President's Message

President Robb's Message to NTSA and I/ITSEC Constituents


James Robb

President RADM James Robb, USN (Ret) Reflects on vIITSEC 2020

vIITSEC Show Daily’s Scott Gourley met with Rear Admiral James Robb, USN (Ret), President of the National Training and Simulation Association, to discuss vIITSEC and its impact on future I/ITSECs.

What is your overall assessment of vIITSEC?
We have done several virtual events this year and observed many others that were put together by partner organizations. These “training” exercises have given us the opportunity to identify the best of breed platform for the I/ITSEC conference and exposition. One of our primary objectives, when COVID hit, was to continue the NTSA mission of bringing academia, government, and industry together to address training and education challenges for the warfighters. The training and education community needed to power through COVID to continue this mission. I think we did that to the best of our capability.

Do you feel that the NTSA community is more comfortable with a virtual event than other organizations might be?
Virtual Worlds are an essential element of most training and education efforts, and we feel strongly that synthetic training environments are going to grow exponentially in the future. The NTSA community is really good at this and is most likely more comfortable leaning in this direction.

What aspects went well?
The fact that we were able to pivot to virtual in three months was the result of an amazing joint effort between the NTSA staff, the Services, and the 275 volunteers that plan and execute the conference. This team has a lot of experience in running the conference and quickly identified the workflow that would allow us to make the shift.

The virtual conference is a combination of pre-recorded and live content. For the pre-recorded sessions, we had to move the schedule to the left to allow the production team to place it into the schedule. Due to the complexity of the I/ITSEC program, we had to pre-record over 120 individual sessions, each of which took at least an hour. The fact that we got all these sessions recorded on time is truly amazing.

We saw in previous conferences that the audience wanted more live content and the ability to interact with the speakers. We were able to keep almost all of the special events live with live Q&A. This part of the format worked extremely well.

We were able to recruit an extremely high level of key leaders this year. We had presenters at the Assistant Secretary, four-star, Senior Executives, and other senior leaders. It would have been extremely hard to get this level of participation in person.

Were there any elements that were hard to translate to a virtual setting?
There are many shortfalls to the virtual setting. The first is the lack of ability for attendees to meet senior leaders in person. The second is that attendees want to walk a real show floor and interact and touch the new capabilities that industry has put forward. The third is the lack of fun. The community has a lot of continuity and is really a large family. That family likes to get together and have fun. The development of relationships and pushing the mission forward together is extremely hard to do in the virtual environment.

What was your biggest surprise about vIITSEC?
That we got it done. The team was working all through the Thanksgiving holiday to make it happen.

How hard virtual events are to produce. We have learned many new skills that include TV production skills, new virtual platforms, and IT crisis management.

We had tremendous attendance at the headline sessions that rivaled the in-person show. We also got a lot of great feedback on the program content this year.

What is the current thinking on a potential hybrid I/ITSEC event in 2021?
We are assessing the pros and cons of virtual. There are a few advantages to the virtual platform. The first is the ability to record every session. These are then available on the platform on demand. In the real show, attendees have to pick from events that are in 6 to 10 simultaneous tracks. This [virtual] format allows the attendees to see all the content when they have time to see it.

We also are keeping all the content and the virtual show floor online until the 1st of March. We will assess to what degree this is a popular feature.

So, the simple answer is that there will likely be hybrid capabilities integrated in I/ITSEC ‘21 to the degree that it makes sense.

Virtual is expensive and requires more staff.

What is the best way for vIITSEC attendees to offer suggestions for next year’s event?
They can contact me or Debbie Langelier with their suggestions. They can also get engaged with the planning committee and become part of the team.

How has vIITSEC taught us something about how we should enhance I/ITSEC outreach worldwide in the future?
One of our primary objectives is to see how virtual enables outreach. I will be doing this analysis for the next month. Increasing outreach is important to us.

We took all the STEM events virtual this year, which allowed us to engage a large part of the teacher/student population into the program. I see great potential here.

Any other thoughts or takeaway messages that you would like to share with attendees?
Please be aware that all the content is available for an extended period. Registration will be open until the end of February.

Thanks for staying with us and understanding some of the IT challenges to virtual. We will see you in Orlando next December in person.

RADM James Robb, USN (Ret)
President, NTSA