VSef, the not-for-profit developers of a universal data format for hybrid and virtual events, recently announced the release of version 2.0 of its data standards and introduced Stephen Knowles as the new CEO.
VSef, which aims to make it easy for event organizers to move data securely between event platforms, CRMs, and business intelligence tools, has partnered with several high-profile event organizers, tech platforms, and industry associations. These organizations’ data professionals and senior strategists make up VSef’s working groups.
Knowles has previously held event director roles at UBM and CloserStill. He takes over as CEO of VSef from founder Mark Brewster who led the project since conceiving it in early 2021. Brewster will continue to serve as CEO of Explori, the company he founded in 2011.
“Having data standards is a hugely progressive move for an industry,” said Brewster. He compares the potential impact of VSef to the introduction of FAA data standards in aviation or PCI DSS in payment processing.
“Data is absolutely critical to innovation for the event industry,” said Ben Chodor, president of Notified, a communications cloud company among VSef’s founding partners. “Our data professionals have worked collaboratively both with professionals across the industry and the VSef team to help develop a truly global format that stands up to the needs of today’s event businesses.”
VSef 2.0 features a new set of API standards enabling organizers to pull their data from multiple platforms into their own. There are also improvements related to language capabilities, exhibitor and sponsor directories, and customized data fields.
VSef initially grew out of Explori’s frustration with inconsistent data sets that resulted in incredibly inefficient custom analysis. “When we launched VSef, our aim was to eliminate the data silos which pose significant barriers to event organizers having the best possible insight into their customers and audiences,” said Brewster
Event technology developed rapidly throughout the Covid pandemic. However, as platforms pivoted to virtual quickly, data architecture decisions were rushed and often not carefully considered. This lack of coordinated output and the substantial increase in data from virtual events resulted in vast amounts of siloed data.
Ultimately, connecting event tech platforms in 2022 is not necessarily straightforward. APIs go a long way to solving this issue, but there are significant differences between them. The core challenge is twofold: Event tech platforms struggle to meet the unique data needs of clients, and clients struggle to work around data silos in the platforms.
Secure and efficient data flows enable organizers to track and assess the performance of each event. This use of data ultimately makes it possible to determine the return on investment (ROI) for events.
As the new CEO, Knowles believes that adopters of the VSef create a virtuous circle as they share a vested interest in growing the adoption of the standard. Nevertheless, he acknowledges that significant outreach and community involvement are needed to reach a critical mass.
“It’s a rare role that has the potential to make such a progressive (and rapid) impact on the global events industry as a whole, “said Knowles, who aims to secure adoption of the data standard by all major event tech platforms as well as the corporate customer base. He was particularly attracted to this opportunity as he sees VSef as uniquely positioned to address a “gap in critical thinking across a whole industry.”
The goal is to get event tech platforms accredited by VSef in their RFP process. But there are costs involved in VSef accreditation. Still, Brewster argues these are insignificant compared to the revenue generated from a contract with a major event organizer.
Development work is needed for an event tech platform to adopt the VSef standard, which Brewster says is averaging less than five weeks. One partner recently made the transition in two weeks.
The advantages of standardizing data seem to outweigh the drawbacks by far. However, this level of data standardization makes it much simpler for clients to switch event tech providers. Brewster describes this as a “self-centric” approach, in contrast to the responsible data ownership and “client-centric” approach championed by VSef.
Brewster said data management is one of the most significant challenges for the event industry. In addition, data standardization may also impact future iterations of the metaverse. The concept of interoperability, which allows users to transfer digital goods (including NFTs) from one virtual world to another, is impossible without clearly defined data standards.
Data standardization can benefit the event industry at large, and VSef makes a good case for being the body that develops and drives the adoption of the standards needed. Moreover, with Knowles in place as the new CEO, VSef demonstrates that it is keen to play a leading role in the event industry. Brewster’s vision for VSef of supporting “an event industry that genuinely competes with other marketing channels on measurability and data utilization, integration and maturity” may not be far-fetched.