October 28, 2014 12:07 pm

EventDay leverages Microsoft Azure to streamline conferences for organizers and attendees

Successful conferences require immense planning and organization; EventDay, a set of powerful mobile apps, empowers conference organizers to maintain control of the planned program, and operate efficiently while helping attendees manage their schedules, and options. A passionate event planner, Scott Cate founded EventDay on the .NET platform and has since scaled it across platforms and devices using Microsoft Azure Mobile Services. This has helped him cater to the needs of thousands of conferences that have up to thousands of attendees. Now, he is excited about creating a universal code base for his set of apps on the Windows 8.1 platform. In doing so, he will connect his customers and their conference attendees across Windows devices. I caught up with him to learn more about his unique app, his investment in Azure, and his plans for the 8.1 platform.

Tell us more about EventDay.

“I designed EventDay to make sure that both conference organizers and attendees would have a smooth experience from beginning to end. “

EventDay is unique in that it addresses the full range of event stakeholders. It helps conference organizers quickly and easily scale their operations; it helps conference attendees by keeping them informed about details so they don’t miss out; it helps speakers get feedback; and helps sponsors connect with and generate leads.

I designed EventDay to make sure that everyone has a smooth experience from beginning to end. Before the event, the app handles communications, schedule updates, and special opportunities. During the event, the app registers attendees, secures access to special areas, and sponsors coordination. After the event, the app administers evaluations and calls to action.

EventDay Website: http://www.eventday.com

Scott Cate, CTO and Founder, EventDay

Scott Cate, CTO and Founder, EventDay

What excites you the most about Windows 8.1?

“Microsoft will continue to take Windows to new frontiers. With our universal code, we’ll be able to come along for the ride. It is clear that Microsoft has continued to address the needs and wants of the developer community.”

The thing that excites me most about Windows 8.1 is the ability to write universal code: we’ll write fewer lines and produce better apps. It is now easier to develop on Windows. We chose Windows because we have expertise in ASP.NET, and we rely on its security and speed. Naturally, Windows, Windows Phone, and Azure fit our model. We previously maintained a separate code base for Windows and Windows Phone, but with the universal code base, we’ll reach well beyond the tablet, PC, and Phone. In time, I imagine our app might be available on an Xbox console, a watch, digital signage, a big screen on stage, or something I can’t even predict. Microsoft will continue to take Windows to new frontiers. With our universal code, we’ll be able to come along for the ride. It is clear that Microsoft has continued to address the needs and wants of the developer community.

I chose to host EventDay in Azure on top of .NET. At the average conference, attendees are likely to use multiple platforms and devices, so we have to ensure that their experience is smooth—no matter their device choice. Android, iOS, and Windows Phone devices all talk to an API through a portable class library we host and run 100% inside of Azure. But each platform handles its own notifications, so Azure services allows us to centralize our management of those notifications; we deliver personalized messages to thousands of attendees at thousands of conferences, so we’re betting on Azure in a big way.

You’ve invested a lot in Azure. Tell us more about that.

“Leveraging Azure’s capabilities… has saved us thousands of man-hours while delivering value to our customers and their conference attendees.”

Azure’s central notification hub delivers notifications to any platform, and that extensibility means we don’t need multiple messaging services any more. We save time, and we streamline processes for our customers.

Event staffers rely on their mobile devices before, during, and after an event: the organizer’s smartphone or tablet is now the event dashboard. Events are hectic, and managing them means running from room to room, checking speakers and AV issues, answering sponsors’ question, running errands for VIPs, directing attendees, and traipsing from one end of a large venue to the other. For organizers, a mobile solution is a must: access to reports and event information and the ability to send and receive push notifications are all integral to an event’s success. Leveraging Azure’s capabilities to make this happen has saved us thousands of man-hours while delivering value to our customers and their conference attendees.

The phone’s sensors—mainly the camera and the NFC—are also highly important: if an organizer needs to access an attendee record, he or she needs simply to scan the QR code on the attendee’s badge instead of searching a database. That record will contain payment information, amounts owed, schedules, and privileges, so one can see how the QR code becomes a part of event security, admitting only selected individuals to a special luncheon, for example. We use Azure to enable these capabilities—without investing in expensive hardware or a complex, manual process.

Eventday screenshot

Eventday screenshot

Any client can use our .NET API to access our Azure backend, which includes the Service Bus, Azure Cache Mechanism, Azure Websites, and Azure Cloud Services, among others. For instance, we use Azure Traffic Manager to increase speed by routing users to the nearest server, and we use Azure virtual machines for specific tasks not suited to the Cloud. We’ve replaced our scripts with Azure Web Jobs, and Queues, Storage, and CDN are other important services that help us to deliver a fast, globally scalable application.

What is your monetization strategy?

“Our app addresses a specific business need; businesses see value in what we do, so they’re willing to invest.”

Event organizers pay us a one-time license fee for each conference; this includes both mobile and server access. Our larger clients who host conferences more frequently can purchase a monthly or annual subscription for continuous access to the application.

Our app addresses a specific business need; businesses see value in what we do, so they’re willing to invest. This also allows us to deliver value to event attendees without their having to pay for it. It’s a win-win.

Which Windows 8.1 features do you plan to use?

“Imagine showing up to the venue, doing nothing, and now your phone knows you’re at the event and displays the QR code you need to gain entry.”

We plan to enhance our app by using wallet support for QR codes and passes, bringing us in-line with our iOS and Android offerings. Attendees will be able to sync their transactions and receive an alert once they’ve entered the GPS area. And that part is just magical. Imagine showing up to the venue, doing nothing, and now your phone knows you’re at the event and displays the QR code you need to gain entry. That’s our vision.

We also plan to make better use of dynamic live tiles to showcase the next item on the attendee’s agenda. And we’ll use background tasks to give us more control over cache expiration and data updates on the user’s device.

Azure ACS is a unique feature; it’s not as widely used as some others, but we’ll use it because we need to manage shared app identities: we can track an identity back to a transaction, such as a ticket purchase.  If you’ve purchased multiple tickets for multiple events, then you wind up with multiple identities, and Azure ACS can help us to authenticate you.

What is your advice to developers?

“EventDay has made significant leaps in its development roadmap as a result of keeping up with the latest Windows offering from Microsoft.”

Over my 30 years of software development experience, I have repeatedly observed that my projects were much more successful when I loved what I was working on. So my best advice is to work on projects that you love for those are the ones worth your time and talent. And jump right onto the Windows 8.1 bandwagon. EventDay has made significant leaps in its development roadmap as a result of keeping up with the latest Windows offering from Microsoft.

I also encourage developers to watch this great video about Windows 8.1 that Michael Palermo and Jeremy Foster recently released on Microsoft Virtual Academy.

Connect with Scott Cate on LinkedIn or follow EventDay on Twitter –@Eventday.