For years, Eric Kimberling, the managing partner and founder of ERP consultancy Panorama Consulting Solutions, had been hearing from clients that the business-critical Enterprise Resource Management systems they were trying to deploy and manage were making them crazy.
The ERP systems were incredibly complex to operate and required specialized knowledge when it came time to upgrade existing platforms or choose new systems. There had to be a better way for his customers to improve their understanding of their ERP systems, he thought.
“We saw a need because these systems were so complicated,” he told eWEEK. “There was just not much out there.”
That’s when Kimberling’s company began organizing and holding specialized ERP boot camps for clients, featuring three days of deep-level learning about what ERP is, lessons about selecting the right applications from the right vendors to fit a company’s needs and more. The courses are aimed at helping IT managers decipher ERP for their businesses, rather than offering hands-on lessons for actually running and managing the systems.
“We give instruction on what to ask prospective vendors, and about topics such as how you manage the implementation using project management procedures,” Kimberling said. “We talk about all of the things that are going to make or break your projects.”
The classes, which run about $3,000 per student, plus travel and lodging, are held in different parts of the United States each year and have so far trained several hundred people, he said. Classes include a maximum of 25 students each.
Panorama’s next ERP boot camps are scheduled for Sept. 23 to 26 in Vail, Colo., and Jan. 27 to 30 in Los Angeles. This year’s boot camps also include a new feature—a series of hands-on vendor demonstrations of various ERP products from major vendors such as SAP, Oracle and Microsoft—so attendees can see what is out in the market, said Kimberling.
What also makes the boot camps so valuable for attendees, he said, is that the students can all talk with each other and share their experiences as they make their way through the maze that is ERP.
“They’re all in the same boat,” he said. “They certainly learn from us, but I think there’s something to be said about learning from each other as well.”
But ERP isn’t the only topic offered at such boot camps. Myriad educational providers offer IT boot camps for everything from Cisco training to CompTIA A+, Security+ and Network+ certifications, Microsoft.NET, Linux, Windows 7 and 8, VMware vSphere 5.5 and much more. There are also boot camps for IT security, ethical hacking, data recovery, data forensics, Citrix, NetApp and Microsoft Exchange, Lync, SQL Server, SharePoint and Windows Server 2012.
Boot camp vendors include NetCom Learning, InfoSec Institute, Training Camp and Unitek Education. The courses are held in various locations around the nation and are aimed at IT workers who want to increase their skill sets on specific topics.
Several IT analysts told eWEEK that boot camps can be a boon for companies and their technology workers. The key, they say, is to be sure that the courses are true boot camps that dive into the subject matter rather than marketing sessions that masquerade as education.
“I think IT boot camps can be useful, as long as they focus on helping IT employees either get a start or a ramp-up to a practical skill they’ll use on the job,” said Dan Maycock, an analyst with OneAccord Digital. “Too many sales seminars and vendor trainings are disguised as IT boot camps, and only offer skills related to a particular product or certification that may have limited usefulness over the course of that IT employee’s career.”
IT Boot Camps Offer Training, From ERP to Linux and More
IT managers have to evaluate such offerings on a case-by case basis to be sure they are legitimate, he said. “Differentiating vendor training, certification training and boot camps would go a long way in helping IT boot camps become more useful and draw greater groups of companies—but as soon as that happened, the term would no doubt get hijacked by marketing firms to get people in front of vendors and products again.”
Dan Olds, principal analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group, said that the right boot camps for the right employees can hold a lot of promise for training tech employees in both big and small companies. “With the boot camp approach, employees have a chance to be immersed in a particular tech environment, free from the day-to-day distractions and IT firefighting that is rife in today’s workplace,” he said. “One of the biggest problems in trying to learn on the job in IT is that employees typically have to quickly learn a new skill to tackle a specific task, and they only learn enough to get them over the hump, then it’s back to business as usual. They seldom get the time to practice a new skill enough to really learn what they’re doing. With boot camps, they get in-depth information plus the time and opportunity to play around with their new-found expertise.”
IT managers should be sure to choose workers who are anxious to improve their skills, “rather than those who are mostly punching a time clock,” said Olds. “I think it’s a great way to get targeted training to the people who need it. But the boot camp approach isn’t right for every IT topic. They are best when they’re focused on well-bounded areas of technology, like a particular programming language or application. This is where the hands-on aspect of boot camps are most valuable.”
Rob Enderle, principal analyst of Enderle Group, agreed. “If it is well-staffed with people who are practitioners, it is a great way to get a good initial idea of how to deal with a new technology or concept,” he said. “The greater value, though, is meeting the experts and forming relationships with peers who you can work with collectively to solve individual and mutual problems.”
Enderle said he’s attended several boot camps as a participant and that he’s often “learned things that I likely wouldn’t have been able to learn on my own.”
With those experiences in mind, he said that IT managers should establish specific criteria to measure the quality of a prospective boot camp program before sending employees. “Focus on ensuring quality and put in place solid measurements to assure that quality and you’ll get a good result. If you focus [only] on the frequency of boot camps or any other [criteria], you’ll likely find they are a waste of time and money.”