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By Athanassios Liakopoulos
“The Show Must Go On …” was the message by Freddie Mercury (Queen) in 1991 despite his personal health fight. This phrase was used in the circus world during accidents; if an artist was attacked by an animal or injured in a performance, the other artists entered the scene and tried to cover up the incident by continuing the show.
This message, unfortunately, is relevant again today as the world community still fights the pandemic. Some governments cannot enforce harsh restrictions for controlling the virus due to the economic and social impact. Instead, communities must learn to live together with the virus, at least for the coming months. This, however, does not mean that we should reduce our health and safety standards. On the contrary, the community should be more alert and protected. In this context, it has puzzled me for quite some time regarding how technology could allow Intelligent Venues to open again to their guests without putting community safety at risk.
What is an Intelligent Venue? It refers to any public place where digital technology has reformed the way people gather, live, entertain, or work. It could be a residential building block, a huge shopping mall, a busy airport, an indoor music arena, a traditional museum, a sports stadium, an urban area, etc. It’s a place where two major “objectives” trigger the digital transformation: (1) how to improve the experience of visitors and guests – usually connected to new or increased revenue streams – and (2) how to optimize operations – usually tied to reducing operations and security costs. The pandemic has imposed another objective: to ensure safety for guests and staff without compromising privacy and efficiency.
There are few principles that should be considered in each Intelligent Venue. First, to influence the guests’ behavior to act in a responsible manner during the pandemic period, such as wearing mask in a crowded area or adhering to social distancing requirements. This is crucial for reducing the spread of the virus and, thus, protecting the most vulnerable individuals around us. If everyone complies with the health and safety guidelines, the sense of safety will be significantly increased and public venue guests will feel more relaxed and enjoy their visits.
Second, to promote touchless operations that reduce unnecessary person-to-person interactions, improve crowd management capabilities, and automate diverse activities. For example, electronic check-in and room key handling in a hotel or resort can easily be implemented via a smart app and electronic locks; this way, guests no longer need to engage with front-desk staff or get a physical key from someone else’s hands. Third, to extend the digital experiences that could counterbalance restrictions in real life; living in a digital world for couple of hours of a day could increase the demand for ubiquitous wireless access, media-rich infotainment systems, augmented and virtual reality solutions, etc. Last but not least, situational awareness and health compliance is an area to further develop. Adhering to the new health protocols imposed by authorities is fundamental for keeping the venues secure. Government legislation in different countries has already mandated people tracking, monitoring mask detection in public areas, automated fever detection in venue entrances, social distancing between people, etc.
Having said all the above, what could the customer journey in an Intelligent Venue look like during the pandemic? The possibilities are endless and the following example – the Gordons go to a music concert – is only for illustrative purposes. Each public venue must decide on its distinctive journey, taking into consideration the specific venue conditions (e.g. size, guest number and distribution during the day, etc.) and the digital capabilities provided (e.g. ubiquitous access, location services, etc.).
The Gordons go a music concert:
The Gordons decide to visit a music arena in London to listen to their favorite singer.
The Gordons have concerns about the well-being in the arena. Using digital signage and a smart app, they collect all the info about security precautions and health protocols.
The smart app notifies them of the less-crowded gate so they can enter with minimum queue length.
Gordon opts-in for a (personalized) contact-tracing digital service. If he gets in close proximity with an infected guest (today or in the next 3 days), he will be notified accordingly. After 3 days, all the data will be erased to ensure his privacy.
Diverse notifications are given via the smart app for food and beverage offers or other digital services, such as touchless entry via fast lane (face recognition).
Contactless payments are supported across the venue; the Gordons do not need to touch the ePoS touchpad, thus reducing virus-spreading touchpoints.
By leveraging location services, the Gordons move around and reach their seat directly.
The Gordons purchase gifts via an online platform, get a personal QR code, and collect items from an expedited queue. No need to wait in long lines anymore!
The smart app informs Mr. Gordon that he has not been in contact with any verified infected visitor. Further notifications will be forwarded in the next 72 hours.
The Gordons return home after having safely experienced a music concert.
In conclusion, the recent pandemic has radically impacted the operations on Intelligent Venues due to the infection risks in crowded areas, causing significantly decreased revenue for most of the venues. As a consequence, the stakeholder focus has partially diverted from unprecedented guest experience and operational excellence to guest safety and security. Technology, as discussed, may help minimize the risk for virus spread under specific circumstances, such influencing guests’ to follow responsible behavior and leverage digital services/touchless operations. Thus, it’s in our hands to get back to public venues with safety.
Athanassios is member of the WW Advisory & Professional Services team within HPE Pointnext Services – Global Practice for Network, Workplace and Intelligent Edge. He leads engagements related to Intelligent Venues and Future Cities with focus on improving guest engagement, operations optimization and technology monetization. He also assists enterprises to explore emerging technologies, users’ trends and competition so as to shape their realistic business strategies and build cost-effective infrastructures. Athanassios has strong research and academic record.