Digital disruption in events – Three Blind Mice Podcast
Recently I caught up with Randle Stonier from the Three Blind Mice Podcast where we talked about how events are being disrupted by digital.
We spoke about how to get digital, Bitcoin, using bots at events and how to off-load the tedium, the role of personal digital agents, attracting high profits, data in the cloud or in a Swiss bank, poor event apps, the 15 people you should really network with and Arthur C Clarke.
“Each of us will be employing a digital assistant and because it will be AI powered, it will learn all about us.”
“You have to disrupt yourself before you’re disrupted.
02:22 – To get Digital, you need to be Digital
03:32 – (Bitcoin) Coinbase
05:21 – Disruptional transformation
11.04 – Regulators and empowered consumers
13:05 – Sir Tim Berners-Lee is concerned
13:41 – The rise of Digital Agents
15:02 – GP at Hand
16:44 – Setting up your own Bot
17:17 – Betty the Bot in events
20:25 – Event apps have failed to evolve
23:02 – Who are the 15 people that I should really network with at this event
23:16 – Augmented Intelligence
Three Blind MICE.
Hello and welcome to the Three Blind MICE podcast from Radio.Events – the show for event professionals by event professionals. I’m your host and the ‘MICE maister-in-cheese’, the Honorary Doc.
Welcome to Radio dot Events and the Three Blind MICE podcast. Thanks for tuning in. We bring you what’s hip and happening behind the scenes of meetings, incentives, conferences, and events. Three Blind Mice – the little pod with a cast of thousands from Radio dot Events.
In this first of a two-part episode, I’m going to explore the world of digital disruption in events. What is it? What does it mean? How will it impact us? How do we get better equipped to deal with it, and why? Besides Brexit, another form of disruption it’s probably the hottest topic on the minds of all management and business leaders today. Have you ever been disrupted? Ooo Ahh Mrs. Yes. It’s frustrating. Maybe you’re wrestling with terms like digital transformation, Blockchain, Big Data and Artificial Intelligence and wondered, SH one T, what’s that got to do with me? More change. How do I cope? What does it all mean for events and how will it impact me, my business or the place I work? Well, there’s no point adopting an ostrich like approach, ignoring it and hoping digital disruption won’t hit the Events Industry, it’s already arrived. And if it walks like a duck, we might as well get our sleeves rolled up and get stuck in.
Prepare yourself. Okay, let’s get going. Three Blind MICE.
To help us make sense of our changing workplace and the workplace of the future, I’m delighted to be joined by my special guest, Andrew Grill, a seasoned digital guru, an ex IBM-er, where he was a global managing partner. Andrew has also launched and run a number of digital businesses around the world as well as worked with the likes of Telstra, Vodafone, Thomson Reuters, Nestle, Nike, and the BBC, and having spent decades at the sharp end of technology Andrew is now much in demand as one of the foremost speakers on the subject of digital disruption and what he calls the social business. He’s chalked up a number of TEDx engagements as well as numerous speaking engagements throughout the world. Andrew, welcome to Three Blind MICE. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Randle, thanks so much for having me.
‘Digital!’ That one word has a mixed impact. It’s both exciting and frustrating. We’re excited by the potential, but often frustrated by the reality. It’s hard to reconcile and even harder to predict where it will take us. I know one of the expressions Andrew likes to use is “To get Digital, you need to be Digital”. Andrew, what do you mean by that and how is that playing out in reality? What do we all need to do to be better?
I think we need to understand personally what impact this technology has on our lives and our business. What I did, for example, a few months ago, I wanted to know more about cryptocurrency, so I went and bought 10 pounds worth of Bitcoin not to be a rich person, but to understand what it was like to buy, to hold, to watch the price change. And so I encourage all of my clients and all of my audiences to get personally involved. Go and try the technology. Get on Twitter. Use social media. Get on Linkedin. Use Cryptocurrency. Try chat bots. Only by using the technology, does the penny then drop and you can say, ‘Ah Ha! I get what that means for my business!’
So should we all rush out and get some cryptocurrency just to really get underneath the skin of it, but as you say, probably $10 is quite enough?
Well, you know what happened when I got it, I bought it right when it was at its peak late last year and it became memorising. I use an app called Coinbase and so you can log on and look at the graph and it was quite addictive. Looking at how my £10 pound investment one minute was £15, then £17 with no actual effort. What was more interesting was months later when I tried to withdraw it, it took me four weeks to get the money out. So I then know as someone who’s held the currency that there are some real friction points and so people out there that say ‘Look, Cryptocurrencies are the future!’ But it’s hard to withdraw. And the other thing when I dug deeper is that Bitcoin was never designed to be a global currency. It’s global transaction rate is seven. That’s zero seven transactions per second globally. And when you understand that you go, ‘hmm, that’s not really going to work for high speed currency transactions’. So again, back to my mantra ‘to get digital, you need to be digital’ to be trying these things to then really personally assess whether they’re right for you.
I couldn’t agree with you more. So let’s immerse ourselves in the world of digital transformation because we’re all dealing with it in our personal lives, but very specifically in our professional lives, and it’s coming at us from every direction. I know your preferred expression when we talk about digital transformation is I believe, ‘digital disruption’. You know, we take cryptocurrencies, we just mentioned big data, deep learning, AI, RPA, blockchain. I mean, I could go on and on, on all these, all these new terms or maybe not quite so new terms, what do they all mean for us? In short, how is digital turning all of our worlds upside down? Whole industries, not just international brand owners, but also very specifically smaller and medium sized companies as well. For, for each of us individually are Bots and AI going to eliminate lots of jobs? Will VR, AR or Mixed Reality completely changed the face of the events industry? What do you think? Andrew?
Wow. So many questions. Let me unpack as many as I can at a time. This is not new. Disruptional transformation is not new. We’ve just put the word digital in front of it. Some of us are old enough to remember the Internet revolution when we didn’t have a computer on our desk. Then we did and we were sending physical mail and now we’re sending email. We remember how these things changed our lives. And so this latest round of disruption is not new. Disruption happens because of three main reasons. First of all, they’re high profits and those disruptors see those high profits. And you can think about the media industry, the taxi industry, the hotel industry, these disruptors want to access those high profits. The second reason why it’s so easy to disrupt those industries today is because of new technology. The fact that I can stand on stage and I could if I wanted to order a parcel and pay for it from that point on, my phone is now commonplace. And the third reason is because consumers demand it. I’m beholden to Amazon right now. I have Amazon Prime, I am one of 100 million people globally that have that. I pay between 50 and $100 a year to have that service. If I use another supplier and they say it’s gonna, take three or four days, I get a bit annoyed because I’m so used to getting it either same day or next day. And so Amazon has disrupted the High Street because they have seen the high profits and attack that they’ve used technology and they’ve now got the consumer’s beholden to that type of service. When we talk about AI, will AI disrupt jobs? Yes, of course. Just as when the steam engine came along and it was easier for a machine to lift a heavy object rather than a person to lift a heavy object, we migrated towards that. It means that we’ll have to transform and back to the first part of the podcast. ‘To get digital, you need to be digital’. You need to understand how your role or your company might be impacted? Those low impact boring jobs, picking up the phone and answering the same question time and time again. That can be outsourced now to technology. They couldn’t be a few years ago. In fact, only last week, Google have launched their new Pixel 3 phone and if you are the lucky owner of one of these phones you can actually using Google Assistant, not only ask Google to book a restaurant, Google will then phone the restaurant. AI will talk to human being, make a reservation, and then put it into your calendar. That’s not disrupting a whole lot of people that just making life easier. And I think then we can look at focusing on high value tasks. The other thing about things like chat bots, you can build a Chat Bot to answer questions that are quite frequent to your company, but it also becomes market research if people are using the chat bot to keep asking what your opening hours are, that’s a market research to tell you that you haven’t made clear when you’re open so it isn’t replacing a job. It’s actually getting some insight and it’s allowing you and your staff to do things that are much higher value tasks.
I love the example of Amazon and one has to remember that they’ve been around for a few years….
Which, when most of us are saying ‘Oh, I’ve only just got Amazon Prime.’ ‘I’ve only just got my Amazon Alexa in!’ But of course, not only have they completely disrupted Retail, but they’ve disrupted distribution, ecommerce, I suppose, audio in the home. They’ve taken on so many different verticals that they’re completely dominating. I mean, they’re fascinating example aren’t they?
They are and they are impacting the high street. I saw a presentation a few days ago from the CEO of Sainsburys Argos. Now they were very smart, Sainsbury’s realised that as a traditional retailer, they had to somehow attack the Amazon model and so they bought Argos. The closest thing I think you can get to Amazon in the UK and so they will probably have another cycle of life in them because they’ve been able to differentiate and to disrupt themselves. I mean, that’s the message I tell my clients and my audiences. You have to disrupt yourself before you’re disrupted. And so in that case, it’s what Sainsbury’s and Argos have done. But Amazon, they’ve been going for 20 years and again, only fairly recently, has technology evolved to the point where it becomes just so easy to order these things. I mean, Amazon started life as a book online book company. And the great thing about Jeff Bezos, he’s not only one of the richest man, he’s a very smart man. He just, he worked out, he needed three key ingredients for his business. He needed a payments platform. He needed the distribution channel and indeed did communications network. And that came about because of Visa allows you to pay for things online, UPS and Royal Mail is his distribution channel and the comms channel is the Internet. There were three things that he didn’t need that were already there and he built his business on top of that and I used this example in my talks and I say, think about your own business. What are the three or four things that you already have that you don’t have to build that you can build on top of that, that then allows you to attract those high profits, utilises technology and gets customers completely comfortable with the way you do business?
There are number of different themes that you’ve touched on there. And I want you link it through to my next theme, which is Big Data. If we take the enormous fines (GDPR), harvesting by Cambridge Analytica, the hacking of Google+ and British Airways and the number of people exiting platforms like Facebook because they’re worrying about their digital footprints and we think about the impact of ecommerce and specific, I suppose driven by Amazon is a, should I say completely changing the face of our town centres, our high streets, etcetera. Is it for the best? And if we look at it all, is the reality that technology is all moving just way too quickly. How do we know some of these things that we’re just letting happen, is it good for us as Society? Is it safe for us? How do we regulate it? And often the challenge I think is that the regulators are so far behind where technology is. Therefore we don’t seem to know how to regulate. Just because we can do things digitally doesn’t mean we should do.
Well. Just on your last point about the Regulators, I was fortunate. I did a TEDx talk, earlier this year to the Welsh government and I had in front of me 100 regulators and so normally I’m telling industry people, you need to get in touch with the Regulator. You need to get them across what you’re doing and understand how you’re disrupting so that their regulation and their legal framework keeps up. So faced with 100 regulators in front of me I turned it around and said, ‘as regulators, you need to understand why your disruptors are doing what they’re doing and if you think it’s a valid thing to to start to disrupt various industries, you need to help them do that.’ But going back to the notion of big data. Earlier this year, there was a perfect storm. We had the Cambridge Analytica exposé with Facebook and GDPR was launched across Europe that finally made big data and the notion that Facebook and others are processing data, front page news and the person in the street watching Channel 4 news or reading The Times or the Telegraph, saying, ‘Facebook did what with my data?’ And so I think finally consumers are saying there needs to be a fair value exchange. Yes, if I use Facebook at no cost, there’s an expectation of some value exchange, but I don’t expect you to take all of my data and give it to other people without my permission. Apparently, Oracle in Australia found out that if you use a Google Android phone every month, a gigabyte of data goes back to the Google servers to help with advertising – things such as the barometric pressure of your phone, so it knows what level of the shopping centre you’re at. It even knows if you’ve got into or out of your car. Now Google’s response will be, will you check the box saying you agree to send data back to Google? But because Google hasn’t inherently explained exactly what data’s going back, the consumer is not empowered. And so I think we’re going to see the rise of the empowered consumer where they’re saying, no, no, no. There’s got to be a value exchange. If you’re going to suck all this data away from me, there has to be a discount. Some cryptocurrency, some sort of value exchange between me and the end user. A few days ago I saw Tim Berners Lee, who famously invented the world wide web nearly 30 years ago and he’s a bit concerned that his invention is not being used the way he had intended and that’s always what happens to these new technologies. They get used and abused and he and I have absolute agreement that he sees a time when you and I will have our own data stored in our own personal cloud and if Facebook or Google wants to access that to process that to provide it as a service, they have to ask our permission and provide a value exchange and I don’t think we’re that far away from that. And with the rise of these things like the Google Assistant that allows you to book the restaurant that I mentioned earlier. I think we’ll see the rise of digital agents and this is a big shock for advertising people. We will no longer see ads as humans. Our digital assistants will be filtering these things, so we’ll have to write ads for robots.
Basically, the robot or the digital assistant for want of another description is going to vet what it is that we as humans actually see?
But they have to. I was asked after a Q & A at one of my talks recently, ‘you know Andrew, with all this information I’ve been flooded with, how do I handle it all’? And I said, it’s simple. You will be employing a digital assistant and because it will be AI powered, it will learn all about you. It will know what you like. It’ll know where you go. It will have access to your calendar just as a human being might. And it will then learn what your preferences are. So if Company X wants to get a message to you, they’re going to have to pitch to the Digital Assistant to get that through so I actually see it. And it will learn, for example, that while I don’t wear Nike shoes I’m interested in running. And so if there’s an offer, if another digital agent from Nike contacts my digital agent and does a digital deal, maybe that message will get through for the human to approve it. But of course when I say this on stage in front of advertising people, they laugh me off the stage. Andrew it will never happen. But I then play the video from Google and like I say, if you have a Google Pixel 3, you can do this now. This is not the future. This is now.
It’s never ending isn’t it? You kind of understand why we as the harsh reality of human labour, whether in the workplace, whether we’re working for an organization or trying to run an organisation, how on earth we just keep on top of it all. I watched a documentary recently on a project called GP at Hand from a company called Babylon. This is a health platform that is being developed by some entrepreneurs and it’s being used as a trial with the National Health Service as well. So GP in Hand is basically through lots of Deep Learning and with AI and an app interface, they’re empowering people to get a consultation with their GP, within three minutes if necessary, by going through a series of key questions on their phone. And it’s got 30,000 people in London using it. It’s highly controversial in swathes of, of the health profession because they’re very naturally, very conservative. They look for evidence over a long period of time. They look for peer group reviews and so on and so forth. And of course the challenge with where technology is going, is it this doesn’t happen over years, this is happening over seconds, minutes, etc. And they just need to need to embrace it. So the moment are limited to, to working in London and you can see that it’s very much the way another industry is going to embrace the future. You touched upon earlier, the subject of Bots, if you’ve got a, a small events agency or your, uh, an events manager running a small team, we keep hearing about bots. Where do we go out and find them? Are they available in ‘PC World’?
They’re generally online. I mean, I went and found out how I can create a Bot there. If you Google how to create a chat Bot, there are a number of websites that will show you how to do it, the easiest way to do it in Facebook Messenger and there are plugins you can use for that. And again, back to my mantra, ‘get digital be digital’, try this and then you’ll understand it. Oh, is that how it works? And you might then deploy a Bot in your own organisation to have a 24×7 response so that if someone sends a message in, the Bot can respond and say, ‘look, I’m a Bot because everyone’s asleep at the moment. But I’ll answer as much as I can. But especially for the events industry, how many times do you get asked, what’s the Wifi code, when are the buses going to ‘here’? What about if you said, look, I’m happy to answer your questions in person, but if you ask ‘Betty the Bot’, let’s say, she will actually answer all of your questions and it means you can then go away and do more important things, then answer those questions and the delegates will probably find that was amazing. I can ask it anything and I’m not annoying someone. I’m not taking them away from doing their job and back to my point earlier that then becomes market research. What are people asking all the time, what aren’t we making clear? What can we do better? And the Bot can then ask you, ‘what did you think of the speaker just then, mark out of five’ and you can very quickly, go back and provide some feedback. So I am starting to see bots involved before the event and the event app I think will probably evolve from a static webpage to a dynamic Bots and I think what’ll happen then is during the event you will have a real time questions about where things are and logistics and then after the event it’ll sensitively maybe be able to provide some feedback or follow up or can I get the video or the presentation of the third speaker? ‘Oh let me just send that to you’. If you think about it, I run an events company and you’re a small business. The overhead of providing that level of service is going to take someone away from doing important parts of their job for hours, if not days. Why not replace that level of service with an AI powered bot? Very, very simple. I have no one or two I would recommend. I would literally go to Google and say, how do I create a chat bot? And probably in Facebook Messenger is the easiest way. But once you start playing with it, you’ll go, ‘I get this’. I get how we could really streamline our events and look even more professional by using something like this.
Thank you. I think that’s great advice. If we look at a couple of the tech players that moved into the event space and Cvent is perhaps the biggest example, which in turn just recently bought another tech solutions provider for the event space, with SocialTables and you’ve look at Eventbrite. There are some major players who moved into the events industry who are completely transforming the engagement and introducing considerable efficiencies or the potential for considerable efficiencies and of course the challenge for established event professionals is trying to see how each of them fits into their space, but equally how we wrestle with, how we have to reinvent ourselves in order to stay relevant in the space and over the next 5 years.
Yeah, absolutely. So it’s not about replacing people. It’s about giving a better level of service and then you can find tune other elements of your business. And so I would encourage people to try that. And again, if I’m seeing an event organizer at a tech conference, running a chat Bot for event inquiries, I’m going to think five times more of that company than a company that isn’t using that sort of technology and pushing the envelope.
Have you got any other experiences from your interfacing with events? You obviously do a lot of speaking engagements, Andrew, I mean in terms of things that you’ve seen, witnessed at first hand, the good, the bad, ugly, etcetera? Anything that you’d like to highlight?
And that’s a whole other podcast. The event app as has been the poor cousin of these. Everyone has to have an event app and I think I’ve got six or eight different event apps on my phone now and I’m thinking, when do I delete them? I think we need to get over having a bespoke app just for the event. We need to work out a way to go around that, whether it’s a native mobile page rather than an app, you’ve got to download, those sorts of things. I take my mind back to, I think it was 2007, I went to a Financial Times event, and as I checked in, I was given this device. This is pre-iPhone, remember it was about as big or bigger than an iPhone with a clunky screen from a company called Spot-Me and it had every delegate’s name and picture loaded into the system and you could actually using Bluetooth workout whether they were in the room or not. And this is more than 10 years ago. And this is amazing. I think like, wow, this is the future. Unfortunately, we haven’t really progressed since then and it’s now just a, a place that has the agenda and has the speakers. And as a speaker myself, you log on, you upload your details and you go through the delegate list and realise that pretty much no one else has logged on and updated their details because Linkedin does that. And so I’m wondering whether we need to have bespoke apps all the time doing that and whether the app can have high value. Maybe the event app is a chat Bot that everything you need to know rather than scrolling through the screen and working out what’s on at 2:00pm and you ask the app ‘what’s on at 2:00pm’. It sends back who it is, you ask the app through the Chat Bot ‘who here has travelled from London?’ and it gives you the 15 delegates from London that you might want to meet. That’s probably a better way of having a dynamic app rather than a static app and I don’t want to pick on apps and app companies specifically, but I think from what I saw in 2007 to what I’m seeing in 2018, there hasn’t been a lot of evolution. We also talk about AR and VR. I was at an event a few weeks ago in Dubai for inVoyage. It was an event for the luxury events industry. I think that’s how you and I connected, and I said, look, ironically, we’re at an event about events and I think human beings won’t stop wanting to travel to nice places and meet other people. I think it’s very hard to replicate the experience of sitting in a room having a drink, chatting about business and political issues as you do at these events, face to face. I think it’s very hard to have that experience. So to my point, if you’re watching a live stream of an event, you can’t come to when the coffee break happens, you sit there and go ‘oh what’s happening, where’s everyone gone? And they’re all off having a chat. I think human nature being what it is, we still like being in front of other humans. I think we can enhance the experience. Imagine turning up to the event and really knowing who were the 15 people that I should really network with because they’re really the people that share what I’m doing and share my interest and those sorts of things. Otherwise you got to spend the whole day or the next day wandering around finding people that are interesting. Maybe we have an augmented approach where the AI or augmented intelligence helps us fast track to the things and the sessions that we should be looking at based on what they know about it, so I think that’s where tech can come into its own and then enhance the ‘in person event experience’.
Andrew, I think that’s given us a bit of a glimpse as to some of the issues that as event professionals we need to wrestle with and get sorted and when it comes to disruption, as you quite rightly highlighted at the beginning. It’s been around from time immémorial and that is going to continue. Just get stuck into it and engage with it, play with it, understand it, use it that that’s relevant and that that adds value. Otherwise you can get very distracted spending a lot of money on things that actually never come to fruition. We’ve touched on a lot of stuff around digital disruption. Andrew, to do it justice and if people want to explore things further, people want to follow you to keep abreast of your thought leadership. Where will people find you?
Really easy. Think of a futurist who lives in London. Futurist dot London, no.com, not.co, UK, Futurist.London. Everything is there – you can find all about me, how to contact me. I’m on Twitter @AndrewGrill. You could watch some of my talks and even talk to me.
And if anybody didn’t catch that or you’re driving, then the links will be on the Radio.Events website. Obviously, we’re in the communications and events industries and we’ve talked about thought leadership. Clearly, you’re in demand as an industry expert in this space, whether it’s as a keynote speaker, as a panelist, which I know you do a lot of. What topics are hot buttons. What are you in demand for as a professional speaker Andrew?
Yeah. Nine Times out of 10. It’s the disruption question. It’s generally a company that has been around for a while and generally a senior leadership team and they’re saying, we know we’re being disrupted. We’re not quite sure what to do. We need that external view. Someone who’s done it before, who’s worked for large and small organisations. Someone who works across industries, to come in and be the voice of reason, and quite often I work with the people and I have views of their strategy and what have you. I’m not saying anything wildly different to what they’re thinking, but because it’s an external point of view, it allows them to be a little bit more ‘discovering’ what they need to do and so that’s generally the talk that I get asked to do the most. Other talks? I cover things like new technologies, AI, Fintech, Bitcoin, those sorts of things and more importantly, what do they mean? I was asked recently to sort of demystify all of this jargon to a bunch of finance directors. What do we need to worry about? And so I see myself very much as a translator, of all this tech talk. What do we need to worry about now? But also I call myself a practical futurist. I use the example on stage of Arthur C Clarke, who famously cowrote A Space Odyssey, 2001. It’s now 50 years old and Arthur was asked by journalists in 1974 what the world would look like in 2001 and on the video he essentially predicts the Internet. And the example I give there is that Arthur was thinking about things that were 30 years in the distance and most of my clients don’t have 30 years, they don’t have 30 months or 30 weeks. They want to know right now and so what I try and do is give them practical tips and tricks they can take away that afternoon, next week and put into play and it seems to be working because the feedback is that ‘yeah, we took your advice and we’re actually doing something different now and it’s having an impact’. Futurists are great. A lot of them are my friends, but we sometimes think too far ahead to be useful.
I think your Arthur C Clarke example… And I was fascinated when I watched that video clip back. What foresight that man had and clearly he was just one of one of the all-time greats. Perhaps we don’t give him enough credit, or we forget about him. Andrew, thank you for all of that. In terms of speaking gigs and if people want to get in touch, the same route or other?
Yes, the same, Futurist.London. Everything is there. It’s the one stop shop, 18 years of blog posts, probably 15 years of videos and what have you. Everything is there. I like to have it in the one spot. I’d love to hear from some of your listeners and challenge the thinking. Often, when when I’m doing a Q and A, I say I only want disruptive questions because I want to be challenged as well.
I’m doing digital disruption. Thank you very much indeed for now. I think you’re going to join me in the next episode. We’re going to talk about the subject of Social and how that’s impacting the event space, the opportunities that presents for all of us in our lives. For now, Andrew Grill, thank you very much indeed.
Thanks Randle. A pleasure to be on the show.
I hope you enjoyed the first of this two-part conversation with Andrew Grill. I’ll be back with Andrew in the next episode where we talk about the use of ‘Social’ within events. To get in touch with Andrew Grill directly, or if you’re looking for inspiration for possible speakers on digital disruption, technology or social sharing, for the links and for the transcripts from this podcast, they can all be found ‘Down the Mousehole on this episode’s page at our website, www.radio.events,
Three Blind MICE.
Thank you for listening to this episode of Three Blind MICE from www.Radio.Events. It’s been a blast, as always. I’ll be back with Andrew talking about the whole area of Social. That means media, marketing and selling, and much more in events and in business in general. So make sure you come back to listen-in. Until next time, go well.
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