For those of us of a certain vintage, our earlier days as Black Belts or process improvement leaders coincided with applications and tools, compared to today’s offerings, that are charmingly antiquated. For example, for most of us a database is often just a large Excel spreadsheet, perhaps enlivened with some macros. Similarly, the early generations of simulation tools were basic standalone applications. Today, it is important for Black Belts and process improvement professionals to lift our heads out of the day-to-day tasks in order to stay current with mega trends and developments in tools and capabilities such as analysis of large “unstructured” data sets (also known as “Big Data”) and simulations.
One company doing a lot of interesting stuff in this space is Dassault Systemes (http://www.3ds.com/). Their early claim to fame was the CATIA product and now they have built upon that heritage of 3D modelling to create a suite of 3D simulation tools to allow people to create things in virtual space and to interact with these objects in an increasingly realistic mode. One product called 3DVIA allows you to simulations that help explain to people how things are built and work, opening interesting possibilities for marketing and education. For example, you could use this kind of tool to create training material to better explain the what, how and whys of a complex process, design or system to employees or external stakeholders such as politicians, consumers or voters. Another use of this application is the creation of immersive environments such as a retail store layout that allows people to “feel” how a store layout works (or not) including shelving, merchandise planograms etc.
This kind of simulation can also help in settings such as service industries. Imagine an immersive simulation where employees interact with customers or clients in a variety of settings such as a hospital, a hotel, or other similar settings where the program is designed to present not only a variety of situations but also to have the 3D experience take different paths depending on how the employee handles the interaction with the customer.
This kind of simulation is old news in the world of gaming, where first person war games have existed on Nintendo and X-Box for years; and the U.S. military as well as airlines have created all sorts of immersive simulations for training purposes (for example airplane cockpit simulators). The U.S. Army has AMSO, the Army Modeling and Simulation Office (http://www.ms.army.mil/index.html) as well as the PEO STRI (the Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation) (http://www.peostri.army.mil/) where one can enrol in courses ranging from Common Driver Trainer or an Engine Room Simulator.
Noteworthy are the creation of Irregular Warfare simulations to help prepare soldiers for the complexities of operating in situations where the ability to distinguish friend from foe is very difficult and small decisions and actions can cause large unforeseen consequences (such as mistaking the actions of a civilian as hostile resulting in the killing or wounding of the person thus triggering protest riots).
Second Life is another early example of a virtual environment (it celebrates its 10th anniversary June 2013). The release of JAmes Cameron’s “Avatar” has further served to condition consumers to the idea of literally experiencing things through a simulacrum of “reality.”
But the technologies for providing affordable, wearable headsets or goggles that plunge a participant into a fully immersive experience are fast approaching and already exist in limited applications or at medium cost levels. This technology will move beyond the flat screen of tablets, computers or TV screens and also away from the expensive and clunky hardware currently used in most high-end simulations (such as most flight simulators) towards a next generation of simulation modeling,
As a means of improving how services, products and processes are designed and more importantly executed day-to-day, performance improvement professionals should understand the capabilities of these rapidly evolving tools so that we operate with a good awareness of the options available to us.