In IBM’s terms, Innov8 is a “serious game,” a “business simulator” that teaches the concept of business process management (BPM) by having users complete challenges like redesigning a call center, processing an insurance claim, or opening a brokerage account.
“Just as airline pilots initially learn using flight simulators, many corporations and universities see serious games as an effective way of teaching new skills to a generation that has been brought up in the video game era,” explains Sandy Carter, vice president of IBM SOA and Websphere.
Within the game, users must complete three levels: first modeling a business process as it exists within the imaginary corporation, then innovating and finally implementing those innovations. Those who succeed in the hour-long game are promoted, while those who fail end up “in the gutter.”
Although most of the current users are students, IBM has also been using Innov8 to train its own employees, particularly those involved in SOA-related projects.
“SOA is difficult to teach using a textbook. But by visualizing it, and having employees jump in and experience it first hand, Innov8 is helping IBMers develop the skills and knowledge required to design, sell, and support SOA products and services,” reports Carter.
This type of serious game is part of an emerging trend. According to The Apply Group, more than 20 percent of the Fortune 500 will include serious games in their training programs by 2012. And while she isn’t aware of any other business simulators designed to teach BPM and SOA concepts, IBM’s Carter points out that serious games are growing in popularity. “Just look at [the] Game Developers Conference, where this year they will have a dedicated ‘Serious Games Summit.’”
Serious gaming certainly seems to be taking off with business professors and students. While only 25 universities planned to pilot the product at the time of its launch in November 2007, today more than 100 schools in the US, UK, China, Japan, Italy, Germany, Brazil, and elsewhere have incorporated Innov8 into their coursework.
Preeta Banerjee, Assistant Professor of Strategy at Brandeis International Business School, requires students in her technology strategies class to play the game at least once. Banerjee feels that it is a good complement to more traditional instruction techniques. “It’s a really great low-risk way to learn skills,” says Banerjee. “If you have an internship and you fail, you really could end up in the gutter. But with Innov8, you just start over.”
Brandeis student Fuad Mahmood, who will graduate this May with a masters degree in Finance, testifies to the benefit of being able to start over. Mahmood has used Innov8 numerous times both as part of his coursework and on his own. “The first time I played, I didn’t take it seriously, and I failed—ended up in the gutter,” laughs Mahmood. “The second time, I paid closer attention to the instructions, and I got promoted.”
If you’d like to try your hand at Innov8, you’ll probably have to wait for now. Innov8 is freely available to the 2,000+ colleges and universities which are members of IBM’s Academic Initiative, but IBM hasn’t yet released it for business customers.