Friday, May 30, 2008

Virtual Training Exposed--An Hour With a Guru

What's a blog for if not to toot your own horn now and again? So I'll take that opportunity now and invite you to join me for a Webinar I am moderating on June 26 at 2 p.m. EDT. Roger Smith, one of the best-known analysts of virtual training, will be talking with me about how computer games, supercomputers and Web 2.0 are revolutionizing the way the U.S. military prepares to fight and to win hearts and minds.

Smith is chief technology officer for the Army's simulation-buying organization and has had a close-up view of the revolution in training wrought by technology, war, and politics in recent years. He is a fascinating thinker who has developed a terrifically enlightening theory about how gaming platforms are a disruptive technology in the simulation market.

Here's the teaser for the Webinar:

Simulation 2.0: Revolutionary Changes in Military Training and Beyond

Thursday, June 26, 2008
2:00 PM Eastern Daylight Time

The military simulation market is in the midst of radical changes perhaps felt most deeply by the Army. Deployed extensively in Iraq and Afghanistan, where it is fighting unconventional battles, the Army is in need of new equipment, and rapid training and mission rehearsal for untraditional warfare against an ever-evolving enemy. Its training must keep up. At the same time, the service is moving to a new model of buying simulation as a service and is taking advantage of huge increases in computing power and an explosion in immersive gaming to create new learning opportunities for troops in the field.

Roger Smith, Chief Technology Officer for the Army's Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation, will discuss how the Army is taking advantage of the revolution in simulation and training with Anne Laurent, former Executive Editor of Government Executive and founder of The Agile Mind, a new blog about virtual government.

To listen in, you'll need to register here.

While he's a rock star in the simulation world, Smith isn't as well known beyond it. He should be, though, for he is a gatekeeper at a crossroads of increasing interest and importance to everyone running programs in government and to those selling them services. Smith stands astride the place where real-world training and mission rehearsal meet, where soldiers first encounter the new weapons systems and equipment they must use, and where warfighters and their support teams run into samples of the crises they must learn to quell. His vantage point makes Smith's insights invaluable for all of us straining to understand and employ the tools of Web 2.0 and beyond.

Here's a bit I wrote about Smith in the Dec. 1, 2006 issue of Government Executive magazine under the headline "Grow Up Gamers" :

America's Army, the overwhelmingly successful video game recruiting tool, and Full Spectrum Warrior, the combat game built to military specs, spawned increased interest in the use of games for training across the military services and other agencies. But game-makers who view the government as just one big open wallet will be disappointed.

"The government is not going to adapt to work with gamers," says Roger Smith, chief scientist and chief technical officer for the Army Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation in Orlando, Fla. "We have an entire [simulation] industry base for the military - billions of dollars . . . just directed at us because the military has unique demands," Smith told an audience of game designers and potential buyers at the Serious Games Conference in Washington on Oct. 31.

It's not that the Pentagon and other agencies aren't interested in gamers' wares. It's that military buyers need "many military-unique pieces [that] are not in a closed-box game," Smith said. Having invested hundreds of millions of dollars in simulators in the mid- to late-1990s, the services aren't about to throw them away to adopt games, he added. Instead, they will continually modify simulators through the end of their useful lives, sometime around 2015.

Nevertheless, Defense recognizes that games are cheaper and provide more adaptable, richer and more realistic environments than traditional simulations. But the Pentagon doesn't want to buy finished games; it wants to buy pieces of games to build what it wants. "We need the pieces to be separable. . . . we need each piece to have an interface that is publicly exposed so you can glue them together yourself," Smith said. Military users also want game pieces to be mixable with the simulations made by traditional defense contractors. Deconstructing games also will enable competitive bidding on the parts.

Game-makers should expect to morph if they want military sales, Smith said: "Serious games are a temporary phenomenon for the military. Military users will create their own industry. Game companies will become traditional defense contractors . . . . a lot of companies will be acquired by big [defense contractors]." The big Defense firms aren't in the games market yet, he said, because they're not clear where simulations begin and games leave off, and they aren't sure how big the market will be. Smith can help them see the opportunity: "If game technology remains cheap, we can build devices [to train] medical people, logisticians, military police, linguists, maintenance people. Moving beyond the traditional simulation audience is where the real benefit lies."

Please join us on June 26.

Photo credit: BBN Technologies

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