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Major Exhibition Companies Agree on Common Data Standards

More than a year in the making, the effort brings data consistency among six firms to streamline operations and improve the experiences of show organizers, exhibitors, and attendees.

In September 2018, the two largest general contractors in the meetings and exhibitions industry—Freeman and GES—began talking about creating a common format for nearly every line of exhibitor data within their respective internal systems. By the end of 2019, four other big exhibition-related firms—a2z, CadmiumCD, EXPOCAD, and Map Your Show—were also partners in an agreement to standardize their exhibitor data.

As a result, late 2020 will see all six firms using matching data formats that will allow faster service for exhibitors and faster and more-accurate dissemination of exhibitor details to attendees through an event’s mobile app and other channels.

Donald Bishop, senior sales engineer for Freeman who has spent the last 18 months on this project, says that almost all show organizers use systems from some of the participating companies for booth sales, floor-plan design, or exhibitor services. In the past, “we got updates every few days through e-mailed spreadsheets detailing each exhibitor’s booth and their needs for it, from the exhibit structure to a couch to a trash can. But there was so much back-and-forth that there was a continuity gap—people using outdated spreadsheets from less-recent emails to make changes, or having different variations of country names in data fields, such as US, USA, U.S., and U.S.A. By partnering on standards, we allow our systems to talk directly to each other and take a lot of human error and variance out of the process, which speeds things up and improves customer satisfaction.”

Another benefit for show organizers: “They can make decisions for new technology products without worrying about a difficult data integration,” Bishop says. “A major barrier to planners implementing a new solution is that it has to sync with all their other tech platforms. Mobile apps for shows are full of data, and that data is coming from every system the show organizer uses. If all their vendors are working with the same standards, it’s simple to flow all the data into a new product.”

In practice, the standardization process will work in this way: Data fields that collect exhibitor information will be reviewed by each vendor against the agreed-upon rule for that field and manual updates will be made. During the course of 2020, then, the unified formats will be introduced into all data fields and automated actions for correcting variations will be introduced.

“We’re not completely there yet,” Bishop notes. “It will take some time for all of us to make the necessary system modifications. In the next few months, show organizers could ask the participating vendors where they’re at on implementing the standards across all their data fields.” Also, it’s possible that other exhibition-service companies will enter into the agreement in the future.

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