If you're attending a professional conference or symposium, you can expect to do a lot of walking around, meeting and greeting, professional networking and intensive learning. Unfortunately, you can also expect to be saddled with a lot of paper: venue maps, agendas, speaker bios, training manuals and product information. For years, the events industry has been working towards the goal of 'green meetings' that manage with little or no printed collateral for participants to schlep around. Unfortunately, getting a ubiquitous, easy-to-use and relatively inexpensive solution for this challenge has proved elusive.
Enter the big brains at Parliant, a longtime Mac developer based in Ottawa, Canada. For the past three years, CEO Kevin Ford and his team have been quietly testing, tuning and deploying one-off implementations of just such a 'paperless conference' solution for big-name customers like the American Association of Neurological Surgeons and the Canadian Media Production Association -- you can see the results on the App Store today.
Deployed on the iPod touch or iPhone, the conference apps install quickly from the App Store and then perform a full data download over Wi-Fi to fill in all the necessary content: agendas, exhibitors, maps, product details and attendee contact/social networking capabilities. The apps even include exhibitor ads, helping defray the costs for conference organizers. Parliant worked with customers to organize and convert all their content for use on the app platform.
Ford's confidence in his white-label solution is now at the point where Parliant is ready to offer this platform to the market at large. Conference Companion is now available for deployment by meeting organizers, based on a modular configuration; you only purchase the features you need. For large events and professional meetings, it's a huge step forward in the elimination of the paper schlep.
Using the app, attendees can manage their personal schedules vs. the overall meeting agenda, keep track of contacts and vendors, and most importantly, they can get all their collateral and media in one place; this drastically reduces the 'paper load' for the conference as a whole. Since the full dataset is resident on the device, most features will work without connectivity on-site (although audience response and social networking will take advantage of venue Wi-Fi where possible). Whenever the app is launched with network connectivity, it will 'phone home' to make sure it has the most up-to-date content, speaker collateral and event schedule -- but it only downloads the new/revised items to save bandwidth and time.
The elephant in the conference room, of course, is that all attendees need to carry an iOS device to access all this wonderful content. What Parliant has discovered is that conference organizers can offer the app on an optional basis for some events (where they expect a substantial percentage of the audience to have a device already), and for other professional conferences, they can cover the cost of supplying iPod touches to all attendees by a combination of a surcharge, enhanced ad revenues, print material savings or other strategies.
Given that some of Parliant's customers have been running with this solution for several years, return attendees come back carrying their devices already -- talk about a virtuous cycle of platform lock-in. We'll be checking in with Kevin and his team over the next few months to gauge the market response to this platform and find out how meeting organizers take advantage of it.
An app platform like Conference Companion will have a lot more end users than actual buyers; in fact, there will be thousands of users who never realize they're running a CC-built app. Still, if you're in the conference and training game and you're thinking about ways to set your events on a paperless path, get in touch with Parliant to talk about Conference Companion. Pricing and implementation schedules will vary based on your scope and amount of content, but expect to lay out at least $20,000 for a basic implementation ... not counting the cost of the iPods.
Thanks to Jim Dalrymple for giving us the heads-up on the Conference Companion platform.