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Rising to the challenge

Mike Blackman, managing director at Integrated Systems Events, answers our questions about RISE Spotlight, Integrated Systems Europe, and the global pandemic

What was the thinking behind RISE Spotlight?
We wanted to create a new platform for our audience to meet, learn and engage. With 16 months between the last ISE and the next one, we want to keep the dialogue going. We’ve deliberately chosen themes that sit with the Technology Zones [at ISE] and the conference programme at the show so that we are continuing to promote ISE 2021 in a new and different way.

How have the first events gone? Had much in the way of feedback?
We started the monthly RISE Spotlight programme in November 2020 and by the time this interview publishes, we will have completed three [the fourth event is set for February 4]. We are very pleased with the events, and with the high levels of satisfaction that people have reported.

One senior industry commentator tweeted after the first event on Workspace Evolution: “Well produced, quality presenters, great pace/tempo and an excellent use of time. #1 takeaway is that online event production has come a long way in the last 8 months!”. We were pleased to see similar responses to the December event on XR and January’s RISE Spotlight which was on Digital Learning. I think we’ve managed to produce events with a lively, fresh approach – and by including start-ups in the programme, through our partnership with The Next Web, we’ve got something that’s unique to this market.

Usually we’d all be planning our trips to Amsterdam at this time. On a personal level, how does it feel to not have our usual February ISE after all of these years?
Having just said farewell to Amsterdam, we knew ISE 2021 was going to be different – we just didn’t realise how different! It’s obviously disappointing not to be holding ISE in February, and it was a difficult but necessary decision to postpone it to June. But this pandemic has had a huge effect on large numbers of people, in some cases very seriously – moving a trade show by a few months doesn’t seem such a big thing by comparison.

How is the planning for June’s inaugural Barca ISE coming along? With vaccination programmes starting in several countries, you must be confident we’ll all be at the Fira Barcelona GranVia on June 1.
I’m certainly optimistic. Vaccines should stop people fearing the worst about Covid, and so will be a big step in helping them feel confident to fly again. But we’re still trying to guess what the overall effect of the pandemic will be at that point. We expect that the attendance might be different than last year but feedback from the industry does show that people are keen
to get back to in-person events – it all depends on how quickly vaccines and other protective measures can come on stream.

Assuming we are all able to attend, what differences can attendees expect, in terms of Covid?
We’ve taken as many safety measures as possible into consideration and continue to prepare for the worst case. We’re asking exhibitors and attendees to observe the usual kinds of measures that we’re used to in our daily lives: washing and sanitising your hands, wearing a face mask, keeping your distance from others. It is important to remember, even if vaccinated, you still should adhere to these practices. In addition, we will have temperature screening outside the Fira; anyone with a high temperature will be taken to a medical room for a Covid test and won’t be able to enter the exhibition.

We recently published A Guide to Safe Exhibiting that spells out what exhibitors need to do in more detail. In addition, we’re in discussions with the City of Barcelona about creating a safe environment outside the Fira. We’re encouraged by the recent delivery of Covid-19 vaccines, and we’ll follow the advice of the local and national authorities; hopefully the international rollouts of vaccinations will mean that confidence returns.

Away from Covid, will the Barca event differ much from the RAI?
Yes and no! The show will still be too big to go around fully in four days, but the move to Barcelona has given us the opportunity to sectionalise it more effectively. With larger halls, we’re able to accommodate more exhibitors within the relevant Technology Zones. This makes it easier for attendees to focus on those areas of prime interest to them at the start of their visit, before going on to the rest of the show floor. Also, the layout of the halls is much more intuitive, and they are easier to navigate as they are connected by an elevated walkway as well as at ground level.

But there will still be all the familiar ISE elements: the big names, the spectacle, the conferences, the professional development programme…

And can we expect some sort of virtual attendance options as well as actual at ISE 2021 to cater for those who are not yet ready to attend a big event?
It’s clear from research, both our own and by exhibition associations and other exhibition companies, that attending a show digitally is no substitute for face-to-face, in-person interaction. However, having a digital offering is a great way of attracting people who aren’t able to attend in person. Having a virtual component is now an essential element of any large trade show – not just during this time of Covid but for the long term, and as well as elements of the RISE Spotlight programme we will have a rich programme of both onsite and digital activities.

Looking back at the first ISE, in 2004, can you believe how much it has grown?
It’s been quite a journey, that’s for sure. But even before we opened in Geneva, we knew the show would be successful – we just didn’t know how quickly it would become so successful. Over the years our growth has been rapid but steady, which indicates that we are producing something that the industry really values.

What do you see as the biggest changes to AV as a result of Covid?
Covid has certainly accelerated trends that were already taking place – particularly around driving adoption of technologies that enable remote participation and collaboration. As you know, AV and IT have been converging for a number of years now, and how far you see that as having happened depends on which sector you look at. Is Covid having an effect on this? I’m not sure.

How can AV improve as an industry as we move past the pandemic and potentially into a new era where AV tech is more important than ever?
I think a big part of that is industry outreach. Pro AV systems integration as an industry is still not as well-known in the wider world as we would like it to be. At ISE, we’re putting a lot of effort into attracting attendance by AV end-users from key vertical sectors; and our association co-owners AVIXA and CEDIA are doing a lot of good work promoting the industry to end-users and to those in other built environment professions.

What advice can you give to others in the industry with regards to making a success of their careers?
Keep up to date with developments in the industry – read the industry media, attend ISE. Build a profile for yourself on social media and by attending events. Find what you’re really interested in; build your knowledge; make yourself indispensable. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. This is a friendly industry, built on co-operation.