Dr. Ayesha Khanna speaking at one of the PCM Convening Leaders 2021 sessions with Peter Hinssen, Founder of nexxworks.
Our closing session of PCMA Convening Leaders 2021 took us on a journey into a (not so distant) future. Where roundtables, lectures and physical meetings live together with robots, drones and VR glasses at the centre of your conference stage. The advantages of the new technological matrix are immense, which also opens up the floodgates for a flurry of doubts. For Ayesha Khanna, CEO of ADDO AI, an artificial intelligence solutions firm, the question is not ‘when’ but ‘how’. Welcome aboard this digital ship!
1) To what extent did the technological advent change the principles and structures of various associations and companies?
I think the pandemic has fundamentally shifted the way we do work. Almost all of our clients with very large enterprises, hospitals, banks, governments are rapidly digitising. To reach their customers, clients and even their employees, they need to have a method of communication and relationship building that is not dependent on a physical location. However, most event companies or even in-house event leaders were not prepared. They didn’t know how to do it in an engaging and productive way. There’s both a technical aspect and also a user-experience aspect to it. First, we often see a UX designer for apps and websites but we never talked about UX designers for meetings or events. Second, there’s the infrastructure of setting things up while they use zoom or any other conference platform. Third, there’s the aspect of data governance and the sanctity of what is exchanged, to make sure it is secure not only from cyber hackers but also to allow people to speak openly, especially if you’re going to have breakout rooms. These are three things of great importance to me: the technologist role, the user-experience designer and data governance.
2) Do you think that associations should become fully digital or maintain a sceptical position?
They shouldn’t be sceptical, we are moving towards a hybrid world. People should not go from one extreme to the other. Clearly, we’re not going to be able to substitute the joys of interacting in real time, with a completely digital presence. However, you can be much more technological savvy in how you work with your audience even in a physical setting. For example, you can find ways to personalise their experience by using facial expressions, or capture voice tones to gauge their interest or boredom in a particular topic, weather people listen online or in-person. Now, again, with this technology, you are using somebody’s personal features so you have to let them opt in. You absolutely need their permission. They must comply with GDPR and other regulations to make sure they allow you to use this data and how it is used to improve the experience.
3) Are they open to it?
Some people would, some people would not. But if they are open to it, you can create better experiences. Because then, you could see how they react to something, which they would never put in a survey for example. The other thing is when people have questions, they always have to wait in a line to talk with a speaker − it is much better to have a chatbot that actually answers all these questions in multiple languages at the same time. I also think that events will change altogether. Obviously, we heard a lot about VR, AR, because the time has come, especially with 5G. In the future, you’ll not be interacting with a cartoon-like character, but characters that rather look like us. If you go to ‘Workplace from Facebook’ and check what they are doing with ‘oculus’, you can really see the kind of effort they are putting in, with optical touch and targeted sounds. You really feel like you're right there! Even with AR, physical events can become much more influential. The right information at the right time leads to more efficient and high-quality customer experiences. I think there are many ways in which data can add value and inspire an event.
Khanna in her lecture on renovation and transformation of organizations in 2021 and beyond (Singapore)
4) Is there still a fear factor behind the decision-making of all the AR and AI experiences at the service of events?
The fear factor appears because people often think this is deep tech. The truth is that no company − be it a bakery or a publicity agency − can survive without a technologist on its team. You need people who know how to work with technology, who can get the vendors and plug with them. I always say, “own your data and protect the data of your customers.” That’s crucial! You can never say ‘own’ without the word ‘permission’. You can never say ‘data’ without the word ‘governance’. Otherwise, it is an incomplete equation. They are completely interconnected and, thankfully, people are much more aware of it. Event attendees should have the right to control their own statements and intellectual property. Of course, you can never sell anybody’s data. There are good regulations around that. Once you get to the point, you can actually make it a much more enjoyable experience. Another thing is that you don’t always have to look outside your team. Nobody understands your own business better than you do.
5) How crucial is it for organisations to establish broad partnerships and outsource this type of service to survive in a new environment?
Partnering is a good choice, especially when you are paying for expertise you don’t have. But if you want to bring people together for an interesting exchange of ideas, focus on what you know best, to understand the need for different types of suppliers within this ecosystem. Furthermore, your own team needs to have time. In order to even work with these vendors, your team needs to learn a little bit of technology. Otherwise, they will not be able to judge or critically evaluate the partners that they’re meeting. You don’t need too many gadgets, because you know your customer. You know what they want. In physical events, you can use robots to do a lot of work. With automation, a lot of the routines can be done by AI so that your team can innovate and create. You have to give your team a bit of time and leeway to learn some basics, so they can really try this new era and be excited about it.
6) How can we engage different generations on a common ground of understanding and co-working?
The young generations are very digitally savvy − they are digital natives – but they are not being thought to be critical users of technology. Even adults need to learn that. When we become passive con- sumers of technology, we are unable to unlock our creative judgment. We have to think of ourselves as producers of services, rather than passive consumers. So, we need to stop thinking there’s Facebook and Google, and only those people work on tech. All of us work on tech. It is a mind shift change, way bigger than any other skill we might have. That is the common ground – (re)learning how to read. Therefore, learning some computation literacy is the way you’ll participate in the economy. Full stop! On the other side it levels the ground for all of us: in a philosophical approach to understand, value and implement an educational system for all ages.
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