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Reimagining the Digital Transformation World Series as a virtual conference

Reimagining the Digital Transformation World Series as a virtual conference

The Digital Transformation World Series event this year reimagines what it means to have a digital event

This is the bold claim made by the CEO of TM Forum, Nik Willetts, after replacing the organisation’s three-day conference with a six-week long “festival of collaboration.”  And he’s got the stats to back it up – the event, described as a CNN approach to a virtual conference, is breaking both attendance and engagement records.

The world’s telecoms networks run on services and equipment provided by TM Forum’s members. The organisation is an alliance of 850+ global companies working together to break down barriers between digital service providers, technology suppliers, consultancies and systems integrators. Their membership stretches across 180 countries and includes the world’s top 10 network and communications providers such as AT&T, China Mobile, Deutsche Telekom, Verizon and Vodafone; and large suppliers and integrators like Ericsson, Microsoft, Nokia and Oracle Communications. Once a year, these members come together at their flagship event, “Digital Transformation World,” but this year’s show couldn’t go ahead in its original format for obvious reasons.

Digital Transformation World Series Event 2019

TM Forum DTWS annual conference

“The event’s known for being where the industry comes together for a really honest conversation, for learning, up-skilling and debating what needs to happen in the industry.  When it comes to re-imagining that for a digital format, that of course presents a lot of challenges,” says Willetts.  “Our first objective had to be to achieve what we deliver in the physical world, which is to provide a platform for collaboration. Then we have commercial objectives to be able to fund and make the event work and deliver the kind of production values we’re looking for, so we had to make sure we had a viable commercial offering for our sponsors. We also have about 140 companies collaborating on Catalyst [proof of concept] projects, and we had to find ways of bringing something that you would see and touch in the physical world to the digital world.”

Unlike many other organisations facing this situation, TM Forum hasn’t simply replaced the event with an online replica – with the help of event agency, Common Ground Creative, and audio-visual solutions provider, Anna Valley, they’ve reimagined the whole project from the ground up.

TM Forum’s Digital Transformation World Series is now taking place over a whopping six weeks and has been redesigned as a magazine-style current affairs TV show that spans several time zones.  Hosted by two anchors from a dynamic set featuring LED backdrops, live and pre-recorded video feeds and a mix of content delivered in bite-sized chunks, this virtual conference is designed to maximise collaboration and exemplifies digital transformation.

Virtual conference logo DTWS

Common Ground logo

The teams had just three months to transform the in-person conference into a virtual event, as Willetts explains, “We’re used to stages and conference settings, but not the world of TV, so we relied heavily on the technical expertise and incredible production quality from the Anna Valley team and from Common Ground, who’ve worked with us on everything from the enormous logistical challenge of recording so many speakers over so many weeks through to making sure that we’re creating the right experience for the audience.”

The show is hosted from a three-camera, purpose-built studio at Anna Valley’s headquarters, with video contributions via OBS software, video conferencing and Quicklink feeds – and it’s the volume of these contributions that has made this project both logistically and technically complex.

The TM Forum event team and Common Ground put a 24-hour operation in place to support speakers in every time zone around the world. As well as managing the incoming contributions, Anna Valley provides each speaker with a personalised return feed that excludes their elements but which allows them to see and hear all the other participants.  The AV company also repurposed their traditional production comms to incorporate Zoom inputs from remote clients and created a first-of-its-kind solution to allow an anchor in the studio, panellists joining via Quicklink and 50+ Zoom participants to interact in real-time for TM Forum’s CXO Summit that took place during the event.

Virtual conference software behind the scenes

virtual conference technology

“There’s a lot of complexity behind the scenes to make it possible for people to contribute properly,” says Anna Valley Project Director, Ben O’ Shea.  “Thanks to our experience in both broadcast and event production, we’ve been able to change how technology is traditionally used to cater for this new approach to production.”

While the technology and approach may have changed, Common Ground founder, Jeremy Oldfield believes some things have remained the same, “When we started looking really intensively at virtual events early this year, it was quite intimidating initially because it just felt so different. But we quickly realised the same rules apply. It’s about delivering really engaging content and understanding how an audience reacts to that content.”

Digital Transformation World Series virtual conference

Shooting a virtual conference 2020

With over 13,000 registrants from 171 countries, at the time of writing, DTWS is the biggest gathering of TM Forum members in history and the largest digital telco event of the year.  But the organisers recognise that metrics for digital events go beyond numbers at the door, “We’re focused on ensuring the audience has a good reason to come back throughout the series, so we’ve had to adopt a little bit more of a TV series mindset and think about how we keep things fresh and moving throughout the whole series, and keep improvising and improving each week,” continues Willetts. “It’s a very different experience from the classical physical event mindset where you put in 12 months of planning, execute a physical event, learn some things, and then do it again.”

Digital Transformation World Series looks and feels like nothing TM Forum has ever done before.  Despite being a solution born of necessity, its success is indisputable, so what does that mean going forward?  Willetts sums it up with the following statement;

There's been a lot of talk for a long time about digital events. They're here now, they do work. We see the future as a hybrid between physical activities and digital content, and we're already planning what that means for more ground-breaking events in 2021
CEO of TM Forum, Nik Willetts
Get in touch with the Anna Valley team to talk about your next digital event or virtual conference.