Tune into TechNOW w/ Bruce Gilkes, President, C4i this Wednesday at 9 am EST: URL will be posted before the Show on Twitter and Google+
April 19, 2014
Bruce Gilkes, President, C4i
C4i Consultants #15 on the 2014 Fast Growth 50 Head Office Calgary President Bruce Gilkes Founded 2003 Number of Employees 24 You’ve probably heard that looks can be deceiving. And if you still don’t believe it, well, take a spin out to the office of C4i Consultants, in a conspicuously inconspicuous one-story building in a business park near the Calgary airport. It defines drabness, and belies the fascinating work taking place inside. That’s partially by design. As a company that does business with the U.S. military, C4i isn’t in the habit of advertising itself. And it doesn’t have to, either, thanks to the success it’s had building and selling its simulation software programs to that military and a host of other high-profile clients including NATO, the Centers for Disease Control and even a few armies in the Middle East. But that self-imposed cone of silence may be about to lift, as the company looks to market its services to an oil and gas sector that could desperately use them. The company got its start with a single phone call back in 2002, when Bruce Gilkes, a former tank driver and longtime Canadian forces reservist and the company’s president and CEO, agreed to take on a project for a contact in Saudi Arabia. They needed American simulation software translated from English into Arabic, and had been told by Lockheed Martin that “for a million dollars, we’ll tell you how much it costs.” Gilkes stepped in to do the work. “It was a bowl of code spaghetti from the late 1970s and early 1980s,” he says. “I said, ‘Look, I can do you one better. Rather than just translating this, I’ll make you software that’s the equivalent of what you want (they wanted the newest version of the software but could only get much older versions from the U.S. military itself, as per its policy) and I’ll do it for the price that’s available.’”
“It wasn’t until the Iraq war finished and everybody was looking for a peace dividend that our software started taking off.” –Bruce Gilkes, President, C4i
That project quickly turned into something more, although that was only evident to Gilkes in retrospect. “It actually came down to a meeting in Detroit,” he says of the company’s genesis. “I had to think up both the name of the software (MILSIM) and the name of the company, because I wasn’t sure how it would go.” It went well, and after securing a contract with the U.S. military to deliver training software to its staff college in Leavenworth, Kansas, the company was off and running. It wasn’t a straight line to success, mind you – the first iteration of its U.S. office, C4i USA, ended up failing. “The partners that I chose, nobody really wanted to work,” Gilkes says. He had more luck on the second attempt, creating Applied Training Solutions and bringing in a former consultant to head up its growing operations south of the border. So what does C4i Consultants do, exactly? It helps its clients, be they government agencies, military outfits or private companies, train and prepare for a wide variety of situations. And unlike more traditional response plans, which tend to be linear and prescriptive, C4i’s software incorporates the kind of multi-dimensional complexity – and even chaos – that exists in the real world. “As they say in the military, no plan survives first contact with the enemy,” says Clive Morgan, the company’s director of military and homeland security. “That’s the same with a disaster. When you draw up an emergency response plan, you draw it in a clinical way. ‘This is what’s going to happen, and these are my reactions.’ But nothing happens in isolation.” C4i’s simulations train people to think laterally and react effectively in a crisis rather than simply adhering to a plan that may no longer be useful or relevant. “It makes people understand that there’s friction in every plan. Nothing ever goes smoothly in a crisis or a disaster.” And if that sounds a bit like WarGames, the 1983 movie that starred Matthew Broderick, there’s a good reason. “It’s exactly that,” Morgan says, “but instead of having tanks and aircraft flying and looking for the enemy, it’s backhoes and fire engines.” The popularity of the company’s Emergency and Disaster Management Simulation (EDMSIM) software, which is used by the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, National Guard, and state and local police and fire departments in regional training exercises that can include as many as 5,000 participants, stems in part from the fact that there’s nothing else on the market like it. “There are companies now that are looking to bring simulations and big data into the emergency disaster management world, and there are companies that do web-based emergency operations centre software, and there are companies that do communications protocol (voice over IP radio systems) but nobody’s brought everything together and created a decision-support tool like EDMSIM,” Morgan says. But it’s also a function of the fact that after the U.S. concluded its war in Iraq, it became interested in driving costs down. “It wasn’t until the Iraq war finished and everybody was looking for a peace dividend that our software started taking off,” Gilkes says. “In the middle of the war, nobody wants to change horses – cost is not one of the most important variables. But at the end of the war, cost became the most important variable.” And while recent budget cuts in the U.S. have hit the top and bottom lines of most military contractors, they’ve been good for C4i. “That’s the sweet spot where we operate, under constrained defence spending,” Gilkes says. “That’s what makes people consider costs, and makes people want to take a chance with operating a different system.”
“As they say in the military, no plan survives first contact with the enemy. That’s the same with a disaster.” – Clive Morgan, Director of Military and Homeland Security, C4i
C4i is in the midst of taking a chance of its own by branching out into the oil and gas sector with a product called HSE-Ops that it says will help companies prepare more effective and realistic emergency response plans. The idea, Gilkes says, was largely a product of what happened with BP’s Deepwater Horizon, the drilling rig that blew up in the Gulf of Mexico in the spring of 2010. “It was the BP stuff that really changed things,” Gilkes says. “We thought we could do training better, but the BP accident catalyzed our decision to go and target emergency response planning, because we thought that was where technology could really make a big difference.” With trains de-railing on a seemingly weekly basis, and concerns about spill management threatening to undermine pipeline projects like Northern Gateway, his timing couldn’t be much better. C4i’s growth, then, could come even faster in the years to come than it has in the past. A decision is expected to come down in early 2014 on an omnibus contract with the U.S. Military that would see EDMSIM rolled out more widely throughout its operations and those of related agencies. “That one could be worth more than $100 million over five years,” Gilkes says. The company is also planning to continue to push out its HSE-Ops software, and may – indeed, should – find an oil and gas industry that’s more receptive to its sales pitch than it would have been even a year ago. It’s even pushing into the engineering sector, working with clients like the Department of National Defence and creating what Gilkes calls the next generation of communication management systems. “We’re punching way above our weight here,” he says. No kidding. Want to join the conversation? Write to us @AlbertaVenture, Like us on Facebookor join us on LinkedIn today!