I walked the exhibition floor at the 2011 I/ITSEC conference in Orlando earlier this week where industry and government professionals travel from around the world to showcase, collaborate, and buy leading-edge training and simulation technologies. Most exciting, where else can an investment banker fly a helicopter and fighter jet, and shoot a buffet of firearms? All simulations of course.
Fun aside, the conference also sheds light on the trends and market pulse of this innovate and technology-forward segment of the defense industrial base. Some observations (two technologies) and rumblings (two trends) are worth sharing.
- Tablet, So What – 2010 I/ITSEC was the year of the iPad, sprinkled amongst the exhibitors. Virtual and portable training was a fresh approach to classrooms, paper manuals, and distance learning via laptops. Tablets matured from a sprinkling last year to a torrential downpour this year. They were everywhere, and across all platforms (iPad, Samsung, other Android-based devices, etc.). The concept of training on a tablet has quickly become a commoditized expectation versus a true competitive differentiation. However, select companies have tried taking the tablet to the next level, adding bells and whistles such as cloud-hosted solutions and secure and mobile collaboration (content, voice, and video).
- 3D, Coming to a Military Base Near You – The 3D rage has transcended the silver screen and living room flat screen to the military training realm. There were more than a handful of companies introducing 3D video screens for training and visual simulation (display vs. interactive). Best of all, glasses optional.
- Nothing Says Cost Avoidance Like Simulation – The exhibition vibe was bullish around virtual training and technologies, especially distance-based learning solutions, despite the gloomy funding environment. Folks felt confident that these types of training solutions remain consistent with the cost-avoidance business model of the current and future government customer, and the need to train a more geographically dispersed warfighter.
- Small Business Key to Innovation – Smaller product companies (compared to a number of more R&D or custom development) are still struggling to migrate from subsystems to bona fide systems, or to get direct access to customers. Customers remain motivated to make the safer bet by choosing larger firms for full systems development. As a result, smaller firms continue to face the decision of choosing to remain the subsystem niche provider, fight the upward battle for lead developer status, or join a larger platform via acquisition.