Friday, June 27, 2008

Virtual Training 3.0


I had a wonderfully engaging and fascinating conversation yesterday with Roger Smith, chief technology officer for the organization that buys all simulation and interactive-software-based training for the Army. His title belies the fact that Roger really serves as a chief visionary for Army training technology and that's the role in which he talked with me. We were broadcasting live on the Internet via a webinar hosted by Government Executive Events, part of the group built on Government Executive magazine, which I used to run.

The webinar itself was an adventure in virtuality. The staff with the webinar production company, On24, were in California, Roger was in Orlando and I was in the events office in the Watergate in Washington. We all hooked up via telephone and Internet and Roger and I conversed via phone, showed our slides and polls via presentation software on the Web and our audience listened in and watched from all over the country on the Web.

I have spoken before many large audiences, but until now, I always had been able to see their reactions and interact with them. Yesterday, our only interactions with viewers came via the questions they submitted as we conversed. Our audience of about 100 at its peak submitted 25 questions, though, all of them quite on point and many quite specific, so I know they were engaged. I don't know whether they were entertained or amused or bored at times nor whether we were pitching the presentation to the right level of understanding, though, and that made it hard to gauge timing and to calibrate the tenor of the presentation to their needs. On the other hand, the thought that we were were all over the country yet able to present a single face to people also in many places and time zones was exciting.

Not yet having attended any presentations in the virtual world (I know, shame on me) I can only imagine that doing so is in some ways like and in some ways better than conducting a webinar. I'll find out soon enough; I'm signed up to attend one to be conducted by a virtual business presentation firm, Clever Zebra, on the virtual world platform, OLIVE, which belongs to Forterra Inc. Regular readers will recognize Forterra as a company featured in my "Finding FOSE" video and my story, "Virtually There."

In any case, the webinar experience was enlightening and so was Roger's presentation. As I have written, he is a real guru when it comes to the way the evolution of technology is revolutionizing the way the military trains.

And that's as important for nonmilitary organizations as it is for Roger's customers. Government folks know that what starts in the Defense Department usually finds its way quickly into the balance of other federal agencies (think drug testing, pay reform, acquisition reform, etc.). So everyone involved with training or pondering how to more effectively impart information or visualize the effects of programs or policies before they are put in place should keep a close eye on Roger.

Yesterday, he framed his remarks around the effects four key forces are having on Army training. The Army is especially worth watching, of course, because it is being forced to innovate on the run in just about every area since it has more people in harm's way around the world than any other agency right now.

So Roger is watching and thinking about and experimenting with collaborative environments, game interfaces, service infrastructure and high-performance computing and how they each can make it possible for the Army to train more of its members more effectively and more often. That's no small task since there are a million of them--even if you train them in groups of 1,000, it would take 1,000 live or computer training events in a year just to touch each one once!

And military training isn't like responding to a search query, as Google does 380 million times a day, or serving up burgers as McDonald's does 47 million times a day. Creating a lifelike environment where equipment and weapons behave as they do in the real heat of battle to truly prepare soldiers and accurately rehearse missions takes high fidelity. The Army's National Training Center, in the California desert, is the gold standard training facility of all the world because it offers just such a world--in real time. But that very fact limits the number of soldiers who can train there and the number of times they can visit.

Roger's interest in gaming, simulation as a service, collaboration online and high-performance computing spring from a desire to spread the effects of NTC-like training to more people exactly when and where they need it. Thus, he spun a vision of moving training into more and more realistic, immersive online environments that could live on a network and be served to nits and individuals on demand, rather than forcing them to go to the simulation center as is now mostly the case, even with computer-based training. He'd like to see a good deal of the preparation and planning for training events moved onto wikis and blogs and to see lessons learned transmitted via YouTube.

Further, Roger is tinkering right now with using high-performance computing to enable simulation as a service and to support always-on simulation events for many customers at once. What's more, he would like to use high-power computing to simulate vastly larger events, even the populations of entire countries.

To hear more of his presentation about "Simulation 2.0," you can go to the event archive, register and watch the webinar yourself.

1 comment:

Martha Garvey said...

Actually, one of the most interesting things about the webinar was the fact that 80 percent of U.S. soldiers in the Iraq desert have access to a laptop. I'd love to hear a) how that happened and b) how they track that.

Thanks for a very good session.