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27 September 2005

Online games can cut IT costs

By Andrew Clifford

If we want to reduce costs, we need to improve business' understanding and control of IT. Online games provide some fascinating insights into how we might do this.

I'm always on the lookout for ways of making IT cheaper.

Recently I've become interested in massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs) because I think they provide a model for overcoming some of the biggest barriers to cheap and effective IT.

From our corporate viewpoint, it's easy to dismiss computer games as trivial. They aren't "real" computing. But remember it's the demand for gaming machines, not corporate desktops, that has driven the PC and chip industry.

MMOGs allow thousands of players to interact with each other in large computer-generated worlds, and explore, trade, fight and puzzle their way through the game. MMOGs are interesting because the users think of themselves as controlling a character which represents them in the world.

How does this help with the big problems in IT?

Many of the big problems in IT come because people do not understand, control and take responsibility for the systems they own and use. Vast IT projects fail because they try, and fail, to drive business change. Enterprise-wide systems are not accepted by their users, and so deliver no value. Legacy systems languish because nobody is really interested in them any more, and nobody has enough sense of ownership to turn them off.

I think we need to structure our systems so that they fit into the organisation better. Each system should be clearly owned, and its owner should understand what information it stores, transforms and communicates on their behalf. The system is not some distant and mysterious corporate monster, but a member of their team, that they control and take responsibility for. They wouldn't delegate business change to the system any more than they would delegate it to a junior clerk.

I have been searching for ways to present this vision of IT. My corporate IT mindset is rather unimaginative. All I can imagine is a web page with "MySystem" written on it. But that doesn't really address the problem.

MMOGs have solved these problems. The users of MMOGs understand, control and take responsibility for their characters. And the games provide all the basic capabilities required by any IT system:

  • The characters (systems) can possess items (data) which confer on them capabilities and powers (processing).
  • The online worlds (operating system) provide common capabilities for characters, such as the ability for characters to interact (communication, process management); and common services, such as banking (system services).
  • Characters can form alliances of various forms (system structure).

I'm not suggesting that we should present our business systems as axe-wielding trolls, though it might be tempting for some systems. But I do think that these games have overcome many of the barriers that plague "serious" corporate IT. Perhaps we should take a break from our strategic plans and enterprise architecture, and see what we can learn from these games.

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