In over a decade at The Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC) one of Australia's largest event spaces and venues, Michael Walsh has seen large amounts of transformation within the sector. The Director of Strategy and Innovation shares what innovation means to him, keeping pace with consumer behaviour, adapting to a changing workforce and how technology will never substitute human contact.
Nobody knows technology inside a venue more than Michael Walsh. Before moving to his then newly created role 18 months ago, Walsh led the venue’s technology since its build in 2006. In his current role, he oversees marketing, communications, business and innovation. He is clear to define innovation as ‘change that adds value’.
An example of a recent innovation at MCEC, that has “nothing to do with technology” is the venue’s recent launch of Shed Cafe inside the exhibition area.
“The idea for Shed Cafe came from our front-of-house and kitchen staff who identified the existing cafe was in the wrong location - tucked away from where people congregate and pass by. We invested half a million dollars to relocate the cafe and it’s now one of our most successful revenue earners”.
As consumers demand faster internet speeds, more live content, high definition presentations and zero tolerance to internet dark spots - so too do event organisers and attendees.
Walsh says events at MCEC are adopting a hybrid model where audiences can access content remotely and in person. Recently, CISCO ran their annual conference at MCEC where live social media updates were displayed across the venue, generating almost 7,000 tweets from the event - a 20 per cent increase from the previous year.
A key part of Walsh’s role is creating and continually fostering a culture of innovation. The MCEC do this through an internal innovation or intrapreneurial program called THINK.
“THINK is about cultivating ideas from our workforce and not just the executive team” says Walsh.
Staff at all levels are encouraged to submit their ideas for change that adds value via an online forum. The ideas go directly to the business innovation team who then work with senior management to explore them further.
MCEC’s Visualisation Studio was born out of THINK and allows event planners to create a virtual 3D model of their event space. The technology enables better event planning and a sales tool for event planners to pitch their event and even sell tickets.
"Some ideas can take days and others take years to implement. Every idea is given the opportunity to breathe and see the light of day. If we don’t move forward with an idea, we talk about why it wasn’t successful and learn from it," says Walsh.
Walsh says the culture of innovation is hugely motivational for staff and in particular younger generations of employees who get excited by the opportunity to be creative, make change and pursue their passions.
As work is underway for MCEC’s expansion to a 70,000 square metre space, the focus is on delivering what Walsh calls flexible spaces.
“To create a truly innovative space, we listened to our customers. There is demand for greater efficiencies when it comes to hosting events. Businesses want to avoid logistical nightmares moving large groups of people from a large convention centre to an intimate gala dinner space” says Walsh.
The expansion, due to open in mid-2018, will allow the same space to be transformed from a meeting to a black tie event within hours - saving on theming, transport and therefore increasing the efficiency of an event.
When asked what the future of innovation within the events and venue sector looks like, Walsh pinned an increasingly hybrid approach using both technology and face-to-face contact.
Walsh says there will be more frequent and better use of event based mobile apps and SMS allowing participants to access practical information and event content. He also expects to see better use of social media including live streaming through platform’s such as Facebook Live and Twitter’s Periscope.
“We will see more dynamic content than ever before with attendees participating in person and online but ultimately, nothing will replace the need for human contact” he predicted.