Posted By Simon Montford on November 23, 2016
I attended TechExpo which took place at 155 Bishopsgate in London on the 24th and 25th October. The venue had a warm, sophisticated, and contemporary vibe and it was conveniently located within a few minutes' walk from Liverpool Street station. It featured four theatre-style rooms, and an open plan area where attendees could hang out and network. This area was also where the expo was located featuring several augmented and virtual reality demos, an assortment of booths, and a separate section dedicated to fintech startups.
Unlike many other conference venues, this place felt far more intimate, and sophisticated. In addition to superfast wi-fi, that actually worked for the entire duration of the event, we were also treated to a steady supply of infused mineral water, artisan coffee and tea, various snacks, and an excellent lunch. Furthermore, there was an abundance of elegant and highly functional chairs and tables in the reception area that could be used as workstations, conveniently located within close proximity of a power outlet!
You're probably wondering why I added the exclamation mark, but forgive my enthusiasm. You see in this day and age you'd expect to be offered superfast wifi, and easy access to a power socket; things we can all agree should be taken for granted when attending a conference, but I remain perplexed at how often these hygiene factors (things that go unnoticed unless they are absent) are neglected. I cannot emphasis enough, how annoying it is when I make the effort to cover an event and I'm forced to waste my day scouting for somewhere to plug in, get connected, and actually get some work done. I mean if you're going to host a technology-themed event please don't hold it in a Faraday cage with a slow or unreliable wifi connection. Make damn sure in advance of your guests' arrival, that the wifi is capable of handling the anticipated volume of traffic! My other bugbear is unreasonably priced sustenance. I get that venues need to make a profit, but when a microscopic bottle of water, a bad cup of coffee, and a sandwich costs the same as a luxury yacht, you know something just ain't right.
So when things are done well, I really appreciate it, and it's often the little things that end up making a very big difference. Anyway rant over, all the aforementioned little touches contributed towards making me feel very well catered for, so I just wanted to thank etcvenues and Claire Taylor, the event organiser, for their efforts and attention to detail - they didn’t go unnoticed.
With regards to the format, talks and panel sessions, they were spread over two days and broken into four different themes; financial tech, contextual tech, immersive tech (AR/VR), and emerging tech. The first day was a multitrack format, so attendees could mix-and-match, as I did, or pick a track and stick to it throughout the day.
The first day of the Contextual Tech B2C track included the importance of customer experience and context in relation to mobile-first, multitouch-point interaction. Another panel covered customer engagement strategies, and data utilisation optimisation methodologies to fulfil customer needs in real-time, location-based augmented reality, privacy and security, data acquisition, consent, and protection. All very important topics, particular in light of the European Commission's plan to strengthen, and unify data protection for individuals within the European Union (EU) under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). You can read what I really think about it in my opinion piece, that I wrote for The Times Legal Supplement.
The first day of the Immersive Tech (AR/VR) track included the future of VR in sporting entertainment, and the art of immersive storytelling. This was followed by several compelling talks, one of which was by Catherine Allen, on building integrity and ethics into virtual reality content. This was followed by a talk by Stella Setyiadi about how AR and VR are being utilised to make learning more immersive. The track ended with a panel discussion about time-shifted reality using 360° and 3D360° content.
The first day of the Emerging Tech Showcase included talks by Jonny Voon about what’s next for IoT, Philip Steele about smart home tech from vision to commercial reality, Michelle Flajsner about people-centric approaches to IoT, and a keynote by Charles Slicer-Watkinson about innovation for digital transformation.
Day two switched to a single track format devoted exclusively to emerging Technology. The second day of the Emerging Tech Showcase included talks by Seffan Sorrell about context-driven AI, and Paul Croft about improving people’s lives with 3D printing. The fireside chat with Luke Robert Mason about his prosthetic prototype was, however, unfortunately cancelled. Highlights of the second day for me were Lawrence Lundy’s talk about Blockchain-enabled convergence, Web 3.0, and the implications of fully autonomous machines. I also very much enjoyed Augustin Marty’s talk about the challenges of computer vision from a developer’s point of view.
In summary it was a well organised conference with a cosy, intimate feel, held at an excellent venue. If you prefer your events to be high energy, then this probably won't be for you. Although attendance was clearly below expectations, as the dates clashed with half term, it didn't put a dampener on proceedings. The quality of those who attended was high and they came from a variety of sectors that included digital and creative, marketing, financial, technology, and government. Even if it had been at max capacity, it would have still remained a relaxed affair, because by design it was intended to be a place where C-level execs and innovators could just chill and hang out together sans the hard sell. If you're a startup entrepreneur who urgently needs to close a round of funding, and you're up for a verbal tussle with an aggressive panel of judges à la Dragons' Den, then this event isn't for you either. There are plenty of startup-pitch format events out there such as IoT World's Project Kairos, IoT World Forum, TechCrunch Disrupt, and IoTTechExpo Innovation Incubator to name a few.
Although I felt TechExpo would have benefitted from the addition of a few extra warm bodies in attendance, it wan't a big deal and the venue certainly didn't feel empty. Another minor criticism was that there wasn't an after-party. These days, particularly if an event takes place over multiple days, one generally expects the organisers to lay on a post-event networking opportunity. I'm sure most people would have welcomed the opportunity to continue conversations, and mingle in an informal setting away from the conference venue. An open bar isn't obligatory, because people who attend events such as this aren't there for the free alcohol. Their primary motivation is knowledge acquisition, and rapport building.
It was obvious that Claire Taylor, her assistant Beth Betts, and the rest of the team had invested a great deal of time, thought, and effort in planning and running the event. I therefore hope it was financially worth their while, because it would be a great shame if this event didn't take place again next year, and I have no reason to assume it won't. We need more of these less frantic and more personalised events, because as much as I'm a big fan of crazy and hectic, there are just occasions when I want to exchange knowledge and ideas with like-minded professionals in a calm, casual, relaxed, and informal setting.
Finally a quick shout out to Anita Yustisia of Octagon Studio for the Dinosaur 4D+, Animal 4D+ Augmented Reality playing cards!
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