The local U-Haul lot was out of rentals, and Onsite Services Manager Jeremy Ruthvin needed to find a way to get 10 desktop printers across San Antonio by 7 p.m.

The Convention Data Services employee needed to think quickly. “The kid working had his own pickup truck parked outside, and I asked him if he wanted to make a quick buck,” he said.

A short drive and Venmo payment later, the printers were en route to colleague Jacob Dennis for a trade show, and Ruthvin had learned a crucial lesson about his role.

“Critical thinking, problem solving and a little bit of luck made it happen,” he said. “I told the story to our manager, and he said, ‘Well, you’re really an OSM now.’”


“Critical thinking, problem solving and a little bit of luck.”


For Ruthvin, the unexpected challenges keep the job fresh and exciting. “If you like the routine, this isn’t for you,” he said. “But I joined because I knew I didn’t want a traditional 9-to-5.”

Even after 25 years, Dennis still agrees. “The ever-changing atmosphere keeps me here. I’ve had opportunities to switch gears throughout the years, but onsite work is in my blood.”




Beyond paper forms and golf pencils

Dennis remembers the overnighted printers. But after a quarter century with the company, he’s seen it all, including huge shifts in the kind of technology he implements at each event.

“When I started in this industry, it was paper forms and golf pencils,” Dennis, a senior onsite manager and IT specialist, said. “Attendees would fill out the form, get in line and wait for the typist to enter their information.”

The usual registration lobby looks vastly different today, as the required registration footprint continues to shrink away from long lines bottlenecking at a row of tables. Staff are mobile, using phones to register attendees in CDS’ application-based platform and send their badges to a badge printer. Attendees can alternatively print their own badges at stand-alone kiosks that feature an orbital scanner and built-in printer.

But the biggest difference isn’t what’s happening in the registration lobby — it’s what’s possible before and after the day-of rush.

“Everyone now registers online in advance,” Dennis said. “In the past, we saw five percent pre-registration, 10 or 15 percent if we were lucky. The internet changed all of that.”

So did CDS’ technology.


A group of CDS employees enjoy a Red Sox game


Leveraging technology to forge relationships

“Printing a badge is just the initial step,” Ruthvin said. “But that badge takes attendees wherever they need to go. It grants access to the continuing education sessions, keeps them in touch with the exhibitors and makes sure that they show up for the show next year, too.”


“That badge takes attendees wherever they need to go.”


“Those same phones that we work with at registration are extremely versatile,” Mike Ecton, a fellow onsite services manager, said. “Exhibitors can scan and collect data from attendees through our system to build and generate leads during and after the show and develop meaningful customer relationships.”

CDS’ technology solutions allow clients to attract, engage and understand attendees from lead generation through retrospective data that offers the insights clients need to plan for their next event. Those metrics include deep dives into the technology used, opportunities for increasing efficiencies, in-depth registration reporting and attendee details.

“We are truly a data service,” Ecton said. “By planning in advance, we are able to figure out the best way to serve huge amounts of data to our clients in a digestible way — and all of that data processing is custom to the client.”

Beyond the next-generation tech and flexible product suite, the onsite services crew has one additional asset that makes their work possible.

“The number one tool is the team,” Ruthvin said. “I’m still on that learning curve, but I can call on a Sunday at midnight, and they’ll pick up the phone to help me solve a problem.”

Solving problems both technical and logistical comes with the territory for CDS’ onsite team, which, according to Ecton, is part of the appeal.

“The job combines some of the strongest features of a tech position and an operations position,” he said. “None of us sit at a computer all day. We need tech savvy and smarts, but we also get to stay moving and physical throughout the day.”


A game of bags on the CDS campus


“Step one: Show up. Step two: Improvise.”

Whether unpacking equipment from specialized packing cases, setting up servers or training a team of event staff to use the “line-busting” Scan and Go phone registration applications, CDS employees rarely have a quiet moment on-site.

But a successful registration day is the result of months of careful planning. Leading up to the event, CDS staff members work with clients to determine how registration areas will look, what equipment to deploy, how that equipment will be used and which services will be available and implemented.

“All of that is done with intention so when we get a surging rush on opening day, everything is smooth and maintained,” Ecton said.

With unique plans for each event requiring different teams, resources and services, there is no typical day on-site. But thanks to CDS’ expertise and flexible tech, no challenge is insurmountable. Every contingency is accounted for, even when things get complicated.

At one recent show, initial plans required 18 temporary staff to sufficiently manage three registration areas — but most of those positions went unfilled.

“We had six people,” Ecton said. “But we were able to shift to using the Scan and Go app, which allows one person with a phone to work as quickly as three people at computer stations. We can convert solutions to a different part of our software or applications, and our equipment allows us the grace and leverage to implement the technology that makes all the difference when it really matters.

“Even if everything is going to plan, it’s step one: Show up. Step two: Improvise.”


“Our equipment allows us the grace and leverage to implement the technology that makes all the difference when it really matters.”


Flexibility and versatility aren’t limited to the tech at CDS — the people share those qualities, too. And when the unexpected happens, that makes all the difference.

In November, a client faced the kind of problem everyone would love to have: Their attendee numbers doubled two weeks before the event. Logistically, this posed a challenge. But the onsite services managers were ready.

“We added a bunch of those Scan and Go print stations, which are essentially counter-height tables with networked printers, and immediately, we had the capacity to handle another thousand people per hour without dramatically changing the registration footprint at the last minute,” Dennis said.

According to Dennis, as CDS continues to update their offerings, onsite services become even more streamlined, whether that’s modernizing their applications or shifting to a universal badge printer for every event. For both CDS and its clients, the results are visible right there in the registration lobby.

“On the opening morning, we should be able to stand back and watch registration play out,” he said. “We can make those fine adjustments, but successful planning allows us to watch months of meetings come to life.”

In those moments, Ecton is reminded that this is the job for him.

“Despite some of the stories, there aren’t grandiose moments with fireworks or dramatic things happening,” he said. “Little by little, we see small bursts of opportunity and cool possibilities that make our job fun to do.”


Close connections

For some at CDS, calling the tight-knit staff a family is more than euphemistic. Ruthvin heard about the OSM job through a cousin, and Dennis originally discovered the company through his father. Chuck Dennis joined CDS in 1997 as a mid-career change. He worked alongside his son at the company for 20 years, until his retirement in 2017. As the younger Dennis began his career, the rapport his dad had built with convention center staff around the country served as a model for forming great working relationships. “For years, I would go to somewhere brand new to me, but as soon as people heard my name, they’d ask if I was related to Chuck Dennis,” he said with a chuckle. “All of a sudden, I’d have a team of people I felt like I’d known for years.”


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