Technical Awareness Series is flexible, full of good information

Time is tighter than ever, but learning has to be continuous for professional development. A consultant reviews a technical seminar that provides good information and offers attendance and cost flexibility.

For most consultants, there simply isn't enough time in the day to easily keep up with innovations and changes in systems and related technologies relevant to our business. What we need is a Cliffs Notes approach that gives us good insight but doesn't eat into our workday or project deadlines too much.

I discovered a good approach by attending a conference series that I found on the Internet, the Technical Awareness Series (TAS), given by ACTS Corporation.

The offerings are structured to ensure each student has a basic understanding of the topic before the instructor dives into the technical issues and details. Each instructor first walks through a primer of sorts. This approach pays off because every student has a better ability to understand the details that are then presented within each topic.

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The TAS approach
ACTS President Bill Carico has hosted the TAS series for 17 years and conducts two conferences each year. This year's May conference was held at Hilton Head Island in South Carolina, and the fall program will be held at Marble Falls, Texas, in October.

The sessions are updated every year and repeat students get a 50 percent discount. Each day is essentially a stand-alone topic so you can select the topics/daily seminars you're interested in or attend the entire week. Each day is priced at $450, and the full week is $1,950.

Carico brings in vendor representatives and seasoned veterans of specific technology areas for presentations. Some of the best educators in the industry have spoken at the conference, including Dr. Gene Amdahl, Microsoft's Mike Maples, and IBM's Dr. Guru Rao.

I found the program particularly helpful in developing my understanding of many technical issues that could be important for my future consulting engagements. Students that attended from traditional corporate organizations were also very complimentary and enthused about TAS and the prospect of applying many new ideas to their companies' technical environments.

The classroom environment
I found the class to be a fast-paced, informal session where questions and opportunity for discussions about specific issues were encouraged. For me, it was a quick means to learn a lot about areas I need to stay updated on, such as data storage, systems strategies, Web services, enterprise applications, and technology trends. It also gave me insight into emerging trends, such as open source and Linux.

The conference offered a diverse agenda. More importantly, it provided practical insight into what is actually taking place in these technologies in an objective style that I found very helpful. It gave me a lot with minimal downtime between conferences.

The May agenda included the following topics:
  • IT trends and strategies explored IT successes and failures, e-business, dot-com trends, systems vendor strengths and weaknesses, and computing cost of ownership topics.
  • Storage management covered storage technology review, distributed storage management, SANs, RAID systems, and trends.
  • Security covered security policy properties and goals, access control methods, access control techniques, accountability and audit trails, systems monitoring tools, and more.

The information is presented objectively; vendor strategies are highlighted and industry failures are discussed along with successes. It was refreshing to find a format for discussion where the real facts about success and failures are discussed in an open forum.

At the session I attended, we reviewed numerous projects, focusing on the gory details of good intentions gone bad. Finding out how and why someone else squandered millions allows us to avoid making the same mistake. For example, we analyzed how one transportation company spent over $40 million on an unsuccessful attempt to deploy an XML application.

Participant feedback
During the conference, I talked to quite a few participants and they gave similar reviews of the event. IT executives and consultants called it highly informative, with excellent presentations, and concurred that the speakers were extremely knowledgeable about subject matter.

"The TAS Seminar provides a solid description (understanding) of many technical issues, and the instructors are outstanding and have exceptional credentials. I would recommend this training to all IS management personnel," said Jim Shille, CIO at American Fidelity Assurance.

A technical awareness session such as ACTS' TAS conference is well worth your time and money, especially if you're working in a large systems environment.

The knowledge you gain can potentially save a client hundreds of thousands of dollars. It can also help you identify areas that you may have been missing in your strategic thinking. Helping companies improve the bottom line spells success and generates new business and opportunity for us all.

Mike Sisco is the CEO of MDE Enterprises, an IT management training and consulting company. For more of Mike's management insight, take a look at his IT Manager Development Series.

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