After graduating as a Mechanical Engineer at Polytechnique Montréal over 30 years ago, Jean-Claude Siew began his career in the defence and security industry by joining CAE Inc. as a simulation engineer.
“My specialization was in aeronautics, and that made my start at CAE fairly easy,” he said. “I accumulated more than 25 years of experience in the aerospace and defence industry, more specifically in-flight simulation and training for both civil and military pilots at CAE Inc.”
At CAE, Siew served in the positions of Director of Business Development, Vice President for Visual Systems and then Vice President Systems Engineering. He then moved on to a Toronto Stock Exchange venture public company, where he was the President & CEO. That company provided advanced technological security solutions for governments and corporations by using biometric identification, access control and intelligent video surveillance.
In 2015, he made the move to Bluedrop Training & Simulation Inc., in the role of Vice President Technology & Simulation. Jean-Claude Siew was recently selected as a Vanguard Game Changer for the October/November 2018 issue. Here is the full interview with him.
What is your role in your organization today?
I joined Bluedrop in 2015 as Vice President Technology & Simulation and have since taken on the responsibility for Business Development as well. Other than Business Development, my role is to grow the company and to develop a product portfolio using the latest technologies to complement Bluedrop’s courseware design and production business. The strategy is to become the reference for rear crew training by providing leading-edge virtual reality (VR) trainers accompanied with an adapted training plan. In addition, the product portfolio will evolve to address all military domains, – the air force, army and navy, respectively.
What was your most challenging moment?
The most challenging moment was to build a brand-new team to develop a state-of-the-art VR rear crew mission trainer. As part of Bluedrop’s strategy to transform itself from a courseware design and production company into a training solutions provider by adding innovative simulation products to its portfolio, it was imperative to succeed on a tight schedule and tight budget.
Technically, the major challenge was to be able to fuse data from multiple sources for head and hand tracking, full body tracking for multiple trainees and be able to render the virtual scene in real time so that the immersive experience is seamless. We tested multiple gaming and movie industry technologies before succeeding in finding the right solution at the right price.
What was your “aha!” moment or epiphany that you think will resonate most with our readers? Tell us that story.
There are several aha moments. The first one was the realization that to be a successful organization, we need to embrace the digital world we live in and that we need to invest in innovation and that there are technologies out there that will accelerate our development. This means that to be successful, we will need to integrate and adapt technologies from gaming, movie industry and mobile technologies in our new products. In addition, we need to accept that new generations of trainees will need to be trained differently than previous generations to remain motivated.
Another critical moment was when, as a team, we gained confidence in our capabilities and believed in our product. To be able to create a VR Rear Crew Mission Trainer for the Chinook helicopter within an 18-month schedule, we became a product organization that could be nimble, decisive and more importantly, we trusted each other in accomplishing our tasks. We also learned how it was essential to build a new team based on people’s potential and talent.
What is the one thing that has you most fired up today?
The one thing that has me fired up is that the risk we took is paying off. We started from a blank sheet of paper to create a new generation of rear crew trainer using VR and body tracking technologies and we are having success in creating a new breed of simulators for rear crew mission training. We have a simulator in Philadelphia at Boeing’s Chinook’s manufacturing plant, we have a Hoist Mission Training System in Shearwater for the CH-148 Cyclone helicopter and we will be announcing further sales in Canada and in the United States in the very near future.
In addition, we are beneficiaries of a Strategic Innovation Funding project from Industry Canada that will provide stable funding for innovation for the next five years. Through this development we will be able to use big data analytics to provide real time, objective feedback to trainees based on data. This will revolutionize how trainees are assessed and how training can be continuously improved.
What is the best advice you received?
The best advice I received was to be decisive in a position of leadership.
What is a habit that contributes to your success?
I believe that a contribution to my success is first of all, the ability to listen to the customer and understand their needs. Secondly, to be able to be strategic and tactical at the same time and to be able to provide guidance and vision without being overbearing. My style of leadership has always been to walk the floor and show interest in everybody’s work and be there when needed.
What people or organizations do you believe best embody the innovation mindset?
Apple, Uber, Airbnb because of how they changed the landscape of their industry.
How is your organization changing the game within your industry sector?
While this may sound obvious, as an organization, we take good care of our customers and we give back to the community. In the defence industry, Bluedrop is changing the game as it offers an alternative to large organizations when it comes to training. As a Small Medium Enterprise (SME), Bluedrop is an example of how SMEs can take full advantage of Canada’s Defence Procurement Strategy. In addition, the creation of a disruptive, new generation of training simulators dedicated for rear crew mission training is a major achievement. This new type of device will not only increase rear crew proficiency but will ultimately reduce operation cost and provide a safer training environment. Also, as Bluedrop is committed to innovation, we have built an excellent R&D capability that will benefit us well into the future.
What are some of the biggest impediments to innovation in your industry sector?
The biggest impediments are the availability of funding but also the adoption of the disruptive aspect of new generation training simulators. New generation of VR training systems are not part of training plans and make acceptability and adoption more difficult. Bluedrop is working hard to ensure that there is a path for the introduction of new technologies in military training plans while ensuring that such new technologies provide training outcomes that improve proficiency and throughput.
How has innovation become engrained in your organization’s culture and how is it being optimized?
The innovation culture needs to come from the top and we need to ensure that we leave enough room for people to try and fail. We cannot have an innovation culture if we cannot accept failures from time to time.
What technologies, business models, and trends will drive the biggest changes in your industry over the next two years?
The technologies coming from the digital world we live in, cannot be neglected. In addition, any new training system will need to evolve to take into consideration the new generation of millennials needs and ways when it comes to learning.
What is your parting piece of advice?
In our defence and security industry, it is extremely important to keep investing in innovation to be able to survive. However, for Bluedrop we believe that the use of innovation must always be to achieve training outcomes. We are not building gadgets, but we are providing relevant training products that contribute to the training continuum.