INTERVIEW with NGRAIN’s new CEO prior to IITSEC 2011
17 Nov 11
With his recent promotion within the NGRAIN leadership team to Chief Executive Officer (see Gabe Batstone takes the reins at NGRAIN, News Archive, 09 Nov 11) Gabe Batstone enters the lists at a particularly interesting – some might say challenging – time for the global training and simulation community. Assured of a lively and thought-provoking response, Training and Simulation Forum’s Editor, Tim Mahon, interviewed Gabe by phone in the hectic run-up to the annual gathering of the supplier and user community at I/ITSEC in Orlando at the end of this month.
“The immediate future for the training and simulation community is one of immense promise but considerable challenge.” An oversimplification, an understatement or downright wrong?
I think it’s no more than a simple statement of fact. Every challenge out there contains an opportunity and for every opportunity there is a commensurate challenge. There are a number of reasons for this, but obviously the current budget challenge has contributed to a great, ripe environment. Demographics also play a part – the current generation of users grew up with a host of devices that taught them how to learn, and that’s both a challenge and an opportunity for us to address. On the other hand, the people who actually buy our wares grew up in a different age and have different perspectives.
That’s why I think all of us in the simulation industry have to be able to quantify what we do and provide a very ‘dollars and cents’ explanation of benefits. The simulation and sustainment of complex equipment has become a real focus [for the user] and there is a requirement for us to be able to highlight what we do, as a number of companies try to enter the space. The challenge for the community as a whole is to distinguish the contenders from the pretenders.
What characteristics do you think will distinguish the future successful company in our industry?
There are three characteristics that are the most important, I believe. Focus, Collaboration and Commitment.
Companies need to focus on being willing to be the best at what they do. The application of this sort of focus to business problems, and the recognition that one size does not necessarily fit all, is key – but so is listening to the customer. There are far too many technologies out there looking for a solution to fulfil – we need always to be cognisant of the solution appropriate to the individual business problem.
From an industrial perspective, this is no time for heroes – we need to recognise that “we can do everything for you” isn’t necessarily always the case. That is a prime motivation for collaboration – by doing so we can piece together the puzzle and provide a more graceful and apposite solution.
Commitment has two aspects in this case, I believe. This is a high tech environment and we therefore need to ensure we commit adequate resources to research and development to foster and nurture the ‘best of breed’ solution. But the benefits of such commitment need also to be based on value – technology for technology’s sake is not a viable option. As Theodore Levitt [economist, marketing professor and one time editor of the Harvard Business Review] once said, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.” Commitment to excellence tempered with realistic appraisal of the task to be addressed seems to me to be a winning formula.
How is NGRAIN currently addressing the opportunities in the international market?
Notwithstanding the challenges faced currently by our customers south of the border, it has always clearly been our view that what we have done for domestic and allied customers should be of value to other countries. The current economic crisis just drives this imperative further forward and for us this means an increasing focus on NATO nations, for example. To help further this initiative NGRAIN will be speaking at the NATO MSG-104 workshop Simulation in Support of NATO Operations at I/ITSEC.
We have a simple philosophy that in-country relationships are paramount, for the simple reason that each country is unique. Even in dealing with major nations such as the United Kingdom, France and Germany, we have to recognise that each has a distinct and individual need. Cultures, processes and aspirations differ. We therefore seek to work through partnerships in each country where we operate.
Another part of the dynamic may best be described as “follow your programmes.” If you have had success with elements of programmes such as the F-35 or C-130, for example, it just makes good business sense that leveraging that experience has the potential to add significant value to other military operators. By definition the F-35 is an international venture and is therefore a good example for us to bear in mind.
Working through corporate partnerships is a big help, too. Companies like CAE and EADS have worked with us on specific projects, but are by their very nature global organisations and have an extensive international footprint in which we can leverage our experience and knowledge to add value. All this means we have a small but very dedicated team focused on broadening our international base.
What can you tell us of your business philosophy and how this might affect NGRAIN’s strategy?
I believe business is essentially quite simple. It is about problems and it is about relationships. If you can solve somebody’s problem, they will give you money, and if you can build a relationship at the same time, there is a viable future business. Doing both of these at the same time is, for me, a core philosophy. In the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
This is a highly competitive market, but one in which there is eminent room for collaboration. I want us to be competitive – we’re in this to win. I want our competitors to see working with us as a track meet – how can they keep up with us? So we are competitors, but that doesn’t mean we can’t work together.
The best word to describe this, I think, is agile. If we can be agile and demonstrate our ability to be flexible and collaborative while delivering cost-effective and widely applicable capability, the customer will keep coming back.
What is NGRAIN’s Unique Sales Proposition? What assets will you leverage in your continual striving for excellence?
One word. People. We are a software company and part of the knowledge-based continuum – our people get paid for what’s between their ears. Whether that person is the latest bright young engineer we have successfully attracted direct from university or a recently retired US Army Colonel, their value to us is in their intellectual acuity, experience and drive – all the elements that go to making up a powerful individual contribution.
It’s also good that our customers are our champions. As a result of their experience with and knowledge of us, people like Tom Burbage at Lockheed Martin believe in NGRAIN and are passionate about ensuring we have the opportunity to contribute.
This is the reality of our body of work. We have helped to define this market space and as a group of individuals with common cause we have a stubborn determination to win.
What do you expect to be the ‘hot topics’ under discussion at I/ITSEC at the end of the month?
What I have always liked about I/ITSEC is it’s a very focused and a very global show. Without question, however, the US government and Department of Defense budget is going to dominate discussion, particularly since it looks likely that some of the current committee debates may be resolved and reported in the days immediately prior to the show. This is an understandable obsession, given the circumstances, but one that may distract from other substantive issues.
I think the whole mobility issue is going to be very hot – the use to which mobile devices, iPads, tablets, etc., can be put in the context of our customers’ requirements. I hope, however, we might be able to transform this discussion into one that focuses on how (and when) do you intelligently apply these technologies and platform capabilities – how do you get the best out of them in situations in which they are appropriate?
There is also bound to be a lot of discussion round the collaborative and collective training question. Effective teamwork is a laudable goal and one that is vastly enhanced with collective training – how, for example, to get teams of maintenance engineers working on the same M777 howitzer.
And, of course, we always end up talking about demographics. There are great numbers of young people out there protecting our freedom. We need to ensure we are developing, implementing and maintaining systems that give them the very best chance of doing their jobs effectively and safely. They deserve no less.
NGRAIN will be exhibiting at I/ITSEC 2011 on booth #1581 in the Orange County Convention Center, Orlando. The members of their team present in Orlando – including CEO Gabe Batstone – will be delighted to answer questions, demonstrate skillsets, propose solutions and contribute to the I/ITSEC Experience.