Welcome to the age of Big Data, AI, and analytics, where every interaction and exchange with vendors, suppliers, staff, sponsors, and attendees is a potential source of insight and inspiration. Moreover, with over 2.5 quintillion bytes of data now being produced every day by human beings (that’s 1.7 MB of information per second for every single person on Earth for those counting), it’s clear that business events organisations will only be looking to analyse thousands of times more data by next year alone to boot.

As a result, as we point out in new technology and training games for events What’s the Future of …? surfacing key insights at a glance (and at scale) will only become increasingly critical to successfully competing in business going forward. In fact, 50 per cent of corporate decision-making is already data-driven, per Capgemini Research Institute. Noting that companies that can harness data’s potential are also 22 per cent more profitable on average than rivals, it’s no surprise that a skyrocketing number of business events firms are also looking to leverage analytics and automation to drive greater agility, adaptability, and returns.

Happily, for business events leaders looking to stay one step ahead of the curve, a growing range of artificially intelligent and drag-and-drop cloud software tools not only makes it possible to ingest more data than ever with less time and effort but also make it much easier for virtually anyone in your business to analyse this information and retrieve the answers that you need to stay competitive on demand.

Access to such solutions will only become growingly critical in the coming months to boot, as according to McKinsey’s researchers, customer habits continue to shift rapidly, and entire industries have recently advanced by ten years, technologically, in less than three months alone. Bearing this in mind, boosting data literacy rates throughout your organisation and conquering key insights in seconds should now be top imperatives for any firm. In effect, there is a growing divide emerging between companies that enjoy deep access to analytics and those that lack these insights, insights that can mean the difference between surviving and thriving in tomorrow’s business world.

Strikingly, though, given the existential threat that many companies now face, analysts at market research firm Forrester report that 60–73 per cent of all corporate data still goes unused. Moreover, many firms have still been slow to democratise access to data throughout their workforce and to teach employees to think more like data scientists. This presents a clear and pressing danger in a world where virtually any event, supply chain or workplace variables can suddenly change on a dime, for example, in the wake of a global pandemic, and even more so with worldwide data literacy rates continuing to lag far behind the pace of industry change. In a telling wake-up call to businesses, global advisory firm Gartner remind us that an online- and digital-focused company’s success no longer primarily hinges on access to cutting-edge technologies or financial resources alone.

“Customer habits continue to shift rapidly, and entire industries have recently advanced by ten years, technologically, in less than three months alone”

Instead, it now depends on all employees being tech-savvy workers who can “speak data,” as it were. Thus, your workforce’s capacity to spot and surface actionable information and key insights within your company is crucial.

Thankfully, a host of easily configured and utilised online tools and solutions that allow analytics and automation capabilities to be quickly deployed across your organisation can help you access the information you need to succeed. Available from myriad providers, these solutions give workers the tools and data to spark organisational growth and transformation at scale.

They also give firms of all sizes unprecedented visibility into events, workflows and operations that can be leveraged to help an organisation become more agile and adaptable while simultaneously automating and optimising business outcomes. Put simply: By designing your digital transformation strategy to serve multiple purposes, for example, helping you more effectively gather, analyse, and digest information while streamlining processes and slashing costs; you can accomplish various goals in one fell swoop.

Ultimately, in coming years, success will be found by skillfully managing workflows and expenses and by giving every employee in your company the power to innovate and drive huge breakthroughs (for example, democratising the business of data science) at scale.

For instance, just a few sources of insight and information that you can now be tapping into (or feeding into predictive analytics and AI programs for actionable strategies and suggestions) would be:

  • Survey, Questionnaire and Poll Data
  • Ticket Sales, Registrations and Signups
  • Advertising, Marketing, and Newsletter Performance
  • Website, Email, and Video Uptake
  • Social Media Exchanges and Interactions
  • Submissions, Suggestions and Audience Feedback
  • Customer Support Inquiries and Outreach
  • Online Behaviors and Interactions
  • Sales, Clickthroughs, and Open Rates
  • Search Queries and Requests

From a business events leader’s standpoint, these insights can mean the difference between playing guessing games and knowing precisely how to craft event programming, style marketing and outreach efforts, and adapt meeting formats to address fast-changing market conditions. For suppliers and vendors, it can mean adding the capability as a business to know exactly how to best engineer processes and deliveries, maintain optimal workforce and inventory levels, and determine which products and solutions tomorrow’s meeting planners will most find in demand. In other words, data is now the lifeblood of a modern organisation, and knowledge is power in the digital economy. Bearing this in mind, in coming years, your company’s fortunes will only become more dependent upon access to information and the ability to draw upon key findings in the future.

“There is a growing divide emerging between companies that enjoy deep access to analytics and those that lack these insights”

In effect, like cultivating the ability to leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning to gain deeper insights and understandings into business activity, enjoying growing access to analytics and automation capabilities across your organisation is a must. However, suppose you want to get ahead in tomorrow’s working world. In that case, it also bears reminding that, as a business, you must give your people all the tools and training they need to surface vital market clues and make smarter decisions with less time and effort.

To wit, finding ongoing success in the future won’t just be about improving your ability as a company to enjoy unfettered access to information. As we conclude in the critically acclaimed book Think Like a Futurist: The Next Normal, it’ll also be about training your people to get smarter about how they work with data and the business questions they use this information to ask.

At the same time, in an age where trust also reigns supreme, remember that data privacy remains a pressing concern for meeting and event leaders today, with the total number of corporate data breach incidents up by 20 per cent in the past year alone. It’s also quickly becoming pricey, with the average cost of data breaches reaching a record-breaking $4.45 million per incident, the highest in nearly two decades. Moreover, it is notable that roughly nine in ten customers will take their business to a competitor if they don’t believe that their data is being well-handled. Privacy hasn’t just become a business watchword in 2024.

With 79 per cent of customers now considering data privacy a factor in purchase decisions and actively willing to spend added time and money to protect their information, it’s also become imperative for business events pros in the future. Adopting a privacy by design philosophy around your events and audience outreach programs can help you create a competitive advantage here and better safeguard your company and its clients by learning to weave.

“Your workforce’s capacity to spot and surface actionable information and key insights within your company is crucial”

Privacy by design is a strategic concept that encourages companies to incorporate privacy measures across all IT networks, systems, sign-ups, apps, customer touchpoints, end-user interactions and organisational procedures. Likewise, from an engineering standpoint, it champions integrating privacy-focused solutions into the earliest drafts of design concepts and interweaving comprehensive security and privacy measures across new innovations.

They are prompting organisations to prioritise core principles of privacy and data protection by default, which, in effect, challenges companies to proactively anticipate possible points of data breach or failure and plan against future threats. Noting this, it shouldn’t be a shock that half of all global executives now say cybersecurity- and privacy-focused strategies are being integrated across every business decision and plan. That said, in an age of rising digital dangers, for example, ransomware, open-source software vulnerabilities, and growing cooperation amongst cybercrime organisations, it’s no surprise that meeting and events pros are also evolving their approach to addressing tomorrow’s privacy-related concerns.

For example, they no longer think solely about safeguarding shared information and online interactions but institute better data collection practices. Instead, they’re also growingly working to create ways to inform better and empower their customers and emphasise delivering digital solutions that offer clients a greater sense of choice, agency, and control. As these forward-thinking organisations realise, successfully meeting the needs of tomorrow’s audiences won’t just be about delivering secure interactions. Instead, it’ll also be about ensuring that your event sponsors and attendees enjoy more excellent command over what information they share, with whom, where, and to what extent.

Bearing this in mind, business event industry pros of every kind are making it a point to increasingly integrate extensive and nuanced privacy controls throughout every customer interaction (for example, event registrations, signups, and submissions). Likewise, more and more companies are working to surface the previously invisible spiderweb of digital touchpoints at which information is exchanged with third parties and offering users opportunities to decide how and to what extent they’re willing to be tracked. The benefits of adopting these privacy-first policies go far beyond reputational and public relations wins to boot: After all, a winning privacy strategy can “fuel user adoption and revenue growth, and help companies increase or retain market share”, as eMarketer notes. Conversely, breaches of trust can create opportunities for rivals to gain at your expense.

“Privacy by design is a strategic concept … Breaches of trust can create opportunities for rivals to gain at your expense”

Bearing in mind the importance of establishing and maintaining this trust to drive audience growth and customer loyalty, as well as the role it will play in driving the adoption of future innovations, be advised. Core strategic concepts to stay attuned to and embrace as you look to incorporate privacy into your event design process more actively in the coming months include as follows:

  • Give customers and event attendees a greater sense of authority and control  Be transparent with your client about the types of information you’re collecting and the methods and mediums through which you’re gathering it. Provide privacy dashboards, menus, and command centres that allow them to control how, when, and to what extent their data is being collected and shared.
  • As a rule of thumb, default to privacy-first settings  Unless a user actively gives permission, they automatically default to settings that do not monitor their activity, gather their data, or share information with third parties.
  • Be candid with audiences about how your business model works  Give your clients a deeper understanding of any exchange of value (for example, if you’re providing content or services free of charge because they’re trading for access to it by sharing their data) and what’s being swapped in any given transaction.
  • Prioritise client and attendee satisfaction  Default to internal policies that deter the active gathering, use, or exchange of customer data. Dedicate teams to developing privacy-focused innovations. Always ask for users’ consent (for example, via online opt-ins) before onboarding their information into your apps, websites, or event management systems.
  • Offer options to wipe information clean  Provide customers with access to solutions that allow them to permanently wipe data, contacts, browsing histories, searches, locations, and personal identifiers from your offerings and solutions and, if so desired, permanently wipe them from your databases.

Given rising stakeholder activism and audience awareness, business event firms will increasingly leverage privacy as a source of business differentiation and competitive advantage in the coming months. On the bright side, while this shift in thinking may cause more data science-driven and market research-minded firms to sweat, it bears reminding: What you lose in analytics here, you stand to gain in customer experience instead.

After all, 90 per cent of privacy-minded users now believe that how their data is treated reflects how they are treated as customers. In the coming decade, learning to put clients’ privacy first will be increasingly viewed as a basic form of digital courtesy and respect. It will also be seen as a vital business principle.

Long story short  Data is now your business’s beating heart. Learning to listen to and interpret that heartbeat and keep it pumping steadily will only become increasingly critical to building and maintaining a competitive advantage.