From October 2021 until March this year, over 20 million people have made their way to Dubai. Their destination, a place whose theme is “connecting minds and creating the future,” was Expo 2020, a mega event that has revolutionized the concept of experience and our vision of the future in three key areas: sustainability, mobility, and opportunity.

Expo 2020 brought together over 200 participants – including 192 countries and various organizations, businesses, and educational establishments. The mega event attracted over 20 million visitors despite being postponed for 18 months due to the global pandemic that has disrupted the world’s economy and the lives of millions.

EXPO 2020 – Making a Difference with Sustainability, Inclusion and Experience

A Differentiator

Initiated in 1851 in London, World Expos are a gathering of nations dedicated to finding solutions to the day’s most urgent issues by engaging the hearts and minds of visitors. World Expos, which attract more visitors than the FIFA World Cup and Olympics combined, are governed by the Bureau International des Expositions and serve as a platform for countries to display their most recent technical, scientific, cultural, social, and economic achievements.

Famous innovations launched at World Expos include the steam engine, which characterized the industrial age to come, followed by the introduction of many gamechangers including the washing machine, the telephone, television, the x-ray, the diesel engine, the first touchscreen gadgets, and the first humanoid robots.

Hosted and organized by Dubai, several things set Expo 2020 apart:

  • Marking a turning point in history, Expo 2020 aspired to be the most sustainable event of its kind.
  • It was the most inclusive ever – the PODWay app helped people of determination, as people with special needs are referred to in the United Arab Emirates, navigate easily.
  • Its customer experience and supply chain infrastructure secured the first Procurement Excellence Award for a World Expo.


The event was 100% ecological thanks to the sustainable use of water and energy and a minimal carbon footprint. An astonishing 90% of the material used during the construction process is being reused to build public buildings. In addition, Expo 2020 Dubai had its very own metro station, carrying as many as 44,000 passengers per hour.

From recycling to promoting natural solutions, the idea was to inspire visitors to protect the Earth for future generations. Besides having an entire district dedicated to sustainability, Expo 2020 also hosted theme weeks focused on topics such as water, climate, and urban and rural development.

“One of the most exciting moments at Expo 2020 was the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Week,” says Deirdre O’Reilly, SAP head of Expo 2020, whose tiny team of eight hard workers was instrumental in the overall success at the event.

The sustainability week served as a major call to action in association with the United Nations to advance the SDGs. Global leaders, policy-makers, business leaders, and key players from the SDG World’s To-Do List campaign were present at the event to encourage everyone, including businesses, organizations, and individuals, to drive positive change.

“Our focus on sustainability does not end with Expo. We must ingrain it in our daily lives if we want to end extreme poverty, inequality, and climate change by 2030,” says O’Reilly, who encourages everyone to take action by creating their own personal to-do list.


One key achievement of Expo 2020 was the PODway app, which was designed to help people of determination navigate the site easily, highlighting accessible features in pavilions and accessible services for events. The app supports people with mobility, visual, hearing, cognitive, and sensory-access needs as well as features wayfinding and transportation options. It also includes an ‘SOS’ button for immediate contact and appropriate support – underpinned by geotracking of a person’s position on-site.

The organizers hailed the app in a recent press release, quoting Dina Storey, director of Sustainability Operations, Expo 2020 Dubai. “Expo 2020 Dubai is committed to celebrating diversity and promoting inclusivity, and the PODway app ensures that each and every visitor with differentiated needs can make the most of the incredible experiences Expo has to offer,” said Storey.


What all visitors, organizers, and suppliers will surely recall is their flawless experience, which included registering for the event, buying tickets and passes, getting food and vouchers, and accessing the wide world of merchandise that was available in the 192 country pavilions. A unique, behind-the-scenes framework struck a balance between the system architecture and the use of the latest technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, the Internet of Things (IoT), and blockchain.

The entire event ran on SAP’s technology and expertise, helping Expo 2020 Dubai deliver personalized experiences to millions of visitors from around the world, achieved by collecting and analyzing masses of data. This previously impossible feat was possible thanks to AI, which was used to measure and improve customer experiences by finding patterns across an overwhelming number of data points, unleashing more value for the customer and promoting brand awareness and loyalty.

Over 1,200 point-of-sale entities were connected through SAP Customer Checkout, establishing a smooth end-to-end customer experience, and over 55,000 receipts were printed daily using SAP S/4HANA.

Besides managing the transactions of 20 million visitors and the virtual Expo online experience of 174 million, the streamlined digital experience also facilitated the work of 25,000 suppliers delivering goods and services around the site. SAP Ariba solutions made up the real-time, unified digital procurement and payment platform for Expo 2020’s global supplier base.

“Our work with SAP is an example of what can be achieved with the invaluable support of our technology partners to host one of the most digitally advanced World Expos ever,” said Dubai Chief Technology Officer Mohammed AL Hashmi.

The impact of Expo 2020 will last long after the gates closed as it morphs into District 2020, a smart, sustainable city providing an ecosystem that embraces technology and digital innovation. Expo 2020’s motto of “connecting minds” is already helping to create a better future based on innovation and collaboration between nations, cultures, and institutions.