The mobile opportunity: Navigating a trade show is difficult work as an attendee, but the complexity multiplies exponentially as an exhibitor trying to juggle all of the logistics. Freeman Co.'s exhibitor customers often complained about the long walks to the service desk to report problems, the lengthy post-show checkout process and the lack of timely access to freight information.
To address those concerns, the company launched its Concierge Elite Program in 2009, putting Freeman customer service reps on the ground with mobile access to a Web-based application that let them troubleshoot problems.
The mobile market explodes
The growth of tablets and mobile phones has surged over the last few years, and the momentum, for now at least, appears nearly unstoppable. Gartner projects tablet shipments to grow 67.9% in 2013 — to reach 202 million units shipped — while the mobile phone market will expand 4.3% to hit volumes of more than 1.8 billion units.
International Data Corp. also sees 2013 as a watershed year for smartphone adoption. This will be the first time that more smartphones are shipped than feature phones, accounting for more than half (52.2%) of all mobile phones deployed worldwide, according to IDC's most recent forecast.
It soon became clear, however, that exhibitors wanted to track and problem-solve on their own. "Our customers are at a show site in a convention hall surrounded by stuff, and having a [non-demo] PC is not really an option, and if they do, connectivity is questionable," says Richard Maranville, Freeman's EVP and CIO. "That led us to mobile pretty quickly."
What they launched: Maranville's team partnered with business colleagues in customer service and marketing to develop Concierge Elite, which was made available to customers about a year and a half ago. The mobile app — initially available for iPhones and iPads and more recently for Android and Windows 8 devices — streamlines the exhibitor experience. It lets customers get basic information about the event while also delivering a variety of services, including the ability to place orders for booth equipment, submit trouble tickets and orchestrate post-show checkout without a need to stand in line. Another feature of Concierge Elite is a freight alert capability, which notifies exhibitors via text or email when their freight has actually arrived in the booth so there is no waiting around and no mix-ups, Maranville says.
The technical details: Using Web services, the individual solutions (trouble tickets, checkout and so on) are stitched together via a messaging software layer running at the show site that hands off information between the local distributed apps and Freeman's back-end, Java-based ecommerce and operations systems — an approach that facilitated development time, Maranville says.
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