IBM simulates business software in 3D game

Called Innov8, game aims to help business and IT people better understand, improve internal processes. Images: Where 3D gaming meets SOAs

Call it "SOA" for the gaming generation.

IBM on Monday introduced a three-dimensional video game that puts a businessperson in a virtual office with the task of constructing a more efficient company.

The game, called Innov8, is meant to address a lack of skills in understanding and improving a company's internal business processes.

Process improvement is a critical component to service-oriented architectures (SOA), a way of designing software as a series of interlinked, modular business services. The software for modeling and running this modular software is called business process management, or BPM.

Innov8 stems from a business school contest where students were asked to come up with good ways to educate business and IT people on BPM and SOA concepts, said Sandy Carter, vice president of SOA and WebSphere strategy and marketing.

"To get business and IT people (to understand BPM), you need to look at a simulator or game. It's the way people learn today--it has to be visual and they want to have fun. And the businesspeople said they like to compete," Carter said.

In the game, a person is given a series of tasks from the CEO, including understanding a single business process, then finding the bottlenecks that slow it down.

Participants use a joystick to navigate around a virtual office where they can speak to other employees--say, in the call center operation--and report back to executives.

In the end, workers are assessed with a score on how well they did.

IBM showed off a prototype of Innov8 at its Impact 2007 conference in Orlando, Fla., where software executives also introduced enhancements to SOA-related products and services.

Carter said she expects the first version of Innov8 to be done in September. IBM intends to make online versions for gaming environments like Second Life, which will allow people to share scores and compete with people online.

A lack of skills in modular system design and process analysis is a problem for IBM, which is relying on its software business for the bulk of its earnings growth. Customers' knowledge of their business and technical environment is integral to sales of IBM's software and services, according to IBM.

When undertaking an SOA project, companies typically do a survey of their business processes and write software so that individual services, such as checking a customer's credit score, can be combined more easily with other processes.

Although IBM sells almost exclusively to business customers, its technology directors have heartily embraced virtual game environments. Over the past year, employees have been holding , for example.

Other applications of immersive 3D gaming environments in business include design simulation of physical goods, like cars, according to IBM executives.

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