Almost 600 members of Manitoba's information and communication technologies (ICT) community converged on the Victoria Inn Hotel and Convention Centre in Winnipeg on October 27 for a day of education, collaboration and innovation.
EPIC Technology Day, hosted by Winnipeg's EPIC Information Solutions, featured keynote speakers including MTS CEO Jay Forbes, Dean La Riviere of Cisco Systems Canada, Chris Pratt of IBM Canada and Michael O'Neil of the Toronto Cloud Business Coalition. Attendees had the opportunity to take in dozens of breakout sessions and the Solutions Showcase, featuring 23 vendor exhibitors, at the 24th edition of the bi-annual tech event.
"It's all about education and networking," said Jennifer Ching, Marketing and Events Coordinator for EPIC. It's also the biggest event of its kind in the province. It's grown exponentially. The first one had about 40 people."
A great list of tech companies sponsored Technology Day, with Cisco as the platinum sponsor. Gold sponsors included Microsoft, EMC and Lenovo. Dell and Trend Micro were silver sponsors and at the bronze level were Brocade, IBM, Kaspersky Lab, Polycom, SoftwareONE and VMware. Additional sponsors of the event were AAA Security, Avnet, Emerson Network Power, NEC, Nimble, Veeam, WiBand Communications and Xerox.
EPIC's Director of Technology Doug Scott pointed to Technology Day's success in reaching a critical mass of IT professionals.
"We get enough of them together that the sponsors come out in strength," Scott said. "Nobody else gets a crowd this big in Manitoba. Microsoft almost never comes to someone else's show. They normally just do their own events, but now they've been here twice in a row and we're already talking about doing something special with them in April."
For the first time, EPIC Technology Day featured "tracks" tailored to attendees' interests, allowing them to easily organize their day. The tracks focused on Microsoft, collaboration, desktop, infrastructure, network and security.
"This is your opportunity to collaborate with the biggest collection of IT professionals in Manitoba, and your opportunity to hear their challenges, if they already implemented [certain] products, are they struggling with the same evaluation of products that you are…It's really education and collaboration with your peers," Scott said.
"We really do try to make it an educational event," Scott said of the creating the thematic tracks. "We've reached the size now where there is so much content at Tech Day that people have said ‘I wanted to see this session, but it's on at the same time as this one.' Typically, a security professional will come or a network professional, and they're interested in their niche, so we worked with sponsors to have a row of security or network sessions."
Another first was the "Meet the Engineer Lounge" where participants could sit down for a one-on-one session with an engineer.
"We've given attendees a chance to book meetings with EPIC and MTS experts to get them one-on-one time," Ching said. "We had over 130 requests."
This was the second Tech Day to also offer a business-oriented focus.
"Traditionally, Tech Day had been just for ICT people," Ching said. "If you own a business, or you're a manager, it wasn't really for you. In April, we launched a business track geared toward talking ICT to people on the business side. For this show, we are holding a keynote talk for IT executives and business leaders with MTS CEO Jay Forbes and cloud specialist Michael O'Neil. It's all about thought leadership. We've got you covered — we can speak to your IT department, but we understand the business concerns as well. IT affects us all."
Microsoft's involvement was certainly the draw this year for long-time Tech Day attendees Joyce Allen (Office Manager) and Linda Hiebert (Controller) of Rohl Enterprises, a Headingley underground fibre-optic company.
"It's definitely grown over the years and there are so many more breakout sessions," Allen said. "It's a very worthwhile day because you find out so many things about technology we may not get directly involved with at work. It's nice to know what's happening out there."
Both Hiebert and Allen mainly focused on the Microsoft sessions, but took in several others.
"They were very informative and practical," Hiebert said.
It was as part of the Chief Information Officer Association of Canada Forum that Forbes and O'Neil spoke to select attendees about the intersection of tech and business.
Forbes spoke about the digital trends that are reshaping the way companies do business, pointing to the boom in Internet and mobile phone use, the emergence of the cloud, the growth of the "Internet of things" and the personalization of business. These trends include the expectation for people to get what they want, wherever and whenever, that extends to both customers and employees.
"Especially for Millennials," Forbes said. "They expect to be able to use the same devices, the same software and the same applications at work as they do at home. They expect to work flexible hours and to telecommute."
Forbes underlined the need for businesses to embrace the changes, figuring out the risks and rewards of the changing landscape.
"There isn't a single organization represented in this room who won't be affected by these digital trends," Forbes said.
O'Neil said companies in all sectors are wrong in thinking they're not already involved in tech. Digital disruption is pushing all sorts of companies to consider themselves as tech companies to some degree, whether they want to or not.
"It's not possible for business managers not to take a leadership role in technology because they're already thrust into the position of making important technology decisions for their companies," O'Neil said.
Cisco's Dean La Riviere echoed that them of "disrupt or be disrupted."
"The pace of change is requiring businesses to move a lot faster," La Riviere said. "You're dealing with a very, very complex environment that is changing all the time. Meanwhile you're trying to manage policy with some kind of control while still delivering what the users want and moving at a speed the users expect, and that is brutally tough — especially since we've introduced mobile devices with power.”
Plans of action that once took months or years to craft are no longer feasible.
"It's just not fast enough for the market we're moving in today," La Riviere said. "Teams are no longer just working in the office, we're seeing people work in different ways and modes. We need flexibility, we need to be agile."
IBM's Chris Pratt, who also spoke about digital disruption, said events like Tech Day have a great value right now.
"Events like this used to be the only place we got together to share information with people," Pratt said. "Then they declined in value, because they became recruiting sessions, and I was able to know more about a product when I was on the Internet and have all the answers very quickly. But recently, we're seeing a resurgence in the quality of these events because we're super-saturated with all the information we have, and this is a forum where we can all get together and actually discuss what we're super-saturated with. They're coming back and it's a good time."