Working Smarter

They Had Us at Hello

Conference badges are getting smarter. Some of them can buy an attendee a cup of coffee or even a ride back to the hotel.

Now, thanks to the development of technology like NFC (near-field communication), which enables conference organizers to embed badges with tags that wirelessly transmit data, badges are becoming digital workhorses. In conjunction with readers, “smart” NFC-enabled badges can collect data about session attendance, keep track of attendee CEUs, and transfer a variety of information and content between attendees, show organizers, and exhibitors and sponsors.

Since we last reported on NFC, more meeting professionals have begun to think beyond metrics, using NFC to streamline functions such as food-and-beverage service. In April, organizers of WIMA NFC Monaco, an international conference for the NFC industry held annually at the Grimaldi Forum Monaco, used the technology to embed badges with credits that could be used at coffee breaks within the convention center, and with tags that allowed access to a conference luncheon. Because attendees could register for a single conference program or only for the exhibition, which did not include refreshments, the badges were a simple way to allow people registered at different levels access to luncheons and coffee breaks, said Joanna Merchie, WIMA NFC’s executive director.

At the International Broadcasting Convention (IBC), held at the Amsterdam RAI Exhibition and Convention Centre on Sept. 6–11, some of the 50,000 attendees’ badges were embedded with tags that allowed access to local transit. The NFC-enabled badges were so well received that the program will be expanded to all IBC attendees in the future – eliminating the need to manually distribute thousands of metro passes, said Ivan Lazarev, CEO of ITN International, which supplied technology for NFC apps at the shows in Monaco and Amsterdam.

“NFC is getting to be multiuse,” Lazarev said, “and that’s where it gets fun.” Lazarev is betting that, as useful as smart badges are, in the future digital credentialing will shift to NFC-enabled smartphones and other devices. In Monaco, for example, NFC-enabled smartphones already could download the daily conference schedule, which was updated in real time, as well as an interactive map of the exhibition floor. Attendees with NFC-enabled phones also could check in – à la Foursquare – at several locations at the conference and exhibition, as well as at conference hotels, allowing other checked-in attendees to know where they were as they moved around the conference. The application also allowed them to send notes to an electronic message wall.

Bob James, ITN’s marketing director, has estimated that it will be at least three more years until NFC-enabled phones are ubiquitous. When that happens, conference badges will go back to serving primarily as identification – but Lazarev doesn’t think they’ll go away entirely. “We’re not going to take our own eyes out of the equation,” he said. “For branding purposes, for security and identification, [badges] are incredibly apt.”

Paper or Plastic?
The debut of NFC-enabled paper badges at WIMA NFC Monaco – a first for a B2B event, according to badge supplier Ivan Lazarev, of ITN International – gives conference organizers new flexibility. The paper badges can be printed twice as quickly as NFC-enabled plastic badges, Lazarev said, and aren’t as limited in size. That means badges have more room for extras such as bilingual identification of attendees and sponsorship messages. An added bonus: they’re recyclable.

For a look at the future of NFC from the point of view of consumer bank and credit cards, visit

Barbara Palmer

Barbara Palmer is senior editor and director of digital content.