Waseela: Pioneering Map-Based Event Planning at Expo 2020 Dubai

Dubai Expo 2020 was the first major event to adopt the map-based, collaborative planning technology first developed by Iventis. We look back on this 5 year journey.

Since early 2018, more than 1,600 users spent a cumulative total of over 12,000 hours using Iventis planning the World Expo 2020 in Dubai. It has become the first major event to use this type of software through the full operational planning lifecycle.

Dubai Expo 2020 took place over 6 months from October 2021 to March 2022. By the close of the event, more than 2,000 plans had been created, covering everything from VIP routes to the locations of bins across the 4.38 km2 site. As the first mega event to adopt this type of technology, our team were fortunate to see many of these plans come to life during the spectacular event.

In this article we explore how Expo 2020 Dubai used Iventis (which was branded internally as Waseela) and what we learnt.

Expo 2020 Dubai School Buses
Thousands of plans were created in Iventis. This one shows part of the extensive school bus operation.

The Beginning

Iventis was adopted by the operations planning team early in the planning process. This is likely to be a key factor in the success and wide adoption of the system, as it can be more difficult to introduce widely during later stages. The core team at Expo 2020 Dubai were experienced event operators and understood the enormity of the challenge ahead.

Dubai Expo Site under construction
The Dubai Expo site in November 2017. As an entirely new site, Waseela would help teams to visualise and develop their plans.

They recognised that the team they would build would work on a wide range of plans, which would regularly change. They would have to analyse their plans, find efficiency savings, and communicate with a variety of internal and external stakeholders.

Iventis pioneered the world’s first event focused, accessible, map-based planning technology in 2015. You can read more about the background here. While it has been used by several major events, Expo 2020 Dubai was in the right place and time to fully adopt and harness the system.

’Waseela’ (Arabic for Tool/ Appliance) launched in March 2018, initially to a relatively limited group of users in the Event Operations department. It was quickly adopted by the transport team, event services, security and beyond.

Organic Growth

One of the greatest challenges with the initial roll out was a result of one of Iventis’ biggest strengths: its flexibility.

One of the greatest challenges with the initial roll out was a result of one of Iventis’ biggest strengths: its flexibility. Waseela found use cases across the organisation, in several instances, we found uses that we had not even considered when making the software.

With so many new uses, the software did not fit comfortably within a single department. As an entirely new concept, there was also a learning curve for central planning and management teams.

Waseela User Satisfaction Survey
Waseela's use across the organisation grew organically. When surveyed at the end of the event, the majority said they would recommend the software to other event organisers.

This resulted in Waseela taking on a life of its own. Waseela’s use spread through the organisation as more and more users discovered its benefits. This was great to see, but did create some challenges in terms of ownership, coordination and ensuring everyone was able to use it to its full potential.

Nonetheless, use of the system increased exponentially through to March 2020 when the pandemic hit.

A small selection of notable uses of the system include:

  • Workforce dot planning across all departments, co-ordinated by the workforce team
  • Planning accreditation zones and access control
  • Helping to plan the layout and operations of security screening areas
  • Planning bus routes, load zones and queuing areas for transport systems
  • Police and security operations
  • Planning logistics and delivery routes
  • Planning events including parades, marathons, and performances
  • Planning media and broadcast operations

"Waseela made a huge difference in my productivity and presentation of my work" - Waseela User (April 2022)

Pandemic Impact

The COVID-19 pandemic was devastating for the events industry. The prospect of cancelling or postponing an event like Expo 2020 Dubai or the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games was unheard of. Inevitably, Expo 2020 Dubai was postponed, by a full year, into 2021.

Dubai Expo Completed Site
The event was postponed by a full year, requiring extensive replanning whilst working remotely.

Despite a huge drive to reduce costs, Waseela was maintained as a crucial tool to help re-plan the event. As staff were forced to work remotely, the opportunity for digital collaboration enabled their work to continue successfully. It would help work on the challenges posed by COVID-19, such as reducing capacities to safe levels to achieve social distancing.

As plans were re-worked over the following year, usage again increased to a peak in the months before the event.

Event-Time Operations

Iventis was designed primarily as a planning tool – enabling large teams to build complex plans together. However, the Expo 2020 Dubai team also saw uses for the system during operations of the 6-month event.

The Expo 2020 Dubai site spanned almost 5km squared with hundreds of venues and event spaces. Every day different events would take place – from large concerts to conferences and roaming entertainment. The scale of this created a challenge for operators to understand what was happening across the site each day.

Iventis and Expo 2020 Team
Iventis worked closely with Expo 2020 Dubai, including on-site support during the event with the Operations Planning Office.

Embedded in the Operations Planning Office, Iventis turned Waseela into a map-based event schedule and daily run sheet. The programme of activities was imported into Waseela each day, with each venue plotted on a map. Operators would then have access to a real-time map showing the key activities taking place across the site. This process was repeated for every one of the 180 event days.

Successes and Lessons Learnt

Despite unprecedented challenges, Expo 2020 Dubai was a huge success exceeding attendance targets by achieving 24 million visits. The extensive workforce came together and delivered an unforgettable experience.

We are proud to have played our part supporting the various teams in the first example of event map-based planning software used from beginning to end by the entire organisation.

By working closely with our users, we learnt a huge amount which is now feeding into the next generation of our system, launching later this year.

We’d like to thank everyone at Expo 2020 Dubai who supported us, provided feedback and made use of our system and congratulate them on an incredible achievement.

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