Simulations in play: Real-world scenarios unfold in virtual environments

While gamification - the use of game mechanics within applications - is catching hold, simulations, which mimic real-world scenarios, are still a hot market for organizations.

Game on: Enterprise apps gain gaming features to boost usage

Here are three examples:

Phish or cut bait

Hackers increasingly are targeting employees for phishing and spearphishing email attacks. To combat this threat, security company PhishMe developed a simulation program that HR, business leaders, auditors and IT can use to educate their workforce. PhishMe helps build and send out targeted phishing messages with clickable links, including those that ask for login and password, or attachments meant to engage users. Then, the tool gathers metrics on user response in a centralized repository for companies to generate reports or share with users. According to PhishMe CTO and cofounder Aaron Higbee, almost 70% of users will fall for the email scam. After users are presented with their response rates and the potential damage they could have allowed or caused, Higbee says that percentage drops below 10%. Users learn how to parse good vs. bad email, how to report suspicious email, and who to tell if they click on one

Hybrid simulations

When U.S. National Capitol Region officials wanted to simulate the effects of a pandemic flu in 2006, they hired a consultant to develop a hybrid game that would allow for integrated on-site and online participation. Stephen Balzac, president of the 7 Steps Ahead consultancy, created a storyline that's dependent on the actions of the participants, which forces players to deal with the consequences of their actions in real time. "The fundamental structure of the game is to simulate reality by putting in the messy details: the businessmen who will lose money if the airport is shut down, the investor who has a big shot position in biotech stocks, ... politicians who see advantage/disadvantage in particular courses of action," Balzac says. "I further raised the stakes by having the off-site players constantly calling or forum posting in response to the news coming out of the main game," Balzac says. "This created a stew of interactions similar to an actual scenario. Civilians don't always obey the military. Doctors don't always get things right. Doctors sometimes get sick. Some people will choose short-term profit at the expense of others, and so forth." While back then, Balzac developed the hybrid environment from scratch, today he says he makes use of off-the-shelf simulation tools wherever appropriate. "Now, it would be easy to use text messages, online chat rooms, and Facebook to produce the same results. The spread of the flu could be easily simulated by having smartphones pass messages to one another and beep to inform the person that they'd caught the flu," Balzac notes.

Virtual world training

Linden Research's virtual reality world Second Life provides a "low-cost, compelling and extremely interesting environment to conduct enterprise training," according to Nov Omana, chairman of the board of the International Association for Human Resource Information Management. Omana, who is also founder and CEO of the Collective HR Solutions consultancy, prefers the use of virtual reality to instructor-led, classroom-based study for critical lessons such as team building, business continuity, and disaster recovery. "We can build a virtual environment, show it on fire, and have everyone assume an avatar representing their roles to test procedures," Omana says. Doing these drills virtually saves having to close off buildings, fly workers in to one location, and maneuver around other people. "Avatars can follow a right and wrong path, so users can learn the consequences of their decisions. Also, they can replay their actions to try different decisions," he says. "Experiential training teaches users to find the right combinations.

Read more about software in Network World's Software section.

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