Celadin has been helping IBM deliver unique, unforgettable experiences for its most valued customers for over 20 years

Ray Buckland from IBM explains why the business partnership has endured for so long.

“We’ve been working with Celadin’s people since the mid 90s, when IBM decided to launch a series of high spec events for VIP customers across Europe. Our objective was to deliver exceptional experiences that our top customers would never forget. We needed the highest grade hospitality and we wanted IBM’s reputation for innovation to underpin every experience we delivered. Today we work with Celadin to create some of the most engaging and sophisticated apps available to the events industry, but these apps, and the experiences they deliver, have been 20 years in the making.”

Pioneering the big data culture

Data driven decision making may be in our DNA today, but 20 years ago we struggled to convince anybody that technology, used creatively, could really drive successful outcomes for audiences at the upper echelons of business. In those days, events experts told us that VIP attendees would never use the information systems we created for them. Today they can’t imagine running events without them.

How it all started

We started teaming up with Celadin’s experts in the summer of 1998. We were hosting a VIP event in Cannes, Cote d’Azur.

We wanted to demonstrate IBM’s latest technologies by creating immersive experiences that pushed the boundaries. Celadin were early evangelists for “big data”. They understood the power of data, but more importantly they had the vision and creative aptitude required to bring new ideas to life.

These were the days before smartphones and the BYOD culture. Technology based interaction required hardware. We positioned onsite kiosks at events to prompt engagement. Event attendees were able to search the event’s programme, see the timetable, learn all about the speakers and research the subject matter in minutes.

Doubters who warned us that top executives would never engage with technology were quickly proved wrong. When busy execs grasped the dynamic nature of the system they loved it. We were delivering real-time systems at a time when most VIP events were still handing out ring binders.


When we first launched these high-end VIP events, we’d anticipate about two to three hundred attendees. Invites were exclusively available to selected company CEOs, CFOs and Chief Marketing Officers. We’d host them around Europe in premium locations such as Nice in France or Lake Como in Italy, two or three times each year. At the most executive end, they looked more like G8 conferences than business events. Soon the programme grew in scale. After a few years of success, our European team merged with the US team to deliver the executive client event programmes worldwide. Before long Celadin’s systems were supporting events with audiences over 1000.

Celadin’s skill has always been to create truly personal, compelling experiences that IBM’s most important customers never forget

From kiosk to app

By the 00s the onsite information systems we were using incorporated touch screens. For many of the world’s top CEOs it was the first time they’d ever seen this technology. By 2010, when the first generation of iPads became available Celadin helped us deliver the world’s first executive events app. We ditched the kiosks and instead opted to provide every attendee with their own personally configured iPad on loan for each event.

Working with Celadin, we created a personalisation process that paired each iPad with the contactless event badges we provided to all attendees. This allowed us to configure and personalise each iPad for each attendee while welcome staff walked them through the two minute induction process.

Today smartphones and tablets are ubiquitous and attendees simply download the app onto their own device. When all of these opportunities are available on an app we find we’re engaging with customers better and for longer periods. We can register intent because people tend to use the app to plan their experience before they actually arrive at the venue. We register real-time interest, because we can accurately see who did attend any particular seminar on the day, and we register long tail interest because users tend to use the app to research areas of interest that they may have missed after the event is finished.

“The best organisation in the world may run terribly efficiently but that’s worthless if they’re not providing the right level of service to the right customer at the right time”

Unforgettable customer experiences power sales success

Throughout the journey, Celadin’s key attribute has been its ability to help us deliver on two critical objectives.

We wanted technology that produced incredibly personal, unforgettable experiences for IBM’s best customers, and we wanted technology that supported IBM’s goal to create increasingly effective data driven sales process.

Making sure that the sales representatives responsible for IBM’s key accounts have quick access to the insights that Celadin’s platform generates is critical. When they know how attendees are engaging with the VIP events we stage for key customers, which breakout presentations they attend (or even which sessions they booked for but did not attend) our salespeople are able to serve them better.

“There are plenty of suppliers out there that do event apps. There are plenty out there that do badge systems or other sexy things with technology. For IBM, it’s always been more important to find suppliers who know how to make technology integral to the visitor experience, as well as drive business insights from the data collected behind the scenes.”