Using the same technologies embraced by the television and motion-picture industries and the scientific community, Alok Chaturvedi and Chandrajit L. Bajaj are developing software programs that allow business people to "step inside" their organizations and spot strengths and weaknesses at a glance -- without having to pore over mountains of data.
"This technology has been a mainstay in the motion-picture industry and scientific community for some time now," says Chaturvedi, associate professor of management in the Krannert Graduate School of Management. "Recently, the technology has been enhanced and used to create 'virtual reality' -- a three-dimensional representation that a person can seemingly interact with and manipulate in a 'real world' sense. Virtual reality has moved into the video-game industry, and the technology is allowing architects to walk through buildings before they're even built. But few people are using virtual reality simulations in business applications. This is a whole new frontier."
Chaturvedi and Bajaj, professor of computer sciences, have immediate plans to use the software in their classrooms. Management students will use the technology to study management techniques and practices and gauge their effectiveness. Computer science students will use the technology to enhance the visualization and animation techniques and experiment with different computer/user interfaces. Eventually, the software will be available to industry.
Bajaj says using virtual reality to study business wasn't easy.
"Using this technology to study the business world presents some difficult challenges," he says. "In scientific areas such as biology, the goal is to create virtual representations from actual physical worlds. In creating a virtual business world, you have to generate representations of complex mathematical data and you have no clue what the image will look like."
To get around that problem, Chaturvedi and Bajaj have used computer simulations of scientific visualizations, such as molecular structure, and manipulated them to represent the different departments or positions within an organization.
After data about the business has been entered, the computer creates a virtual world of business. A person puts on a pair of 3-D stereographic glasses and grabs a "flying mouse" that is very much like the mouse used with a normal computer keyboard except it can be moved in the air and represents your position within the model. Thus equipped, you can actually navigate within the model.
"People can only process small amounts of information at a time, so trying to wade through pages and pages of data can be somewhat daunting," Chaturvedi says. "Using virtual reality, people can interact with three-dimensional pictures and easily and quickly process the information."
Chaturvedi says the difference between virtual reality and two-dimensional representations of data is like walking through a house instead of trying to visualize it by looking at blueprints.
"All of the specifications, such as the types of materials and the order of construction, are the raw data," he says. "The blueprint becomes the two-dimensional representation. Certainly you can get an accurate picture of what the structure looks like by looking at the blueprint, but if you are actually walking through the house you get a three-dimensional view of what it looks like in real life. If you see a lamp you don't like in a particular spot, you simply pick it up and move it, and you can immediately see how the room looks with a new arrangement.
"You can use virtual reality to study an organization in much the same way. It allows you to walk through the organization and manipulate it as you see fit. You can see the results of changes immediately, and you get a 'real' picture of the organization."
Chaturvedi and Bajaj are working on a program depicting the world of financial investing.
"This will let you more quickly spot trends and movements within the market, allow you to make decisions faster and save time spent analyzing every possible situation," he says.
Owners and managers can use the technology to analyze not only their own company, but also those they do business with, Bajaj says.
"You can contact the president of an allied company or department, and you both can travel though the same model at the same time from different offices," he says. "You'll be able to see just how profitable each relationship is and how much energy and money you are putting into a given area. You may find satellite entities floating around the periphery that have no major ties to the organization. Once you spot these, you can get rid of them, move them or invest in retraining and retooling."
Sources: Alok Chaturvedi, (765( 494-9048; Internet, firstname.lastname@example.org
Chandrajit L. Bajaj, (765( 494-6531
Writer: Victor B. Herr, (765( 494-2077; Internet, email@example.com
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org
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