I had the amazing opportunity to attend the CFTA conference in Madison, Wisconsin. Sitting in the Dane County Regional Airport, waiting for my flight home to San Ramon, CA, I reflected on the week of activities: a tour of Epic, Inc., a local band at an outdoor bar and grill with delicious food, dancing, and great conversations. The venue was top notch; hosted by the University ofWisconsin Madison, the Edgewater Hotel provided a relaxing atmosphere. The views of Lake Mendota were awe-inspiring, The restaurants – The Statehouse and The  Boathouse – and the in-room dining, provided satisfying cuisine.  The rooms were spacious, comfortable, and elegant. But what really made this conference one of the best I’ve ever attended was that the sessions were about real-life experiences concerning successes and challenges. This was a refreshing and welcoming approach for the conference. Here are the five main reasons as to why this conference should not have been missed.

1. Communication, goals, and accountability.

Firstly, the responsive design of the website and the guidebook allowed each attendee to carry the conference on their smart phone. Along those lines, the guidebook provided a schedule that was easy to use, including descriptions of each meeting that were clear and connected to attendee’s calendars with reminders. Secondly, the executive board meeting was efficient and informational; it was concise and direct.  The three executives that were present delivered facts surrounding the existing state of their role, their future plans and goals, and a review of past performance highlighting successes and challenges.  All this was completed in less than 30 minutes.

2. Non-sales Vendor involvement.

This approach is rare and refreshing.  Approximately 20%
of the attendees were vendors, including myself, but I never heard a sales pitch.  We each presented solutions and observations, then shared experiences.  Software solutions were mentioned in context to problems that were presented, but everything was collaborative instead of competitive.  Each vendor was given a time to give a 6-minute Spark Talk.  We presented our solutions concisely, some with humor, others with facts, and some with an overview of their offering. Overall, the collaborative environment ensured that everyone felt included and had the opportunity to learn and contribute.

3. Friendship.

Our bond was a simple one.  We were all colleges and
universities executing CAD drawing and GIS applications with little resources and sometimes minimal support.  These commonalities created an instant bond because we understood and had empathy for each other. Because of this bond, our conversations were not forced or insincere.  They flowed easily.  We discussed BIM, GIS, CAD, KPI’s, etc. We talked sports, families, shared laughter, and shared successes and challenges. Conscious time was set aside for these conversations. I personally had many that stood out, but would like to highlight two in particular: 1) I had the opportunity to receive advice on
how to resurrect a neglected piece of technology that had been
disregarded.  It is slated to be replaced even though it is still a viable
solution. 2) I also was able to have a great conversation about BIM: how it is connected to the IWMS industry, its strengths, and its weaknesses.

4. Sharing Freely.

Every moment of every session, gathering, and entertainment, I observed sharing: old friends reuniting and catching up, new acquaintances sharing their life experiences, vendors providing insights into the future of technology, and universities sharing successes.

5. Meetings that Broke the Mold.

One example of this was the Unconference. This was a meeting reserved for those who wished to stay after the official CFTA activities. This was the first Unconference I’ve seen. We were each given five topics, which quickly multiplied. The topics were distinct and appropriate.  They ranged from space floor plans and their security, BIM and its opportunities and constraints, project management, KPI’s, GIS, and more.  As I sat and listened intently, the openness was refreshing, the struggles were real, the successes were celebrated, and professional connections were created.  These meetings flowed freely without interruption.  When the time was up, the desire to continue was evident.  These colleagues truly faced familiar problems and were eager to solve them and they found brothers and sisters in arms. Additionally, the Spark Talks provided each vendor 5-6 minutes to share who they were and what they represented. This shortened sales approach was done in less than 45 minutes.  I was impressed at the preparation to make this run smoothly.  Though a small detail, the combining of all PowerPoint slides into one slide deck provided a smooth transition between vendors and cut down on time.  I found myself drawn to my competitors’ stories and offerings.  I enjoyed their candor and examples and the humor presented was refreshing.  I gleaned new perspectives, cataloged improvements, and relished in mine and everyone’s uniqueness.


I reiterate: this was the best conference I have ever attended.  I recommend this conference to all Universities and will continue to support the CFTA
organization as they continue to provide disruptive innovation. The challenge of disruptive innovation was given to all Universities in attendance.  As a vendor I was inspired to pick up that challenge. How I will accomplish that is worthy of another article.  So, for now, I’ll see you, my new friends, next year at The Ohio State.

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2 Replies to “5 Reasons the CFTA Conference is Not to Be Missed”

  1. Bob, your passion is so easy to identify with because this is what CFTA is all about. The people of CFTA are "our people" and, when together in a shared space, there is something magical that happens. I thought this from my first conference and this is the reason I am committed to investing my time as a volunteer in the Association. It's hard to communicate the level of likeminded-ness of this group yet I believe you did most extremely well and for that I am so very thankful. -Michelle Ellington, CFTA President

  2. Bob, I cannot agree more with Michelle's comments above! I enjoyed meeting you and the rest of the CFTA conference attendees! I came back to Illinois State University excited to share what I had learned to say the least! The path for myself and my staff as it pertains to our future GIS, IWMS, BIM, and Revit initiatives is much clearer now! Thank you to every one of the attendees and presenters! You have all inspired me to be DISRUPTIVE!
    Michelle Kiesewetter- Illinois State University

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