header VCX

Virtual Conference Experience

Upcoming Asset Mapping Event to Implement a VCX Format

Virtual conferences have been growing for many years. Necessity has brought them to the fore. We explore a successful online format: VCX – Virtual Conference Experience, and preview the free, May 12-13, 2020 Right-of-Way Asset Mapping VCX event.

It would be easy to list many reasons why in-person conferences shine, and have been so popular: networking, connecting with your professional communities, hands-on training, meeting experts, product demonstrations, major industry launches — and of course the social activities. There is also a certain gravitas and excitement that goes with in-person awards ceremonies.

But as mobile access, online resources, and mechanisms to virtualize have matured, all but a few traditionally in-person activities can and are being achieved remotely—and it has been trending that way for some time. In-person conferences and exhibitions will return, eventually, but how soon, or on what scale, is not clear. Let us explore some trends, look at a successful model for virtual conferences, and see how this is being applied to some upcoming AEC events.

Virtualization Abounds

The current crisis may have highlighted the need for virtual resources, but those resources have been expanding rapidly for some while.

While some of the biggest geo profession/industry events–like the Esri UC, HxGN (Hexagon and Leica Geosystems), Trimble Dimensions, Bentley’s Year-in-Infrastructure, Geospatial World Forum, INTERGEO, Conexpo, and more–have been posting record numbers in recent years, we see some events moving to every-other-year. There has also been an across-the-board push to serve broader virtual audiences.

For instance, HxGN was renamed to HxGN LIVE to emphasize, and encourage remote attendance. Many people view parts of the annual Esri UC online. Topcon Positioning, which has eschewed large centralized events, has had success with “road shows” –local events often held in the field to exhibit surveying and construction solutions–but these also include live demonstrations of their connected site solutions.

Likewise, distance learning for geo and AEC had been growing even before the current crisis that has effectively brought in-person conferences and training opportunities to an abrupt halt. As some brick-and-mortar surveying schools have closed, others have added distance-learning options, serving broader areas of their respective states. In-person state and local professional conferences had remained steady, buoyed in part by continuing education requirements for licensing, but some are also exploring virtualization.

It has been many years since there has been a large (non-vendor-centric) national professional association/society conference, and multiple states have begun to turn to association and conference management consultants. There are a lot of theories as to the demise of the once well-attended national conferences, but we do hear many folks who say it becomes more difficult to justify travel out of state travel when many of the same classes, presentations, and presenters can be found at more local or regional events.

Online resources like Geolearn, which offer continuing education credits, have been expanding. These offer sessions on many of the same subjects, and feature many of the same presenters who are on the state and local conference circuit.

More and more, we see state and local centric seminars and classes. For instance, classes for those studying for their state license exams are frequently recorded and offered online. And, especially in the past month, we have seen a deluge of webinars on all manner of geospatial subjects. Geo and AEC industry firms large and small, along with vendors and educational institutions, have really stepped up to meet the desire of professionals who are making use of this downtime to improve their knowledge and skills.

There is so much online out there presently, that it can be hard to grasp the cornucopia of choices. This is where a virtual conference, a curated event with complimentary sessions, can help.

Virtual Conference Experience – VCX

Mark Barounos, CEO of ConnectMii Communications has been organizing and facilitating events, both physical and virtual, since the early 1990s. Barounos worked with clients like Cisco, Deloitte, VMware, Microsoft, HP, Oracle, Alcatel Lucent, and other key players in the early development of mobile communications, B2B video, and with what we now take for granted as video teleconferencing, to develop event tools that evolved with the underlying video technology, and this has produced the Virtual Conference Experience (VCX). Clients for these virtual events have been in the telecommunications, energy, retail, water and sustainability sectors. And now, beginning in May, VCX will be implemented for AEC/geospatial conferences.

Sample attendee interface. Links to live content appear in the schedule during the live event, and for a time afterwards for the session recordings.

A key challenge for a virtual conference is to provide an attendee interface that does not put too much burden on the attendee. Dedicated apps are burdensome: users are on many platforms, have varying levels of tech adaptability, and troubleshooting/support is not practical once an event has begun. Balancing a rich offering that can emulate certain elements of an in-person conference with simplicity and minimal potential points of failure/pain was the goal.

Sample attendee interface. Meet-up scheduler shown.

Here how VCX works. Attendees receive a link to a web-based interface where they can watch live streamed presentations, chat and engage with presenters, join small-group video round-table discussions, and meet one-on-one by video with other attendees. The platform is simple and intuitive, with a minimum of scripting and no plug-ins. It’s also scalable, so event hosts can ask for more interactive tools. In the case of the upcoming Right-of-Way Asset Mapping VCX, attendees can watch the sessions they signed up for in real-time, or the recordings for any session afterwards.

A popular VCX feature is the Book-a-Meeting calendar tool, that lets participants arrange virtual meetups with other attendees and/or presenters during the event, as well as for a specified time period afterwards. The experience is like attending an in-person conference, but without the uncomfortable chairs—and you can attend in your sweatpants 😉

Right-of-Way Asset Mapping Virtual Conference Experience (VCX) – May 12-13, 2020

Registered attendees receive a link to an interactive conference schedule .No special apps or plugins required.

An in-person conference on Right-of-Way Asset Mapping, scheduled to be held in Colorado, had been in the works for many months, but in light of the current crisis, it was reformatted as a free virtual event. The Right-of-Way Asset Mapping VCX sessions are geared towards: city/urban planners, geospatial information officers, and asset managers in utilities, publics works, parks and recreation, transportation at the state and city level.

While this might look like a C-suite executive level event, practitioners could well benefit from understanding markets for their services—asset inventory and management is a large and growing market. After all, there are no smart cities or reality capture without the folks who capture the data—and capture it precisely and accurately. The virtual format of the event (and complimentary attendance rate) make it accessible to the entire team

Brant Howard, founder of CompassData, is a keynote presenter at the May event. CompassData and its CompassDrone division are leaders in survey, mobile mapping, drone imagery and LiDAR services to provide accurate mapping data for asset management programs.

“One of the reasons I’m excited about this conference is that it gives us an opportunity to present to the clients for asset management when to use appropriate tools,” said Howard. “Like when to use a UAS, or a Waldo Pod on a small aircraft, mobile mapping, backpack system, terrestrial survey, or a mix of more than one.”

Would a virtual event make it harder to get that message across than an in-person event? Howard did not think so: “For me it mostly become a matter of time commitment. It is tough to commit to a whole conference and sit through a four-hour session. I’m sure it is that way for others.” The idea of being able to pick and choose sessions from a virtual event, participating in key sessions live, and watching others later as needed can fit well in busy schedule. “Our OneCompass companies have been expanding our virtual capabilities for project and client collaboration and data acquisition solutions as travel for business meetings is a challenge these days,” said Howard. 

Presenters at the May event include such industry leaders as:

But also, service providers, practitioners, and clients:

Keynote speakers for the upcoming Right-of-Way Asset mapping Virtual Conference

Planning Ahead

The next VCX for AEC and geospatial is shaping up for the end of June: Mapping the Underground VCX. xyHt is involved in developing content for and promoting these events, so we’ll keep you posted on developments.

Nearly every in-person geo-event originally scheduled for 2020 has been cancelled, rescheduled, put on hold indefinitely, or virtualized. For instance, Esri announced its July 2020 UC will go virtual, and Trimble announced that there will be no Dimensions 2020. We all hope that things get back to normal as soon as possible, but realistically it may quite some time before people will be comfortable again with in-person conferences. In the interim, virtual events like VCX can help fill the void, and perhaps become a preferred option for some, and serve as a complement to other events.

See you there.


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