Event Operations Spotlight: Lou Kiwanuka


Lou Kiwanuka is the owner and founder of OpsShaper, a training and consultancy business focused on enabling brilliance in the Events sector. After over 26 years in the business events industry as an Organiser, Show Owner, Contractor and Venue Manager, Lou knows that it is essential to experience confidence and capability through competence and understanding.

Lou is a firm believer that our industry would benefit from individuals within it being empowered in knowledge, by soaking up communal wisdom and by embracing the unique talents and skills that they bring to the table.

Through The Ops Nest and training courses such as Ops Foundation and Ops Framework, Lou is committed to developing mechanisms for developing people in events within the global event operations sector. Offering face-to-face and online training, peer-to-peer mentoring, consultancy and the opportunity to collaborate with the best minds in the business, OpsShaper brings organiser, contractor and venues together.

Lou serves the industry in a number of additional ways and is the current Chair of ESSA (Event Supplier & Services Association), an active board director of the Event Industry Alliance and founding fellow of the Institute of Event Management.

What is your background and how did you get started in operations? 

I temped at Blenheim over the summer of  ’96 and must have done something right as they asked me back before I finished my degree. Maybe it was stuffing exhibitor manuals into Jiffy bags so well that did it!

What is your current role and what events are you involved in?

I have a new and completely unexpected role of being a trainer and community manager and founder of The Ops Nest. I’m still involved in handing over one of my previous events but aside from that my job is to develop the most comprehensive training package an OpsProf could want! We’re running face-to-face training courses with year-round online learning and it’s just brilliant to see the difference that dedicated ops training and a specific ops community is already making.

What can’t you go onsite without?

A toastie maker – Franks at Olympia got me hooked on corned beef, cheese & pickle toasties when I was pregnant with Jacob and I haven’t looked back.

What is the biggest challenge you face when delivering operations at events?

Communication and synchronising everyone’s schedules.

What is the one tech tool you just could not do your job without?

Basecamp – we use it for project planning, day-to-day workflow and working as a team. We’ve tried a few – Microsoft, Monday, Trello but the simplistic approach to Basecamp means that even the most resistant team member can get on board with it … eventually. 

I find the ONLY way to make it work is for everyone to use it.

Where is tech failing you at the moment?

Coming back to my job in 96 of stuffing manuals into Jiffy bags, it’s sad that we really haven’t moved on a huge amount. Those manuals are simply in digital format. I don’t believe that we are tracking in line with societal changes in tech, we aren’t intuitive, we aren’t making it super easy to access relevant information, and we aren’t rewarding our exhibitors for loyalty through tech.

In addition to that, the pain of communication and syncing all the various parties’ workflow on-site is well within the realms of a fixable issue with tech and we are behind the curve in adopting and adapting technology to manage our on-site efficiencies.

What could tech do to make your job easier/better? / What are the challenges you would love a tech solution to overcome?

Ops tech is often driven by the main contractor and is often tied into the contract for the show. This ultimately restricts the focus of tech to the things that are important to the contractor with a few side benefits.

If we were to look at the outcome required from a more holistic view then we would meet our customers’ needs more effectively. We really should be in a position by now to only give our exhibitors the information they need. Presently we are stopping at whether they are space or shell.

Where do you see the biggest benefits in using tech – for example; cost-effectiveness, convenience, fewer mistakes, time-saving, more visibility?

Tech has the potential to reward our exhibitors, provide clarity and gain better, more timely information. It has the power to change the way we treat our customers. It has the potential to reduce and simplify workload in an overworked part of our industry. It would make show sites more efficient. It would enable people to come into our industry and be guided through systems and processes for an easier onboarding experience.

What needs to happen to make the difference?

Organisers need to invest in a better way of doing things. Leaving the investment with marketing and CRM systems is not just hurting Ops, it’s hurting our exhibitors.

Ops need to lift our eyes from the excel spreadsheet and look at tech around them. The availability of ‘off-the-shelf’ subscription tech is affordable and easy to implement.

It would be a shame if we all go down different tracks though. An industry solution would be preferable but until it’s there, off-the-shelf will do!

What in the industry would you like to rub out and draw again?

The reliance on contractors to provide tech solutions. Tech should be customer-led, with input from organisers, venues, contractors and exhibitors.

Adam Parry
Author: Adam Parry

Adam is the co-founder and editor of www.eventindustrynews.com Adam, a technology evangelist also organises Event Tech Live, Europe’s only show dedicated to event technology and the Event Technology Awards. Both events take place in November, London.

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