June 19, 2024

Lightening the Paper Load

Most bundle a scheduling tool, floor plan and maybe information about local restaurants or a social networking link on their apps. But a handful of organizers have begun to use apps to reduce or even replace the vast amounts of paper they once carried to events.

Without so much paper to produce for conferences, planners said they were saving time and money. Not only that, business travelers do not need to carry around cumbersome and often heavy printed copies.

While some producers have described their events as “paperless” for years — generally by distributing material via CD or directing attendees to download documents posted online — the growing popularity of tablets like Apple’s iPad and the increasing sophistication of app software make it possible for travelers to be truly unencumbered without sacrificing convenience.

David Holcombe, president and chief executive of an organization for online education professionals called the eLearning Guild, said the group has eliminated almost all the paperwork at their three annual conferences. “I’ve felt for some time we spent way too much money on materials, paper handouts, that sort of stuff,” said Mr. Holcombe, who estimated that he would save $50,000 this year alone on printing costs.

He said he still offered a paper program to attendees but it had been trimmed to around a dozen pages from 50, with the remainder of the material going onto the app. He says he now brings two fewer staff members to each event, since the burden of distributing hard copies has been eliminated.

And his delegates have told him they love the convenience. “For us, it’s a really huge customer service thing,” he said. It helps that the attendees tend to be early technology adopters — about 40 percent brought iPads to the group’s March conference. Participants can use the app content to help them decide which seminars to attend, and they can keep a virtual eye on what else is going on at the event even while sequestered in a classroom because of the app’s real-time updates. “It stimulates engagement,” Mr. Holcombe said.

Greg Lohrentz, the chief operations officer of the trade association Meeting Professionals International, agreed that content-rich apps give event participants better access to information. “The tablet allows for that educational experience outside the room,” he said. While participants are sitting in a classroom, they can scroll through updates and Twitter feeds to find out what else is going on in other sessions or on the trade show floor, he said.

He predicted that apps would become mainstream as tablet adoption grows.

Jennifer Wilhelm, editor of digital media for the American Society for Training Development, said she planned to offer an app that includes an iPad version for a conference in May that is expected to attract 8,000 people. The app will free her from the trouble and expense of printing handouts for three keynote speeches and roughly 200 education sessions, she said. Attendees will be able to follow along with a speaker’s PowerPoint presentations, take notes and fill out worksheets all within the app. “Viewing the slides and seeing any materials where there might be a worksheet is going to be huge on a tablet,” she said. At a smaller conference this year, Mrs. Wilhelm said roughly half the participants downloaded the mobile app.

Apps can also work for medical conferences, where delegates are given large amounts of information. Catherine Foss, executive director of the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, said she loaded the equivalent of 183 pages of medical paper abstracts and other research documents onto an app for her biannual conference last year. The society still spent roughly $27,000 to print hard copies because attendees are in the habit of taking the books back to the office for reference, but Ms. Foss said she expected members to gradually make the transition to a digital format.

Mr. Holcombe, Mrs. Wilhelm and Ms. Foss were all clients of Ativ Software, an app developer that specializes in events. The company’s chief executive and co-founder, Silke Fleischer, characterized demand for mobile event apps as “exploding” because of their convenience. Ms. Fleischer said Ativ’s medical clients have up to 5,000 presentations housed in a mobile app that can be accessed or searched at users’ convenience.

Other developers are also aiming at tablets as the next frontier, building functions that will support more content. Jay Tokosch, chief executive of Core-Apps, the developer behind apps for big exhibitions like the Consumer Electronics Show, said tablets were a major reason that apps have gotten so popular. He added that about a quarter of the Apple users who download the company’s apps choose the iPad versions.

This type of tool cannot become mainstream fast enough for business travelers like Azita Arvani, a mobile technology consultant who travels an average of twice a month and typically brings half a dozen devices with her. Often, she said, she takes photographs of graphics displayed on projection screens to capture the information immediately, rather than trying to rapidly sketch it or waiting for the presentation to be available for downloading after the event.

“Tablets would be a perfect opportunity to take advantage of that big display size,” she said. “That would really help a lot.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=d1d8b9a183ff8498550cb5678b08ec7d

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