Virtual-reality tools have helped pilots test new cockpits, architects refine blueprints, and homeowners decorate their kitchens. Soon, the technology could give managers a more vivid grasp of how their companies function. Working with customized hardware and some off-the-shelf virtual-reality (VR) software, two Purdue University professors have built a system that lets executives roam through three-dimensional models of their organizations. The system can also create hybrid models of multiple companies to analyze the benefits of a proposed strategic partnership.
Instead of scrutinizing charts and spreadsheets, a group of managers can "walk" together through symbolic domains where colors and shapes depict everything from cash flow to manufacturing operations and staff allocations. "You can step inside a work group, move people around, run a simulation, and see the impact on cycle time and product delivery," says Alok Chaturvedi, an associate professor of management. He and co-developer Chandrajit L. Bajaj, a professor of computer science at the school, are also now tailoring a version for the financial community.