Big Data and Artificial Intelligence-
A Glimpse on Trade Fairs

Tons of emails and mail. Websites that are often too general and slow. Long registration processes. Time-consuming travel often with poor access to airports, train stations or even parking. Add to that queues, bad coffee and bad air, aching feet and the absence of chairs to sit down on, all combined with loads of brochures and catalogues. Both digitally and in real life, fairs have not changed for a long time and are far behind what other industries offer. That‘s why customers, visitors as well as exhibitors, deal with many obsolete processes during a trade fair. In order for trade fairs to remain relevant for companies and private individuals in the future, organizers must urgently give the customer experience more prominence. And here, the use of Big Data and AI (Artificial Intelligence) are key technologies.

At the recent UFI Asia-Pacific Conference, it was made clear that exhibitors and visitors – the customers of exhibition organizers – demand better digital services and innovations. Organizers have to go much further than implementing a Chief Digital Officer. And it doesn’t help when a multi-year salesforce project is launched using Microsoft Outlook. Why do we approach projects with Big Data and AI if we are still struggling to get our small data under control?

Digitalisation is a big change for both business and people. To master this shift requires professionals in this area. But these individuals are rare. And the cool start-ups as well as the consulting companies with their highly-paid jobs place them in high demand. Overall, it is hard for the exhibition industry to win the „war for talents“. In addition, more than ever, organizers project the image of an authority.

By introducing WOW to its exhibition organization IBM has shown that good approaches do exist. WOW stands for World of Watson. Watson, named after the fi rst IBM CEO, Thomas Watson, was originally launched as a Q&A computer system. Today, Watson is deployed in three areas: Watson Discovery Advisor, Watson Engagement Advisor, and Watson Explorer.

The goal of Watson‘s involvement at the IBM exhibition stand was to get 50% of conference participants to visit the IBM presentation. The tactic that IBM used for this was to divide its appearance into different zones. Visitors could run on a 400 square meter field designed with responsive tiles. When they hit the ground, weight-triggered sensors under the 24 x 24 inch tiles enabled a media server to project marketing messages such as „You Envision / Watson Discovers“ onto fabric structures.  The shuttle service „Olli“ represents another example of IBM technology, which is a show service and product presentation in one.

Developed as on-demand transportation, exhibition visitors ordered Olli with a mobile app like they would order an Uber. The electric Olli gave up to eight participants a short ride around the exhibition area. While onboard, passengers could talk to Olli about anything from technical data to tourist recommendations. At the end of the tour, an interactive digital kiosk awaited the guests. There, guests could learn how to print and assemble Olli in about ten hours. They also learned that the driverless vehicle was initially used on the IBM campus and airports.

In another area of the presentation, the „Cognitive Dress“ was exhibited which Watson had helped design for the Met Gala, New York‘s extravagant annual fashion event. Working with fashion designers from Marchesa Holdings LLC and software developers from Inno360 Inc., Watson supported the development of a white tulle dress. It was decorated with 150 fabric flowers lit with LED.

Success proved the concept right. Out of the 20,000 visitors who attended the conference, 85% participated in the Watson presentation. Compared to previous years, this was an increase of 37%.

Artificial intelligence offers great opportunities to improve the quality of trade shows and presentations at trade shows. The trade fair medium will continue to exist, but it must change in order to not drift into the corner of „dusty possibilities“.