by Leo Jakobson | September 02, 2014
Just two years ago, a meeting, event, or exhibition that offered attendees a dedicated app to download onto a smartphone or tablet was considered ahead of the curve in adopting mobile technology. Now these apps are quickly becoming mainstream, and the time is rapidly approaching when an event lacking one will seem behind the times.

Not surprisingly, companies in the technology industry have been among the pioneers in adopting meetings apps, including Jive, a Palo Alto, CA-based software firm that makes internal and customer-facing social collaboration software for businesses. It has offered a mobile app at its annual customer conference, JiveWorld, since 2011. Last year, Jive turned to QuickMobile to create the app for the show's 1,800 attendees.

"From my perspective as someone who is responsible for the event, mobile is such an effective way to engage your guests," says Sydney Sloan, Jive's senior director of customer experience. "[Attendees] always have their phone right on them, so they're accessing their agenda, and they're able to network with other people in the app. It just makes the overall experience more modern, more engaging, and it keeps folks tied to the messages and the activities that we're hoping they take advantage of while at the show."

While the proliferation of smartphones and social media has allowed for the popularity of meetings apps, it has also stuck planners between the expectations of attendees who want to have all the information they need in the palm of their hands, and the companies holding those meetings -- which expect to be able to leverage the available technology and resulting big data to elevate the return on investment of their events.

Under such circumstances, today's meetings professionals not only have to be great program managers and venue experts, they also are becoming digital marketers, technology designers, and data analysts. While a host of apps exist to help in these tasks, the array of choices can be confusing. "Planners have so many app tools at their disposal to drive increased engagement," says Alejandro Contreras, director, global platforms and strategy, meetings and events, at American Express. "How do they decipher what are the right apps, and how do they drive higher value to meeting owners and be successful?"

What follows is a look at six major challenges that need to be tackled when planning a meeting, along with a list of established apps that can help manage them.

One of the biggest imperatives at any event, for planners and attendees alike, is to know what's going on, when it's going on, and where it's going on. Printed guides, whether for the attendee or the planner, are the traditional solution.

And yet: "Mobile event-guide apps are way more detailed than a paper guide could ever be," meetings industry technology consultant Corbin Ball says. "They can also be interactive, and they can be updated instead of becoming out-of-date as soon as they've been printed. They can provide group alerts or alerts to individuals or groups, which you could never do before, aside from putting up a sign."

And those alerts can be pushed out, so anyone who has signed up for a session can get a pop-up notice of a room change, for example, says Alon Alroy, co-founder and CMO of Bizzabo, a New York City-based firm that provides a networking platform for event organizers and attendees. "It makes the entire event communications easier, particularly managing crises and last-minute changes."

Apps that do that:
Bizzabo: Personalized, mobile agenda; live updates

Check In Easy: For the planner, a simple and effective check-in app

CrowdCompass: Personalized, mobile agenda; interactive event maps; live updates; 24-hour tech support, 9 a.m.- 9 p.m. on weekends

DoubleDutch: Personalized, mobile agenda; live updates; interactive event maps

Eventbase: Focused on high-end events; ability to share location via GPS geolocation; multiple languages available; personalized, mobile agenda; live updates; schedule sharing

EventMobi: Security for private events; personalized, mobile agenda; live updates; schedule sharing

EventPilot by ATIV: Full-featured event app targeting medical and scientific conferences; personalized, mobile agenda; live updates

Lumi Show: Personalized, mobile agenda; live updates

QuickMobile: Personalized, mobile agenda; live updates

Topi: Full-featured event app; universal language conversion; personalized, mobile agenda; live updates