Corporate managers could soon have a new simulation weapon in the daily dog fight for e-business, thanks to research by the University of Plymouth.
A business school team led by Graham Winch, professor of business analysis, has developed a visioning tool that bears more than a passing resemblance to flight simulators.
Professor Winch said: "Flight simulators are used to help fighter pilots adapt more quickly to rapid changes. We have used the flight simulator metaphor to offer a similar kind of application for managers."
The visioning tool gives middle managers the chance to try out new business models set up by senior managers before the actual change takes place.
The pace of change in business had increased with the development of the internet as a commercial tool, Professor Winch said. This means that managers have to be much more flexible and adaptable.
"This new way of thinking is sometimes quite difficult for middle managers who have been used to a stable set of ideas."
The team won funding from the Economic and Social Research Council for a four-year project to examine the ways in which businesses could prepare themselves for rapid and fundamental changes. Its report, Computer-aided Visioning in Preparation for Fundamental Industry Change, has just been published.
The team first studied 11 organisations, all but one in the private sector and all in southwest England, to see how they had coped with major changes over a period of six years. Five organisations were relatively successful in preparing their managers adequately for the new work environment. Two were particularly successful and in four cases the change was considered ineffective. Reasons for relative success and failure were used to form the base for the new simulator.
Professor Winch said: "Senior executives planning to initiate change sit down with the simulator and answer a series of on-screen questions about this process. This data is used to set up the core model as a tool to model the future firm.
"This is then handed over to managers to simulate business events. These enable them to 'fly' the new firm in an engaging and lifelike manner to 'pre-experience' new situations and scenarios," he said.
The core model can be closely tailored to a particular organisation.
New focus: Plymouth's research should aid superstition-free visioning for business. (Detail from Joan of Arc by Howard Pyle, 1904)