How the Coronavirus is Reshaping the Exhibition Industry: Impressions on the Industry of Things World
The pandemic has accelerated the digitalization of the exhibition and conference industry. The Hannover Messe (HMI) and Smart Production Solutions (SPS) had to be canceled due to the corona pandemic and where staged virtually for the first time as digital events.
The 6th edition of Industry of Things World (IoTW), a leading event on Industrial IoT was held as a hybrid event on 21.09 and 22.09.2020. Both the speakers and participants could choose to attend either on-site or online via the digital event platform hubs101. This made me curious about how everything is changing in the new normal.
The IoTW is the largest European community of high-level cross-industry executives who play a key role in Industrial Internet of Things. The event is focused on real use cases which focus on the implementation of smart manufacturing in businesses and industries. Speakers give insights into their approaches and concepts about providing additional business value. Industry 4.0 is all about enabling partners and customers with technology, tools, and apps to faster achieve their goals: Operational Excellence, Application Lifecycle Management, Service-Based Business Models, Asset Transparency, Remote Management, Condition Monitoring, Security, etc.
Around 600 participants (digital + on-site) attended the IoTW of which only 30% were registered as on-site participants. Let us make a detailed breakdown of these numbers. More than half of the audience (58%) is located in the DACH region, followed by USA (12%), and Southern Europe (9%). The participants work in a broad range of industries: Manufacturing & Plant Engineering (25%), Automotive (17%), Logistics / Transport (14%), Chemicals (12%), and others. The most common job functions are Business Innovation & Strategy (17%), Automation (16%), Engineering (16%), and IT (13%). A typical participant comes from the DACH region and works for a manufacturing or plant engineering company in the field of innovation and strategy.
Key Partners and Agenda
The key partners of the Industry of Things World are primarily tech giants and world-leading industrial vendors like AWS, Huawei, and Hewlett Packard Enterprise. In the following table, you can find all partners with their focus: IoTW Key partners
We analyzed the conference agenda based on presentation titles and their descriptions as shown in figure 1. The size of every circle is proportional to the number of word occurrences. There is a clear industrial IoT focus with trending keywords about digital technologies enabling business value. The complete structured agenda including speakers are displayed in table 2: IoTW agenda and speaker
The Calm Before the Storm?
The conference started with ice breaker sessions on Sunday evening, 20.09.2020. I checked into my hotel room within a 5-minute walk to the Berlin Congress Center (BCC) and was getting into the conference mood by keeping strict regulations of social distancing. I then headed to the event. I talked to other participants about digitalization, logistics, and materials used in the production of insulation materials. After a couple of drinks, the conference room was still quite empty, most attendees were gathering in groups of two or three at distantly placed tables. But I was still confident that the place would fill up on Monday morning. In fact, there were three other conferences that would be taking place at the same time as the IoTW: ener.CON Europe, Rethink Smart Manufacturing DACH, and Rethink! Smart SCM DACH. This made me hope that the ice breaker sessions were the calm before the storm.
On Monday morning, 21.09.20, the exhibitors prepared their solutions for presentation and attendees started joining talks. I took a stand at the Hilscher booth. I was ready to have great discussions about Application Lifecycle Management and about how Hilscher manages Docker Applications on millions of devices, but unfortunately, the on-site conference lacked visitors. Day one was passing by quite slowly. Nevertheless, our team had a few discussions and could generate some new leads and potentials. We also got to talk to some of our competitors and discuss the newly presented solutions. The attendance on the second day was similar. All in all, it was not all bad, I listened to great talks and learned more about new successful industrial use cases.
This experience showed me first hand what tremendous impact the coronavirus pandemic had on the exhibition business in such a short time. Almost all conferences and fairs this year were canceled. Many small exhibition organizers had to completely shut down their operations, many of them lost their jobs. And as we see, conferences which still take place understandably lack participants. People are more aware than ever how risky it is to spend two days in closed spaces full of people and tend to choose the safe option and participate from the comfort of their homes. Although the personal aspect of meeting many new people and excitedly discuss new ideas is still missing, the new online way to attend events has swiftly established itself as the preferred safe option for many. This disruption took place in less than a year, but it seems as though it has been here for much longer. It is safe to assume that the industry will not go back to the ‘old normal’ but will further focus more on digital content and enable a comfortable virtual atmosphere for everyone, broadening its audiences.