Are You Connected

The tools of mobile and wireless technology - personal digital assistants (PDAs), cell phones, and pagers - are everywhere, and conferences are no exception. Conference organizers can take advantage of this phenomenon to offer their attendees more value-added services.

These services range from allowing attendees to download conference agendas, exhibitor information, and speaking times to their handhelds, to offering an interactive floor-plan map that shows attendees how to get from exhibit A to exhibit Z. You can improve both customer service and your bottom line by implementing a mobile application for attendees. Here are seven tips to help you get connected:

1 Familiarize yourself with mobile and wireless technology and brainstorm about all the ways you could capitalize on a mobile platform, wireless connectivity, and device-to-device communication. Make a list of the desired features. Get creative - there are many options.

2 Find a strong implementation partner. The third party you select can help determine which applications are technically feasible and make business sense for you. Analysts International, for example, has successfully deployed its conference application, Event InHand, at a number of conferences including Technology Exchange Week/PCExpo and DCI's Summit on Wireless Computing.

Bring out your wish list and walk through the costs and benefits of each application while focusing on the value to the attendee and return on investment for your organization. Look for mobile and wireless technology companies that are fiscally sound and have successfully implemented previous conference solutions.

3 Determine which systems to support. There are myriad devices in the hands of attendees, and it is the conference organizer's job to know which ones to support. Fortunately, there are far fewer operating systems than devices, the most popular being Palm OS (the overwhelming leader), Windows CE, and Symbian. But Windows CE is increasing market share and Symbian is popular in Europe.

4 Consider application size. The early generation of handheld devices, such as the Palm V and Palm III, have only 2 MB of memory, while more recent versions have at least 8 MB. The conference application should require a relatively small amount of memory. It's extremely important to view the application from the attendees' perspective to determine which features will be most useful. You can offer attendees different levels of functionality, so they can decide which features they want and how much memory they want the application to occupy.

5 Focus on ROI. Mobile and wireless applications should be implemented with a view toward return on investment. One consideration is how handheld devices can create another means to generate revenue. As a companion to conference booklets, which are a large source of advertising revenue, conference organizers can sell advertising space within the application, sponsorships of the application, and other opportunities such as allowing companies to wirelessly beam company information as attendees walk by their exhibit.

6 Provide options for downloading. The application should be made available to attendees on the Internet before the event opens. Attendees could access it on the event's Web site and download it using their handheld synchronization cradles.

At the event, download stations should be set up at several locations. One way to do this is to set up cradles for attendees to use for downloading the application. A more seamless method is to set up beaming stations, where the application is beamed in much the same way that you beam business cards. While the application is being downloaded, a company that has sponsored the application can engage the attendee in a sales pitch.

Another way to distribute the application is to partner with a handheld device company, so that devices can be loaned to each attendee, with the application preloaded. This benefits the handheld device company because at the end of the conference, attendees, who now understand the power of the device, have the opportunity to purchase it.

7 Experiment and re-evaluate. Mobile and wireless technology is improving quickly, so be open to experimenting with new application features down the road. Don't forget to get attendees' feedback, which can provide new ideas for functions and the information you need to determine the success of your implementation.

Adi Blum is manager of business development for Analysts International's Mobile & Wireless Practice. Contact him at (212) 624-9690 or [email protected], or visit