Case Study: IEEE Security & Privacy 2020

Case Study: IEEE Security & Privacy 2020
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2020 IEEE SYMPOSIUM ON SECURITY and PRIVACY – Virtual Event Case Study

With travel and public gatherings still hindered by risks associated with COVID-19, the organizers for the IEEE Symposium Security and Privacy Conference (IEEE S&P) made the decision to convert their in-person event, originally planned to take place in San Francisco, California, to an all-digital conference experience.

The Decision to Go Virtual

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

  • On-going global travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 situation and the need to take safety measures would inhibit many of the IEEE S&P attendees, including international researchers in computer security and electronic privacy, 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.  Given that the decision to go virtual was made within a short time of the start of the event, everything was on a very compressed timeline. In addition to working out contract issues with the live venue, the conference organizers did the following:

  • Researched and selected a virtual platform and related technologies
  • Revised the conference program
  • Asked all authors to create presentation videos and upload them for use during the conference
  • Communicated with attendees about the changes
  • Built the website with abstracts, links to Zoom meeting rooms, sponsor pages, and all related event elements.

With help from the IEEE CS Virtual Event team, the decision was made to go with the On24 Engagement Hub platform, coupled with extensive use of Zoom meetings for the sessions, as well as Slack for asynchronous discussions.


 IEEE S&P Conference Successes

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

  • The most reliable piece was Zoom. The feedback from attendees has been positive overall, and we learned several lessons for next year.
  • The biggest success was that we were able to transition in such a short amount of time. The virtual conference actually showed increased attendance, and the community has been very happy with the results.
  • Attendees from over 450 organizations, companies, and universities attended.

Lessons Learned

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

  • The biggest challenge was in building out the site and setting up the infrastructure, including the website with all the metadata, the Slack space with threads for papers, posters, and the Zoom rooms. The On24 platform presented some issues because the licensing model allowed only two user accounts, so the organizers relied heavily on their event planning partner as well as volunteer effort to get everything in place in time. Unfortunately, the platform also experienced quite a number of technical issues during the conference. We learned a lot about the platforms and with experience, we are better prepared to manage a virtual or hybrid event if the need arises. That said, the overall experience was a success, especially given the timeline.
  • Finally, recognize that it takes substantial effort to set up a virtual conference, and be sure that you have a great team in place to do that.