The Dawn of Smart Venues | Ungerboeck

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The Dawn of Smart Venues

Originally appeared in the March/April 2019 issue of IAVM Facility Manager

Beyond smart building automation features, a new class of venues is emerging. One that uses real-time data to drive collaboration and create frictionless environments. Within these venues, information flows seamlessly across teams and partners unlocking real-time collaboration, enabling heightened customer and attendee engagement, and further strengthening community relationships. These facilities are evolving to become “smart venues.”

As more and more of the world around us becomes “smart,” we are entering an age of Jetson-like possibilities. Robots clean our floors. Our voices control our lights. Motion sensing doorbell cams guard our packages and deliveries. Digital thermostats even adjust the temperature by simply sensing when we are away. Smart automation is not limited to our homes. Venues, too, have been making similar enhancements. Yet, as facilities around the world actively bill themselves as “smart,” a question arises about what makes a venue smart? Is it lights and escalators that turn on and off at certain times? Or is it investments in solar panels to power the facility? What about air handlers and climate control systems that adjust to building utilization? Certainly, our venues are becoming more “automated” or “intelligent” enabling the automagic control of operational functions. But while these investments in infrastructure make venues more efficient, they don’t necessarily create transformative or smarter experiences.

By definition, a smart venue is an immersive and collaborative facility that brings people, processes, technology, and data together to create frictionless event experiences. A smart venue delivers new and better experiences in the same building and with the same infrastructure. A smart venue is a joy for planners and partners to work with and in. It is about creating memorable experiences for visitors. A smart venue is good business practices and positive financial outcomes.

A Smart Planner Venue

With highly experiential events becoming a must, in order to compete, planners are required to invest more time than ever on planning and execution. As a result, the notion of smart venues is necessarily being advanced by the planning community. In response, venue partners must provide a frictionless experience. Those venues that do will stand out. For planners like Dale Shuter, CMP, Meetings & Expositions Manager at the Electrical Apparatus Service Association, nothing can be missed in the planning process. She adds, “A smart venue is one where venue employees, contractors, and event planners are in sync, accessing information from the same system.”

Understanding the objectives of the event and what the planners are trying to accomplish offers an additional way for smart venues to set themselves apart from one another. Director of Event Management for Experient, Cara McGuire, CMP, offered, “If we want attendees to leave the event with a specific feeling or takeaway, we communicate that clearly in the RFP process. We need venues to help ensure this vision is realized—that can only happen if their team is on the same page internally and with us.”

A Smart Visitor Venue

Of course, planners are not the only stakeholder. At Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, which encompasses a 13,000 seat arena, 152,000 square foot expo center, and 120,000 square foot conference center, the venue’s lobby directory screens caused considerable friction for visitors. Capturing content and pushing it to displays for each event resulted in major headaches across the organization. Following a series of improvements, monitors now pull real-time data provided by planners and promoters and seamlessly pushes it to venue staff and the lobby screens. Nathan Dennison, Vice President of Sales at Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, illustrates it the best, “digital signage feeds are not new to venues by any means—we needed them to be smarter. We have achieved that by storing information centrally and configured the system to automatically push information all internal teams, and critically, to our guests. This is one way that we have become a smarter venue.”

It does not end there for Allen County. Their next step is to provide higher-paying premium seating customers exclusive self-service options. “With today’s technology, our customers expect more,” says Nathan. “We are excited to be extending centralized collaboration and communication portals to our premium seating customers tying together ticketing, catering, updates, merchandise sales, and more.”

A Smart Business Venue

Like a professional athlete or artist who continually practices and applies feedback to refine their skills, a smart venue routinely assesses its processes and workflows making iterative improvements, or if necessary, wholesale changes. Salt Lake County Arts & Culture (Arts & Culture) is an organization that has embraced the mission of becoming a smart business venue. Arts & Culture operates four performing arts buildings around downtown Salt Lake City and has a fifth under construction in a nearby suburb. With numerous events occurring at any one time, the Arts & Culture staff has moved away from relying on multiple spreadsheets and countless email threads to a smarter system that fosters real-time collaboration. Whether working within one of their facilities or across multiple, information is at their fingertips all of the time. No more digging through papers, spreadsheets, and emails. Now teams and individuals are much more empowered and able to act quickly without navigating through a whole bunch of channels. The dissemination of information also benefits the community, local partners and external collaborators. Like many cities, Salt Lake is rejuvenating the downtown to establish an urban entertainment center. By sharing more real-time information publicly and with its partners, Salt Lake is able to more actively participate in the city’s overall mission. “This process has strengthened the sense of community between all of us—local government, administrative entities, grassroots organizations, and the larger community,” shared Liz Ferguson, Event Manager for Salt Lake County Arts & Culture. “It has been transformational.”

Allen County and Salt Lake are but two of many examples of emerging smart venues dotting the map. Convention venues are rethinking their sales funnels processes and procedures to ensure the right mix of events aligned with their community’s needs and in coordination with service contractors. Fairs and fairgrounds are transforming how they digitally connect with their exhibiting vendors. Performance venues are tightly integrating their business systems to provide the optimal constituent experience. And, technology partners are introducing ways to guide and move people throughout an entire event with real-time information.

The opportunity for smart venues is there for the taking. Like any new idea, the challenge is adoption. Yet, as we come to expect a one-click process and rely on two-day delivery in our personal lives, the reality of smart venues is just around the corner.