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IEEE ICDE – Virtual Event Case Study

Just less than three weeks out from its planned date, the organizers for the IEEE International Conference on Data Engineering (IEEE ICDE) made the decision to host their conference, originally planned to take place in Dallas, Texas, completely virtually.

The Decision to Go Virtual

Several influential factors informed the committee’s decision to host the conference virtually, rather than postpone.

  • Global travel restrictions would inhibit many of the ICDE IEEE attendees, researchers in data engineering, and data-intensive systems, from attending.
  • Conference papers had already been submitted and accepted. The duty to ensure the technical exchange of this information via a conference format was important to the committee.
  • Moving the event to a later date was ruled out due to the uncertainty of global travel policies, and the potential impact postponing could have on the following year’s event.

Organizing the Virtual Event

There are many factors that make planning a virtual event different from a traditional in-person conference, which are covered in the IEEE Computer Society Virtual Event Resource Guide. For IEEE ICDE, the conference organizers did the following:

  • Consulted with their IEEE CS meeting planner to discuss all of their options.
  • Made the decision to go virtual, weighing the factors listed above.
  • Reevaluated their budget.
  • Engaged the help of the IEEE CS Virtual Events team.

With help from the IEEE CS Virtual Event team, the IEEE ICDE organizers decided that Zoom was their best virtual event delivery platform because it could accommodate the expected number of attendees, deliver the live and prerecorded content required by the conference, fit within the conference’s budget parameters, and could facilitate setting up the schedules, sessions, and speaker accounts in a short time frame.

IEEE ICDE Conference Successes

Despite having to cancel the in-person conference, the virtual event was a success.

  • Speakers were charged for registration, but general attendees were not, resulting in 2000 conference registrants, as opposed to the originally planned 500.
  • A special keynote address from the “Women in Data Science” workshop was presented not only via Zoom but also live-streamed on the IEEE Computer Society’s YouTube channel for additional viewing by non-conference participants.
  • Support was utilized from the IEEE CS staff to train conference organizers, conference volunteers, and conference presenters on how to use Zoom and execute the virtual event.
  • Conference awards presentation – in place of the originally planned in-person banquet, the committee conducted a special awards session to honor conference award recipients. IEEE CS President Leila De Fioriani helped present the awards.

Lessons Learned

While there were many successful outcomes of the IEEE ICDE virtual event, there are some helpful takeaways that other virtual event organizers might find useful.

  • Make a decision about whether to host the event virtually as soon as possible. Tight timelines condense work that could have been spread out over time. They also limit realistic options for platforms due to the necessary lead and build time. The IEEE ICDE organizers were able to make arrangements in three weeks with tremendous support from the IEEE CS staff.
  • Plan for more volunteer support during the actual virtual event. Every session room will need at least one moderator and two technical support persons at any given time. Moderators (generally, session chairs) should plan to answer attendee questions, while others (mainly student volunteers) will be needed to monitor and engage on social media, and ensure that operations are running well behind the scenes.
    • If you do not have volunteers to support these activities, outside assistance will be needed to ensure they run as smoothly as possible.
    • Teamwork is of utmost importance to have a successful virtual conference.