King's turns crisis study into business opportunity

Military historians' war-game technology leads to a business-forecasting spin-off. Hannah Fearn writes

March 4, 2010

Technology designed by military historians at King's College London to predict how people will behave during a wartime crisis has been commandeered for an alternative purpose - as a forecasting tool for business.

The technology has been sold to Deloitte, the business consultancy giant, in what is believed to be one of the first examples of a successful spin-off in the humanities.

Deloitte has acquired the company Simulstrat, which markets war-game technology developed by academics at the college's renowned department of war studies.

A war game, or "crisis simulation", can be used to show how a set of possible future events - such as political upheaval, economic turmoil or technological failure - will affect a business or public service.

It allows businesses to test their plans for a crisis and model the consequences of their decisions in a safe environment.

The technology was developed following years of research by academics including Sir Lawrence Freedman, professor of war studies and vice-principal (research) of King's, and Michael Clarke, a former King's professor who is now director of the Royal United Services Institute.

Simulstrat was set up to market the technology in 2006, and a further three years were spent refining and improving the simulations for commercial use.

The research behind the spin-off success was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council.

The technology has already been put to use to help businesses and healthcare providers prepare for a swine-flu pandemic.

Alison Campbell, managing director of King's College London Business, the commercial arm of the institution responsible for its spin-offs, said she hoped that the purchase of a company based on interdisciplinary research between history and the social sciences would encourage other scholars in those fields to think about how their work could be put to wider use.

"Simulstrat and its acquisition by Deloitte demonstrates to researchers that enterprise is possible across the range of disciplines, not just those traditionally within the sciences and technology," Dr Campbell said.

"It also demonstrates that where good research has applications, it may be possible to develop it commercially, and that the routes used may be various and complex, so academic colleagues should be encouraged to think broadly."

Ken Charman, chief executive of Simulstrat, will now join Deloitte as director of the acquired company. It will sit within the Deloitte Information and Technology Risk department, which already employs more than 40 consultants to help organisations prepare for crises.

The college has refused to reveal how much the deal was worth to either King's or the academics behind the research.

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