Leading-edge can be double-edged

Pioneer techies often get hurt, says Simon Clayton of RefTech
When it comes to tech, event organisers are often faced with a dilemma: they want to use the very latest technology, but they need it to be completely reliable and dependable. These two factors never go together.

The latest technology is often referred to as ‘leading edge’ but in techie circles, it’s also known as ‘bleeding edge’ because it’s often so new that it has a high risk of being unreliable, which impacts badly on those who are the first to adopt it . These are the people who were the most keen to jump aboard a new product, but now need to throw more cash at the tech to get it to work or abandon it altogether in favour of a safer but far less sexy technology.

It’s in our nature to be drawn to new things, to be seduced into buying the latest shiny devices. There are thousands of column inches devoted to reviewing and rating the latest ‘must have’ gadgets. If this wasn’t the case, the iPhone launch would have been a disaster. Here was a new phone that only had 2G at a time when 3G was common, no concept of apps to extend its functionality and hardly any battery life, yet some people still went crazy for it. It’s amazing how blinded people are and the inconveniences they will put up with in order to have the latest shiny new toy. I blame the marketers – they understand how to tap into this vulnerability. They know how susceptible we are, as they gush about the positives whilst brushing over the negatives.

Take RFID badges – they come with a huge cost and deliver no more benefit than badges with barcodes. You might be able to track delegates as they move around your event, but you can do that with a humble barcode – ok, you need a few people dotted around to scan badges, but you need stewards anyway to make sure that only the right people are allowed in and I’ve never once seen event feedback stating that a delegate was inconvenienced by having a badge scanned.

Some companies need to be seen to be using the latest tech for their events because of their brand or company profile and values. Or perhaps a new type of tech is adopted because an event organiser sees it as a way to stand out and progress their own career – by being the person who brought X to the event and wowed the Board.

But is leading-edge technology worth the risk?
Organisers need to be a ruthless bunch – they won’t (or can’t) give a second chance to something if it fails - and for good reason. Our industry often gets compared to retail, but it is so very different. If the opening of a store is delayed by half a day because of a bad tech decision, then the situation may not be perfect, but it’s not a complete disaster as the store simply opens a few hours later than planned. But, if a one-day event opens a few hours later because of a tech failure, then that is an absolute disaster. The ephemeral nature of events means that we only have one opportunity to get it right. Everything has to be perfect and there can be no second chances. This scenario just doesn’t fit well with ‘bleeding-edge’ technology and if you use it you may well end up in a bloody mess…

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