This Program May Make Efficiency Experts Obsolete

Management consultants beware: Researchers at Stanford University have built software that could replace you. With corporations increasingly looking into "reengineering" how they go about their daily routines, it was only a matter of time before someone wrote a program to model how people in a department or even an entire company work together. Stanford's Virtual Design Team program, running on a Sun Microsystems Inc. workstation, can evaluate an organization and predict whether new technologies, such as videoconferencing, will improve things or just waste time and money.

Researchers first feed into the program reams of data describing an organization's hierarchy and work flow and an inventory of each person's skills and what they do. From all that, the program calculates the group's efficiency in achieving its main goal--say, designing an auto engine. When a new technology, such as voice mail, or a new management style, such as decentralized decision-making, gets added, the experimental software can calculate its effect on the organization.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.