Case Study

TechShare Pro 2020 - AbilityNet

Abstract 

In response to the pandemic and the shift towards digital events, Opsgility created Virtual Conference Manager, a full-service virtual event platform, which enabled AbilityNet to lead 300 organizations to accessible and inclusive design. Virtual Conference Manager builds on Microsoft Teams using Azure technologies to deliver secure virtual events to audiences at scale. To date, we have successfully delivered 24 engaging events to 14,000 attendees spanning 22 countries.  

The Problem 

The recent world health crisis led to innovation and digital transformation across industries—the need to socially distance forced many organizations to shift to a remote workforce. Suddenly, meeting platforms were added to every business professional’s repertoire of tools. As organizations learned to adapt to day-to-day operations, it became apparent that internal meeting platforms were not ideal for reaching external audiences at scale. 

As the weeks of quarantine turned to months, most organizations chose to shift on-site events to virtual settings to ensure the safety of all participants. While some organizations settled for mundane video recordings or webinar broadcasts, Microsoft sought new ways to engage audiences using Microsoft Teams. 

In response to this shift, Opsgility created Virtual Conference Manager (VCM) to deliver interactive Azure training to 1600 students during Microsoft’s Technical Bootcamp. Over time VCM evolved into a full-service virtual event platform. By channeling Microsoft’s mission “to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more,” Opsgility has enabled organizations to provide interactive and engaging virtual events to audiences around the world. 

In November 2020, AbilityNet planned to host TechShare Pro 2020, Europe’s premier accessibility and inclusive design event. Each year TechShare Pro unites hundreds of tech producers, professionals with disabilities, and corporations investing in accessible design. TechShare Pro 2020 required AbilityNet to reimagine how the event was structured and delivered. To do so, AbilityNet would lead by example, embracing the tools and innovation of a virtual event platform. 

To deliver a dynamic conference experience, AbilityNet’s virtual event solution must: 

  • Accommodate the various needs of disabled professionals 
  • Enable presenters to share practical insights with remote audiences 
  • Deliver an interactive conference experience to external audiences at scale 

The Solution 

Virtual Conference Manager (VCM) leverages various Microsoft technologies to deliver interactive digital events in a secure and accessible format using Teams. These include Modern Workplace, Applications and Infrastructure, as well as Data and AI. 

VCM builds on Teams to bring digital events to life with a full suite of interactive features: 

  • Conference Lobby - the central hub for attendees to explore the event 
  • Personalized Schedules - an automated or manual attendee registration tool 
  • Speed Networking - a global meeting queue that matches attendees by their interest 
  • Breakout Sessions - small group sessions filled with a broad range of activities 
  • Expo Halls - a multi-tier exhibition hall used to showcase event sponsors 
  • Sponsor Booths - branded virtual booths connecting sponsors and attendees 
  • Speakers Pages - areas to highlight speakers’ expertise, projects, and contact information 
  • Interactive Keynotes - professionally produced speaker or panel presentations 

Visit https://youtu.be/yhtpUenTIwg to see VCM in action. 

Our platform builds on Microsoft Teams by automating the creation of Teams Live Events, Teams Meetings, Teams Channels, Teams Tabs, and the 3rd party app ecosystem to create an authentic conference experience. Teams Meetings and Channels are the foundation of VCM’s Speed networking, mixers, personalized schedules, and breakout sessions. While Teams Live Events enable presenters to participate in panel discussions, deliver keynotes, and answer live questions. 

Like Microsoft products and services, VCM conforms to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG.) We follow WCAG best practices from the design stage to implementation and throughout testing to ensure VCM is accessible to all users. We actively gather feedback from users with disabilities to help us improve our product design. 

VCM leverages Azure Active directory for a secure and seamless authentication experience. In most cases, event organizers purchase Microsoft 365 licenses, which allow guests to log in using Azure AD’s password-less authentication feature. However, event organizers can grant access to attendees using a Microsoft or work account. 

The backend of our service is designed using Azure AD, Microsoft Graph API, Azure SQL Database, Azure Storage, Azure Functions, Azure Application Insights, and Azure KeyVault. This design provides a highly scalable solution that is easy to deploy and monitor even while deployed directly in a customer tenant and Azure subscription. 

The true value of VCM lies in our turn-key service. A team of dedicated producers own the event from planning to execution and beyond. We monitor the event and provide technical support from start to finish. 

The Result 

Virtual Conference Manager (VCM) enabled AbilityNet to deliver a three-day virtual event to nearly 300 organizations investing in accessible design. Eighty speakers shared inspiring messages with 789 attendees across Europe, including 521 first-time attendees. The virtual format made the event more accessible while significantly reducing costs, which allowed AbilityNet to pass the savings on to the customer, resulting in a 30% increase in total attendance from 2019 to 2020. 

 “After researching the market, we chose the Virtual Conference Manager platform from Opsgility to host our annual digital accessibility conference, TechShare Pro, this year. The platform’s core accessibility, integration with Microsoft Teams, and all the additional functionality like speed networking and virtual sponsor booths were important factors in our decision. The event production support and customer service we had from Opsgility Me Up[sic], in the run-up to the event and during it, was outstanding. The whole team worked tirelessly to ensure our event was a success for our delegates, speakers, and partners.” – Gary Moore, CEO, AbilityNet 

We received glowing reviews from organizers and attendees alike. Visit https://govirtualconference.com/Casestudies/abilitynet to see a few of our favorite images and tweets from the event. 

As industry leaders in accessible design, AbilityNet went above and beyond to meet the needs of attendees with disabilities. Each keynote included a British Sign Language interpreter and closed captions. We also created a WCAG approved instructional video to help guide attendees through the conference. 

Session recordings can be found on the TechShare Pro website here: https://abilitynet.org.uk/techsharepro/techsharepro-2020/dayone 

 Like most charitable organizations, AbilityNet relies heavily on generous support from its sponsors. Eleven sponsors were displayed on the homepage and in the expo hall. Each sponsor was given a customizable virtual booth used to share videos, hold private sessions, and interact with attendees. 60% of all attendees visited the expo hall, allowing sponsors to generate over 200 leads. Microsoft, the headline sponsor of the event, received top billing on the conference homepage and was displayed during select sessions. 

AbilityNet wanted TechShare Pro 2020 to be both dynamic and engaging. By implementing the full suite of VCM’s interactive capabilities, AbilityNet captivated audiences and recreated the excitement of an on-site event. Ultimately, AbilityNet was pleased with TechShare Pro 2020 and plan to deliver TechShare Pro 2021 using VCM. 

VCM is a highly scalable solution with limitless potential empowering organizations to deliver virtual conferences to anyone worldwide, provided they have a web-enabled device. To date, we have successfully delivered 24 virtual events to 14,000 attendees spanning 22 countries. We have produced multiple Microsoft events, including The Microsoft Showcase School Summit, National Security Symposium, and Microsoft’s Technical Bootcamp. We have also delivered high-profile government events, including the Atlantic Future Forum aboard the UK’s Royal Navy aircraft carrier. With each conference, we introduce more users to the capabilities of Microsoft 365 and Teams. 

Testimonials

After researching the market we chose the Virtual Conference Manager platform from Opsgility to host our annual digital accessibility conference, TechShare Pro this year. The platform’s core accessibility, integration with Microsoft Teams and all the additional functionality like speed networking and virtual sponsor booths were important factors in our decision. The event production support and customer service we had from Opsgility Me Up[sic], in the run up to the event and during it, was outstanding. The whole team worked tirelessly to ensure our event was a success for our delegates, speakers and partners.

-Gary Moore, CEO, AbilityNet

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