Dress Rehearsal

What If...

The first business simulators were created during World War II by defense contractors trying to figure out how to meet impossible deadlines for the war effort, says Ritchie-Dunham. These early simulators were little more than project-planning maps and flowcharts created by hand.

Since then, computers have been applied to the process. Electronic spreadsheets, for instance, simulate the effect of changing what-if scenarios in accounting, says Barry Richmond, president of High Performance Systems, a Hanover, New Hampshire, simulation software maker.

The introduction of more complex issues into simulation came, oddly enough, from a computer game called SimCity that was intended to be used for entertainment. Shortly after Maxis Corp. debuted the game, which let players simulate the growth of a metropolis, businesspeople began approaching the Orinda, California, company about creating a simulator for real-life businesses.

John Hiles, founder of Monterey, California-based Thinking Tools Inc., a maker of high-end interactive simulation software created specifically to meet that need, has seen how businesses benefit from simulation. Hiles' simulation software, which can cost anywhere from around $1,500 for lower-end software to $1 million for a customized project, is used by several Fortune 500 companies for training and strategizing. Says Hiles, "It all grew out of the success of SimCity."

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This article was originally published in the April 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Dress Rehearsal.

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