CFTA 2018: A Community of Friends, Professionals, and Breaking the Mold

I attended the Campus FM Technology Association (CFTA) Conference for the first time last year and came back feeling that I had found a wonderful community of friends that shared my passion for the facilities world. This year proved no different.

I got to stay in the Marriott Columbus University Area hotel in Columbus, Ohio. 

Within minutes of having arrived in Columbus, Ohio, I heard my name called out from across the parking lot of a convenience store as I went to pick up some things. It was a colleague that I had met the year before — someone I hadn’t talked to for a year talking to me as if we were lifelong friends. It was a wonderful experience, that repeated itself a dozen times in various ways as I reunited with people I had met the year before.

The conference is small enough in size that we all get to know each other very well; as opposed to other conferences which are much larger, 130 members attended the CFTA last year which grew to 175 members this year. The intimate size provides an opportunity for every member to get know each others’ strengths, successes, and challenges, and to provide meaningful feedback throughout the duration of the conference. Surely, though, the growth of the number of members points to the efficacy of the conference. Michelle Ellington, the president of CFTA, began with a statement on how the conference has grown; over the past five years it has grown from 30 members to 175. It is obvious that the CFTA conference has superbly strong leadership and relevance to today’s growing FM world within the global university sphere.

I was privileged to take one of the five tours available. We toured the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (CBEC) Building on the Ohio State campus. This was the first building on the campus that was managed through a BIM process. This process allowed stakeholders and maintenance crews to visualize the building prior to occupying and building the premise. Because of this, strategic decisions could be made to more efficiently use the space. One of the most commonly recurring comments in regards to using this process was, “I never thought that I would ever build a building by playing a computer game.”

The Unconference is always the highlight of the week for me. This meeting is held on Friday morning of the conference, and despite attendance being lower because it is the  last day of the event, there was still a healthy 110 to 120 person attendance. 

During this part, a list is made of several discussion topics, then everyone breaks into groups; this time there were four tables. Each table takes a topic, and we all sit together as professionals and colleagues and discuss facets of the topic. I sat in on the BIM topic, and the discussion led to standards, implementation, ownership, and adoption. We all discussed life safety assets, how to manage space, automatically adding square footage, who updates a BIM model and how, and what is maintained. 

The second session I attended was about new technologies.  We discussed using sensors to determine utilization and realization of occupied spaces: options from cameras to movement sensors to sensors on chairs and the pros and cons of each. We discussed using drones with infrared for condition assessment of buildings. We discussed monitoring valves through a central control system. We discussed the ethics of using security cameras in relation to privacy, and many many more topics.

As usual, the CFTA Conference was the highlight of my year. I renewed friendships with colleagues I had met the previous year. I  had stimulating conversations during the conference and was able to expand my knowledge and passion for the FM world. I am excited to see what next year brings, and I highly recommend that all who can attend this conference.

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5 Reasons the CFTA Conference is Not to Be Missed

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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