The PPAI Technology Summit opened on Wednesday in Austin, Texas, beginning two days of education, networking and discussion. In its fourth year, Tech Summit brings together more than 110 industry technology professionals at all levels to share best practices and case studies, and to discuss critical topics and some of the solutions available. Introduced in conjunction with Expo East 2014, this is the third year the event has followed the PPAI North American Leadership Conference, which wrapped up on Tuesday.

The two-day education event was developed to bring together the industry’s IT professionals in a forum that allows them to bond and collaborate on finding solutions to the technology challenges faced by the industry. It is also the site of the third annual Tech Summit Award presentation, showcasing and celebrating technology advances that bring success to individual companies and the industry as a whole. Liam Conlan, senior software analyst at Facilisgroup, was recognized with the Internal Innovator Award.

Tech Summit’s first day opened with an exploration of big data and how businesses are using it to improve sales, manufacturing and targeting the right customers. Mark Moore, a data platform technical solutions expert with Microsoft, began his presentation with a capsule history of digital technology’s evolution to where it is today. Over this progression, data got “big,” and continues to grow.

Moore’s session highlighted big data’s ubiquity, how it’s collected—from smart soda machines at restaurants to refrigerators connected to the internet—and how it’s being used. Moore noted, “Big data has introduced a new culture of experimentation. With big data and the speed at which we can process it, we can start doing analysis and take action.”
The incredible pace of technology is disrupting markets, forcing companies to transform their products, services and internal business processes in order to remain competitive. In Wednesday’s second session, Frank Wiggins, CIO at supplier Gemline, spoke about how his company has tackled this disruption through lean technology practices to create a flexible, responsive and engaged IT team. Lean IT, Wiggins explained, is a different way of thinking that gives organizations the agility to survive disruption. His presentation focused on the tenets of lean IT and shared his history with the methodology and how he incorporated it into Gemline’s operations.

Dale Denham, MAS+, CIO, Geiger, and Jon Norris, vice president, Starline USA, moderated a panel discussion with five of their industry peers on several technology topics. Panelists—Scott Baker, director of IT, Kaeser & Blair; Paul Fleischman, technical lead, Leed’s; David Natinsky, CAS, president, SAGE; Catherine Graham, CEO, commonsku; and David Jackson, Gemline—examined a range of subjects during the conversation, including big data, the merits of PCs versus Macs in a business environment, enterprise resource planning and artificial intelligence. The panel invited Summit attendees to weigh in as well, and that back-and-forth ensured lively discussion that expanded on several of the subject explored by the panel.

Following lunch, attendees broke into 15 groups to take part in peer-to-peer roundtables. Each table was marked with a separate subject, ranging from archival strategies and enforcement in data management, to project and time management in development, to cloud migration and the lessons learned during the process. Participants reshuffled at the midpoint of the hour-long session, joining different groups to discuss new topics.

Afterward, attendees chose between two breakout sessions to pursue education that best fit with their needs. Mike Wilkos, national sales manager for Vantage Apparel, explored legal issues related to privacy and personal information, including website privacy policies, complying with emerging laws on personally identifiable information, and monitoring employees without violating their rights.

In the afternoon’s other breakout session, Eric Granata, vice president of business development at ROBYN Promotions, led panelists Jared Thorndike, director of strategic relations, SAGE; Donnie Brown, COO, The Icebox-Cool Stuff; Andrew Alford, president, Launchpad; and Michael Conway, director, Leed’s, in a discussion on incorporating web stores into promotional products businesses’ service offerings.

Attendees regrouped for a panel discussion led by Norris on the state of technology integration in the promotional products industry and where it needs to go next to accomplish the goal. Eric Natinsky, CEO, SAGE; Eric Shonebarger, CIO, Hit; Eric Alessi, president, Essent; and Dan Kroymann, director global technology, Staples, shared their perspectives on integration, and how they’re working within their organizations and with industry peers to develop and establish meaningful data standards.

Tech Summit’s first day ended with a rapid-fire tech tips session moderated by Denham. A popular part of the program over the past three years, the section invited attendees to highlight one thing they do well in their technology organizations. For 30 minutes, 30 attendees shared single-slide presentations on what they were doing well in their organizations.

The Summit’s schedule of education and networking opportunities continued this morning with Angie Lintott, a senior manager at Hitachi Consulting, who led attendees through an examination of agile processes and embracing continuous change and improvement. Fundamental to the process is building a culture that supports it. Lintott shared her experiences in prioritizing people in rolling out agile processes to an organization.

Today continues with a series of panel discussions touching on managing remote employees, cloud deployments and creating a technology road map; and sessions on implementing security on a budget and security tools, the SAGE supplier integration toolkit, developing talent and PromoStandards services. It will conclude late this afternoon with an examination of the future of AI in the workplace with Byron Reese, principal at Gigaom.

Read more about Tech Summit in next week’s PPB Newslink.