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Episode #27: with Martin Carr

20 Aug, 2019 | 49 mins 12 secs

On this episode I interview Martin Carr, Director of Applied Virtual Simulation.

Martin has one of the more exciting tech jobs in newcastle building virtual simulations for the defence force. In the episode we chat about what his business does, how it came about and Martin’s experience building software teams for Applied Virtual Simulation.

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  • Transcription:

    Welcome to another episode of the new tech people podcast on today’s episode we have another returning guest martin carr founder and director of applied virtual simulation welcome martin that’s right thanks for having me uh for those that don’t know who you are or haven’t caught episode 27 of our podcast i can give the audience a bit of an overview of who you are and uh then lead into who applied virtual simulation is uh yeah sure yeah i’m a newcastle based uh founder and director of applied virtual simulation we’re a small defense contractor based in broadmeadow we employ about 22-23 people and yeah we’ve got offices here in newcastle uh canberra and then we’ve got a field service team around the country we’re a defense contractor we we build simulators for the military yeah and for those who haven’t caught you know a little bit of who you are we’ve had some videos i remember last time we shot can you describe the products that you build for for the people because i when i first came across one i found it super interesting yeah um so we build uh simulation based training systems um primarily for the australian army and and and basically we’ve we fill uh we fill gaps in uh army’s training system requirements whatever they may be so our most uh popular training system is is called the protected mobility tactical trainer uh in nutshell it’s a vehicle simulator so it’s designed for taking groups of soldiers 15 or so and teaching them how to operate their protected mobility vehicles which are wheeled wheeled logistics vehicles in a variety of different operational scenarios and conditions within the simulation yeah it’s pretty phenomenal one of the points of our podcast is really to shine a light on what’s going on in newcastle and that’s the reason we’re back here today some pretty exciting news for your company would you like to announce that for those that might not have heard about it already yeah so um we the government has just announced a selection of avs as the prime contractor for a contract called land simulation corps trench one um it’s the uh yeah it’s the largest project that avs has ever been awarded and it will see us delivering a army’s future simulation environment that’s phenomenal how long does this contract go for are we able to talk any specifics around what sort of deal we’ve landed ah yeah sure so it’s a it’s a three-year contract with additional options that can be executed by the commonwealth look we’ve been uh working on this since uh 2019 and as the antecedent programs that led to land simulation core go back for the best part of a decade so yeah it’s a large project but it’s they are long undertakings we’ve now gotten to the point uh the contract is signed and the work is underway and uh all going well um the it will go through um an initial acquisition phase and then uh transition into sustainment to give you some context the the previous contracts are similar to this um have maybe a 10 to 15 year life of type yeah fantastic mate for a company that’s uh born and bred in newcastle to be uh awarded a contract on a national scale at this sort of uh this sort of levels uh how did the companies born and bred out in newcastle get to that point you mentioned this is not an overnight success it’s something that’s been built on um can you give any more context on you know that journey today to get to this success yeah sure so most people know of of avs people in our industry uh know us for our simulation based training system so i just mentioned the pmtt there we’ve just delivered our fifth system we also do a number of other simulation based training systems so over the past five and a half years since avs’s inception we’ve delivered a number of simulation-based training systems and then from there we understood army’s requirement to deliver a common simulation environment so you know looking at what we’ve done on the simulator side we identified that we would be a good fit to deliver the simulation solution and that really involved abs transitioning from a simulate tour company uh to a simulation company if if that if that makes sense so we had to um basically go and find uh the best of breed technology from all around the world that would meet army’s requirements which were um quite comprehensive um i i can’t uh discuss particulars about the the contract but uh we’re talking hundreds of uh functional performance specification requirements that had to be met so we really surveyed uh the world for the best of breed technology and coincidentally we found some of it literally just down the road here in newcastle um through one of our partner companies simcentric technologies they’re actually newcastle-based their their australian office um is is just down the road from us so yeah we took the sort of best of breed technologies and we used our expertise that we’d gained over you know the last half decade uh understanding army’s training requirements and we put together a solution and presented it to the commonwealth and yeah it was accepted that’s fantastic you may mention it just there you’re obviously you’re playing on a you know with international partners here i i imagine you don’t win a contract like this uh just all alone you mentioned you’re working with other companies how’s that experience been yeah i mean the selection of our partners i think was really instrumental in our success uh we yeah so we we surveyed the world for the best of breed technologies uh and then of course we actually had to go out into the world and and secure those partnerships and um yeah over the past uh sort of three or so years we’ve developed some uh some partnerships with some some leading companies some some down the street some uh you know as far away um as as the u.s and europe and some in the middle we’ve got another supply uh down in melbourne um so yeah we brought all those companies together and we think we’ve formed a yeah quite an effective team and and quite effective partnerships with all of those suppliers yeah it seems like collaboration seems to be at the core of what you do in in bringing different parts together to provide one overall solution yeah that’s that’s that’s right and then that speaks to the broader intent of the land simulation corps project specifically what the project will seek to do is provide a common baseline of simulation software that will be used not only without our project but in all future army simulators so this is not simply a matter of us delivering the solution to the army the army will be providing this capability to a whole bunch of other vendors around australia so from small simulation providers like avs through to the major primes working on some of the largest land projects so uh yeah we we really had to focus on not only our relationships with our suppliers but also present to the commonwealth a compelling case that we can work with some you know from the very largest defence primes in in australia down to small companies to ensure that they are successful in their projects yeah it’s phenomenal and again i just want to touch on one thing because these these projects are phenomenally exciting when i when i first came across them i’m like you’re talking about people who used to have to go training in person i imagine especially drink over the last couple years would have been even more difficult with the pandemic and everything else but you’re taking what used to be in industry with face to face training and everything and providing this on scale that people can do virtually yeah that’s that’s right and and you know you mentioned covert and that was its own uh particular set of challenges like obviously the challenges with the global supply chain you know made it difficult for us in terms of our day-to-day building simulators our customers again uh yeah had a lot uh you know the army does a lot of uh residential training you know where they fly in soldiers from uh all around the country to training establishments and obviously yeah that was the army’s ability to come together to train was substantially disrupted by uh by covert and yeah the the concept of doing large-scale training activities uh was also compromised by um by you know to your point about uh you know army coming together and doing uh live training um yeah that that is uh one of the fundamental cornerstones of of of training and what uh in our experience what the simulation technology allows soldiers to do is is is train in an accessible environment you know where they can go and they can train on the simulator they can do rapid repetitions much quicker than they can do in a live training environment so it really primes them for those activities where they do come together and train in the live field training area because there are scant opportunities to to do live training and uh the simulation enables them to reach a higher level of readiness before they go out and do their live training yeah that’s phenomenal it’s uh obviously using technology and it’s changing every industry but it sounds like it’s really having an impact from a defense perspective yeah definitely one of the concepts that that army has articulated in some of its strategy documents is that the live training areas that army uh owns which which are sort of you know enviable on the global stage i mean the the huge training areas that we have you know our allied nations like singapore look to us you know with envy about these massive uh training areas that we have however these training areas are not representative of some of the operational environments that we expect to fight you know for example fighting in urban areas in large urban cities you know that you can’t build a big city uh out in the middle of shoalwater bay you know and and furnish it with uh 10 000 residents right um so the simulation actually allows them the the virtual and constructive simulation allows them to train in an environment uh there’s actually not possible to do in in in the live training context that’s phenomenal um now you mentioned you know obviously you’ve got partners we’re talking the us talking to europe you mentioned singapore across australia how does avs compete on that global scale is there is it is there any key points that you think have allowed you you know smaller 20-plus person organization out in newcastle to compete on that global scale well i’d say uh we we don’t i would say we don’t necessarily compete on a global scale we we are pretty laser focused on the australian defense force and while we um you know support our counterparts in other nations with things like our simulation equipment that we build uh we are ultra focused on the needs of the adf and i think having that sort of laser focus and orienting our business to meet the needs of the adf specifically is you know i think you know gave us advantages perhaps over companies that do operate more globally and need to sort of develop their solutions to meet a broad range of customer needs where we can focus right down on on exactly what our specific customers after i like that um personally we’ve tried to build our organization from same thing there’s a power in a niche technology newcastle recruitment for us just it’s one vertical in one location it sounds like from what you’ve just said there’s a depth over width it’s just depth in focusing on the australian defense and just being really specialists in that area yeah that’s right yeah i think we yeah we we yeah we really laser focused and you know in the five years since abs it’s inception we we really focused on on on the army specifically and and you know by virtue of the fact that uh i myself was a former army officer you know we had a couple army guys in the company so that was where our focus is we’re we’re broadening that uh somewhat to look at opportunities we’re in the air domain and obviously being based in newcastle with williamtown being up the road you know most people when i explain what we do they presume we’re up at williamtown working on jsf and things like that um and they’re quite surprised when i say we’re an army focused company but we are sort of broadening our um our uh our view um to applying some of our solutions to air domain challenges yeah you mentioned that obviously newcastle we’ve been talking huntington williamtown is uh is newcastle or the hunter building a bit of reputation for being specialists in and around this space yeah definitely i think there’s a there’s a number of um firms both large and small um and again you know williamtown is probably a key center of gravity you know the air force um has obviously massive simulation requirements which are only going to increase in the future um there’s uh and you know outside of williamtown there is a a bunch of companies that have existed here for you know a decade or more that have meant that there’s a there’s a local sort of center of gravity and center of expertise here and one of the things that um we’ve been looking at is is uh formalizing that a little bit more and taking the the companies that are um resident in in newcastle in the hunter region um and forming uh you know a simulation alliance you know and sort of promoting our capabilities uh collectively you know as opposed to sort of doing our own thing individually to sort of shine that spotlight on on the capabilities that are in newcastle and the hunter yeah that’s beautiful and you again it probably ties back into a common theme that you’ve mentioned in collaboration you’ve worked with other newcastle-based organizations and there’s some power in you know using your your specialties and coming together yeah 100 and and to that point there’s some great yeah outside the the niche simulation domain the defense simulation domain you know we’ve got some great partnerships with uh you know local companies like uh design anthology you know yeah you know josh yeah again they’re a company with some real depth of expertise and we’ve been able to leverage you know their their their knowledge and their ability to deliver you know and provide them with opportunities to get into the defense space right by sort of leveraging each company’s capabilities made this uh large contract what does that mean for for abs um how does that change the landscape going forward for your organization um yeah well i mean it’s absolutely transformational for abs as a business the the the nature of the contract yeah being that it has a uh acquisition and a sustainment uh period you know means that avs has got uh you know um many years of of work ahead of us so uh you know that kind of certainty is pretty rare in in business these days and to have you know to be looking at forecasting the delivery of a capability over 5 10 15 years you know our time horizon has certainly pushed out a lot further than it was yeah previously we obviously need to do a lot more uh hiring um and and different hiring you know you know contracts of this nature require different skill sets and a more rounded more rounded uh company you know it’s it’s not just uh adding more software developers yeah yeah for example yeah well it’s uh yeah i imagine the head count will grow significantly and as you do that i imagine your role will change as part of that what does it mean for jobs these type of roles that you’re hiring it’s quite a nation there there’s not a cast of thousands of people walking around with these skill sets how how does that play out for you guys in the future have you have you thought about you know building that capacity in your team and how that’ll play out yeah yeah and i think we have to take the we have to take the long view uh on it because yeah as you say these these these skills are uh are not commonly found um and if we are to sort of narrow in on the on the technical front um you know uh building a simulation engineer a software developer you know it takes a it takes a long time and yeah it’s actually one of the things we identified uh when we responded uh to this request for proposal we we actually surveyed the australian industry to try and work out uh how many people are there in the country you know that can deliver this capability um because yeah we we look to lansing core 2.0 we look beyond that and and yeah we don’t see how australian industries can actually service the demand at the moment so we’ve got to try to kind of take the long view and and look at university graduates and look at that pipeline of people coming through and it actually it actually influenced our choice of the uh technical solution that we offered to to the commonwealth one of our technologies that we deliver is based on the unreal engine and a large part of uh why why that solution was attractive to us was there are we we calculated thousands of people in australia who are familiar with the unreal engine and had worked on it in a professional capacity so being able to tap a workforce of thousands is um a very different proposition from uh trying to you know gauge the size of the workforce that are skilled in these specific niche simulation technology products which you know are tens tens of people yeah i think that’s a really smart business decision but it’s also something i think could be looked upon more broadly for other organizations as well if you’re looking to significantly increase the size of your team using technologies that are common and uh there’s a you know a larger population of people with those skill sets it’s definitely i guess an easier path to to growing the team because as you said trying to pick somebody or grow people with a particular really niche skill set it’s going to be a long game and you’re gonna have to invest quite a bit in you know growing them up yourself as opposed to trying to pick them up from elsa yeah and and landsim core is is much bigger than avs you know as i mentioned it will provide a a common software a set of common simulation applications which will be used for all future uh simulators so just on that point you mentioned land simcore 2.0 yes for those that don’t know including myself to a degree a quick overview of what is land simcoe 2.0 yeah sure um so look in a nutshell uh land simulation core uh is the most fundamental uh modernization of simulation capability that the australian army has ever undertaken so for those of you that are googling there is no lan simcore 1.0 yeah there were some precursor projects uh to this but what uh the fundamental uh um challenge that army identified was that

    they had a whole bunch of simulations and simulate tours uh in service uh that were very difficult to integrate to connect and and and make work together and army look to the future of these uh massive land acquisition projects like land 907 which is the replacement of the abrams tank land 400 phase 2 and phase 3 bringing in hundreds of combat reconnaissance vehicles and infantry fighting vehicles and realized uh if we pursue a business as usual um case we’re going to end up with a whole bunch of new simulators that don’t interoperate right and and it really increases army’s cost of ownership to have you know one simulator using simulation product x and another simulation product using a simulation product y so land simulation core 2.0 is divided into into two trenches and trench one was to deliver a set of common simulation software that the army could use internally for its own needs but also provide to simulation simulator vendors to use as a common baseline yeah so that that’s uh landsim core 2.0 trench one um and then tranche2 is a sort of enabling project that will create the ict infrastructure to enable army simulators to connect together so then there’ll be other people able to build on top of this as well and then simulators integrate your your platform with their simulators yeah that’s that’s right so um you know army will mandate the use of the land simulation core common simulation software for all training systems that have a collective training requirement and what i mean by collective training is you know a simulator that needs to connect to another simulator so you want your tank simulators to connect to your infantry fighting vehicle simulator so that you can train together in a common virtual environment um yeah so so that’s what land sim call will will seek to uh to deliver and over the next uh well many years uh vendors will be building simulators based on this software it sounds like a phenomenal change you’re going from a lot of disparate you know systems to actually building a core base of which you can build upon going forward so it seems like a bit of a to an external a bit of a line in the sand we’re going to build this core platform going forward everyone’s going to be building upon this we’ll have that core you know core system going forward so it sounds you know it sounds remarkable like a massive change yeah it’s it’s it’s um yeah fairly revolutionary uh modernization yeah it really is that they are essentially going to as they mandate the use of all uh of the common simulation software uh in the future um they are going to update some of their legacy simulators so some of the ones that are already in service some of which avs deliver so so i joked where we’re kind of packing our parachute on this project because ultimately avs as a simulator builder will need to use this common simulation software so we we really had some skin in the game in in terms of ensuring that we got the technical solution right and i think you know our our expertise in building simulators over the past half decade kind of gave us a good idea of well you know we need to make sure we get this right because you know our ability to continue to deliver effective training systems you know is going to be dependent on on on us making this solution work i imagine that’s a bit of an advantage in in selecting abs as a as a the contract for this is the fact that you do have that experience building a bond on top of it’s not you just building the engine but you’ve actually built the engine and built upon that as well so you’ve got experience in both sides of it and you’re not going to build something and then ship it over the fence and good luck with it yeah yeah we’ve got really no where left to point the finger at if we have any problems with our training systems in the future because we’re we’re we’re delivering the software solution and and to sort of um to step back and and discuss the implications of this on the australian industry you know like it’s not just going to be abs there’s going to be you know a lot of companies out there that are going to want to uh offer um uh training solutions to army right so so we wanted to make sure that the software solution we selected would be able to be used by by companies large and small um you know to meet army’s army’s needs yeah this is great it seemed like a massive massive move forward for abs and a massive milestone i imagine yeah yeah abso absolutely i say we’re we’re very much the sort of the dog that’s that’s caught the car and now you know we’ve gotta we’ve gotta deliver yeah um because uh army’s army’s counting on us and uh you know there’s a lot of you know there is many many major land uh acquisition projects that have simulators to deliver um that will be using the common simulation software beautiful and when you’re talking about this software and you mentioned um unreal’s game engine as well game development is pretty sexy idea for a lot of younger people that are coming through have grown up playing games and want to look at game development as as a career i feel like there’s a lot more people looking to get into that than there are jobs available for game developers there aren’t a heap of those in australia at the moment do you look at the people with that game development uh interest as potential employees for for abs yeah absolutely um you know regardless of whether you have a technical role or you know you’re in training or you know whatever we want people to have a to to come armed with our knowledge and that knowledge of gaming is is very useful because a lot of it’s transferable to the military simulation you know the the military simulation domain a lot of our a lot of our younger engineers you know are gamers and you know we try when we can to to play test the play test the software and uh yep to take out the point about the use of the unreal engine you know that allowed us to engage with even game development companies and offer them opportunities to join the defence supply chain that you know they would have struggled with otherwise yeah it sounds it sounds like what you’ve done really because of that that defense um aspect that you do have in the the relationships you do have there is you’ve opened up opportunities for other vendors or other organizations um to come along on that ride and and start to supply to that industry yeah um you know a good example um is uh ben roach of upstairs studios so they are a content development studio and they work in the game industry so they produce 3d assets you know i know uh ben delivers content for pavlov vr so some you know and he’s worked for some pretty um well-known gaming titles but yeah all overseas you know they don’t tend to get a lot of work from australian studios because there’s not that many australian studios so yeah we we approached uh upsurge um to do some modeling uh some 3d modelling of some some army vehicles and and you know did a fantastic job you know really able to bring those those gaming industry skills to bear right and produce some really top-notch 3d models right and then we were able to you know do all the defense stuff right to take a a beautiful 3d model that’s in 3d studio on maya and and then configure it to to run in uh the the mark simulation software which is which is the the um predominant part of our technical solution for land sim core these are professional um simulation tools uh sort of world-renowned tools and then yeah we also have the unreal engine as a part of the solution so we’re able to you know convert them and getting them looking uh you know looking really good in in both environments it sounds like it’s not only a win for you know yourself and abs but some other partners along the way so it sounds like it’s a it’s a big win across the board yeah yeah i mean we can’t do everything right you know on the last time i was here you know i i talked about my aspirations of keeping the company small uh that’s not going well i don’t think i don’t think you’ve succeeded yeah we i kind of failed in in that regard um and and we are much bigger than i um foresaw but we also can’t do everything right and we want to we want to look to the great capabilities are out there in australia like i mean upsurge is a great example um to bring those skills to to bear in a really efficient way because you know when this contract you know when we finish doing all the models you know upsurge is is is going to return to their you know um their their core business of of game content development um they may pursue other defense opportunities you know we can you know which which we’re really excited uh for but yeah you know whereas if avs was going to do all this work in-house i would need to hire a massive you know studio of artists and and then the question would be what happens when we’re finished what happens with those people when when when we’re finished because you know abs is certainly not in the uh in the gaming content business right no i think again when you’ve mentioned before a bit that nation and knowing what you do being really laser focused i think the words were used and being laser focused and knowing what you do doing that well and then outsourcing or partnering with partners to to you know to build that complementary um solution yeah it’s it’s know worked really well for us yeah cool we’ve mentioned different suppliers you’re integrating with we’ve mentioned different integration partners that you’ll be working with the australian defense obviously works with suppliers across the board uh it seems like this is a a change in the way that the australian defense has gone around building training yeah i think that’s that’s accurate yeah landsim core 2.0 is a new paradigm in training system uh design and development uh along with the common simulation software that avs will be delivering there are other elements like the generic simulation architecture which defines a system architecture so whereas in the past if you’re a simulator vendor you have to design the the architecture itself and then work out how that’s going to integrate with other army simulators with the gcma it gives you a essentially a template architecture and a set of common simulation software that nests within that architecture and then you simply have to focus on your platform specific simulation elements rather than building the whole simulator from scratch fantastic now you’ve obviously gone from a smaller business where you were doing very very hands-on roles for now 20-plus person team imagine this is going to continue to grow how has your role changed and how do you envisage your role continuing to change as the organization grows uh yeah obviously the the business is is larger than i um uh originally envisioned which is i guess a nice problem to have and yeah through that i’ve had to find a way to obviously do a lot more a lot more delegation and you know i i live by or i use as a as a maxim um a phrase and i can’t recall who who said it probably probably someone from my army days that said you know only do what only you can do so on a day-to-day basis when there are you know a thousand things to be done in the day you know i use that sort of maxim to say well am i the only person that can do this and and um if the answer is no then then that’s a that’s a good signal to to to do it and and then the subsequent question is okay who else can do it and if the answer is nobody then uh you know that’s a hint for me to say hey you’ve got a gap in your organization here that that you know may need to be filled yeah and i mentioned you mentioned before is obviously your team growing and not just from a technical aspect but i imagine they’re the sort of gaps within your business that you’ll continue to try to to add in within the organization yeah that’s right um you know we can no longer survive or prosper having a amateur uh financial person an amateur uh legal you know advisor and amateur systems engineer right um because i was i am absolutely amateur of all those things right and as we grow um one of the one of my challenges is is to um yeah judiciously appoint the the right experts that we need to to to bring that uh those uh capabilities to bear um to to bring in real experts that that can help our business uh function and grow yeah really good man you mentioned delegation just before delegation then obviously you know complementing your skill set with uh people that are specialists and what they do i think that’s a great advice for most people going through business growth or team growth in general yeah may not if you come down to your day’s obviously manic at the moment um with everything going on at the moment is there any productivity tool that you use is it are you using a calendar to manage your day to do to-do lists how do you operate yeah well um i guess uh one change that i’ve observed over the past sort of um you know six months is the simple individual to do to-do list no longer cuts it you know the the team use the classic productivity and work management tools like jira you know you know we’ve got you know g suite and actually we’ve just retired g suite and moved to uh microsoft and and migrated from slack to teams so we’ve got all those tools but for myself i would keep a a to-do list and and the problem is now there are a lot more people than me that need to sort of manage my time and task so i’m still looking for a good uh to do capability that kind of supports more of a team function without you know taking the dive and looking at something like jira yeah yeah it’s a funny way and i don’t think any there’s one common answer across anyone i you know i’ve interviewed to say this is the only way to do it i feel like different people pull different parts together to make something work for them and you’re obviously going through a period of growth change flocks and you’ll probably you know figure that out as as you continue to grow yeah yeah so happy to take uh suggestions from the audience if anybody knows of uh something that’s a a little bit more capable than to doist or uh you know remember the milk you know um you know but not as full-throated as as jira let me let me know oh that’d be great i’m sure there’s plenty of people have been through similar challenges themselves so easiest way for people to reach out to you um we’ve we’ve now got socials you know i guess that’s one of the things you have to have now um so we’ve got uh linkedin yeah we’ve got our website there’s probably the easiest way to um to get through um we also have uh you know we are doing a number of um conferences and public engagements so there is the major simulation conferences i tech for example is next week in london so come and say hi otherwise it’s things like the land forces conference the hunter hunter defense conference uh where you’ll see us there nice and then you mentioned obviously the team growth um if somebody’s interested in abs and interested in potentially adding their skills to your organization the same way through the website through the socials yeah 100 yeah we’re always looking uh for for people to join the team you know whether you’re from a technical or a non-technical background um we really um we really want to hire people that are enthusiastic about the type of thing that we do at avs so yeah absolutely reach out through uh the contact form on the website or through our socials linkedin is probably the main one that we use beautiful i appreciate you coming on uh from my perspective hearing newcastle success stories you know in the last couple of years to see the growth that you’ve gone on and to to win a contract as large as this one is uh it’s really pleasing to see from my perspective i love seeing the success of newcastle technology talent and people so uh congratulations and uh hopefully we have you on a you know episode 100 and something with even more growth i think it’s gotta have a two and a seven in it yeah i think yeah fantastic excellent well thanks very much it’s been a pleasure cheers mate.

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