or even thousands of operational planners along with their stakeholders and suppliers. Our software has a big emphasis on ease of use, accessibility, and flexibility so everyone can interact with it – not just technical specialists. If it isn’t intuitive and accessible, planners will revert to their old way of working. It also reduces the burden on CAD and GIS specialists, who usually don’t have the bandwidth to create the volume of operational plans required for an event nor is it their job.
Host City: At what stage should event planners start thinking about using a system like this and why?
Ideally, it should be brought in as early as possible. Visual and spatial plans are created from day one, even during the bid stage. If a spatial information system like ours is not in place, people will find workarounds which leads to informal and disconnected plans being drafted.
It is easier (and cheaper) to embed in an organisation while it’s smaller and before people form habits and workarounds. The system works with just one user, or several thousand – and in the spirit of collaboration, we encourage as many users as possible to work on the system possible without expensive licensing models.
We also track changes, which lets us see how plans evolve. This can be invaluable for managers, overseeing bodies and even future event organisers. It can be brought in later, but it’s likely to be used for specific purposes which can still be powerful but won’t reach its full potential.
Host City: Looking beyond the immediate impact of the pandemic, what kind of major event landscape will we be inhabiting and what kind of technical solutions will be in demand?
Joe Cusdin: Even before the pandemic, overseeing bodies like the IOC were recognising their approach needed to be updated (hence the IOC had ‘ New Norm’ – before the term took on a mainstream meaning). Cost overruns were all too common, damaging the public’s trust and resulting in some high-profile retractions of bids from several cities.
Major events need to be leaner, more flexible and most importantly more efficient. Events spanning several countries (like United 26 and Euro 2020) can spread the financial burden and risk. Using existing facilities (like Birmingham 2022) could be more common to avoid expensive and sometimes unnecessary infrastructure projects. These approaches bring their own challenges, like ensuring consistency and coordination across countries and finding ways to make existing facilities work operationally. We believe Iventis can help teams work this way and be more efficient and agile.
Additionally, the remote working trend seems set to continue and can save money on travel, office space etc. Collaboration tools can enable teams to work remotely and draw upon experts who might not want to relocate. During the pandemic, Iventis became an essential tool for event organisers when remote working was compulsory, and we expect this to continue.
Joe Cusdin is speaking at Host City Americas on 29-30 June. To find out more about Iventis, visit their website