It is 10 years since Elisa Alabaster and Jonathan Knight came together to launch Ososim. Those 10 years have seen a huge amount of economic, political, social and environmental change since Barack Obama was elected the first African-American US President and Facebook had just 130 million users (not the 2.27 billion users it has today).
Elisa and Jonathan look back on the highlights of the past decade, as well as reflect on some of the key challenges ahead for companies currently immersed in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Elisa & Jonathan, what led you to found Ososim back in 2008?
Elisa: I had been working with simulations for a long time, developing and using them for education and training. But those were primarily technical simulations looking at finance and business strategy. I saw there was a real opportunity to use technology to develop simulations that could focus on the human side of business – helping people to develop the interpersonal skills needed to succeed.
Jonathan: Elisa and I had been friends since we met at INSEAD back in 1991. I had been working in consultancy, helping big companies to solve problems. I had this strong belief that the way organisations could improve was by getting more out of their people. I saw how simulations could improve the quality and accelerate the pace of learning – as opposed to a traditional classroom experience. It seemed like the right time, and the right opportunity, to make learning more effective and engaging for everyone.
What key challenges were organisations facing back then?
Jonathan: The financial crisis had a huge impact. Suddenly companies were faced with making massive cost savings as quickly as possible. E-learning was seen as the answer for saving costs in training, yet there were questions over its long-term effectiveness.
Digital was starting to have some impact on how companies worked, but really it was still about doing some clever things online. Now digital transformation has become the entire basis of organisations. Back in 2008 people felt the world was changing – and fast, but over the past 10 years, we have seen that pace of change increase even further. Disruption has become more commonplace. Words like ‘VUCA’, ‘agile’ and talk about the number of unicorn companies didn’t really feature back then. Yet today they are buzzwords. Organisations are facing new waves of change every day and equipping their people to deal with that is a real challenge.
How has Ososim developed over the past 10 years?
Elisa: It’s interesting that despite the changes in the world around us, stakeholder engagement has been a consistent theme in our programmes. Clients have looked to simulations to help develop these vital skills in the workplace. Strategic execution has always been important, but it has evolved to become more about the people side of execution, not just the project management process. Over the years we have been able to add new products, improve the capability of our platform and customise faster. It’s rewarding to look back and see how long it originally took us to develop simulations and how much shorter this time-frame has become.
Jonathan: Along with these product developments we have also seen changes in our client base. We now do a lot more work in the Middle East and Asia, as well as the UK & Europe. We’re doing more government and non-profit work, alongside our corporate clients. However, business schools have been consistent throughout. The first simulation we ever developed was in conjunction with Professor Bettina Buechel at IMD and we continue to work closely with her and professors at other top global business schools.
What have been the key highlights of the past 10 years?
Jonathan: I think what I am most proud of is that we have found a method of delivering virtual learning in a way that is still shared and social. E-learning was once seen as a way to make huge cost savings but isn’t always very effective. It lacks the important social and networking aspects of group learning. Through our simulations, we have been able to run virtual sessions which work practically with people in diverse geographic locations but also engender a sense of team spirit.
Elisa: The most rewarding projects have been the ones with really open-minded, collaborative partners and clients who want to open up new opportunities and find innovative ways of delivering learning. Being able to work with these clients over a period of months to develop customised simulations and tailored learning programmes where you can really see a difference in participants makes all the effort worthwhile.
What have been the biggest challenges?
Elisa: Finding the right balance of taking advantage of new technology, whilst delivering the best value for our clients, has been a real challenge. With advances in technology, we can do some amazing things. But there’s no point if our clients can’t run our simulations on their equipment. For example, simulations could become 3D, but we know that many of our clients’ systems aren’t yet ready for that. We need to create products that use the best of what technology can offer – but in a way that works for everyone.
Educating people on the value of simulations has also been interesting. There seems to be a huge range of understanding of what simulations can do. Simulations as a concept have been around for some time, but they have come a long way from the paper-based worksheet exercises of 30 years ago. Some people are amazed by how responsive and customised simulations can be, making them much more effective for transferring learning into the day job.
Jonathan: Finding the right people for the team has been a real challenge as well. The UK doesn’t produce enough skilled people in the software industry and that’s something we need to see addressed going forwards.
What are the biggest issues facing organisations today?
Jonathan: The world of work is changing. I think organisations are nervous about disruption. No one feels secure about their future, having seen such fundamental changes in recent memory. They are fully aware that anyone or anything can come around and totally change their business model. Innovation and the ability to manage constant change are key to dealing with this disruption.
Elisa: As Jonathan says, the world of work is certainly shifting. I think more and more companies are moving away from being big, bureaucratic organisations to become nimble networks – with specialists working together to add value where and when required. Flexibility and agility will become the norm. I think this is partly being led by the new generation coming into the workplace who are much more digital savvy. They have different demands and expectations on their employers and are putting pressure on organisations to change. There are some fundamental questions about the capitalist system being raised and the role of corporations in terms of their responsibility for their people and their environment.
Jonathan: I agree that companies do seem to be more concerned about their environmental impact. Some organisations appear conscious of their legacy for the next generation and the need to cater to millennials who are more concerned about the world around them. Where sustainability might have been a department in the past, it is becoming an entire business strategy. Yet there are big inequalities between countries and other parts of the world are still very different from Western economies.
What further challenges lie ahead – and what’s next for Ososim?
Elisa: We know that technology will continue to bring us new opportunities, but I am slightly sceptical about how fast things will be adopted. Early forms of virtual reality were invented in the 1950s, yet for large parts of society, VR has yet to make a significant impact. I don’t think AI is far enough along yet to be used today in our products. It’s exciting to think that one day we could have proper AI characters in our simulations, but I think it may be quite a bit further in the future than we would hope.
Jonathan: For us at Ososim, I am excited about the prospect of HR Analytics. Our simulations generate huge amounts of data in a short time frame and I know we can link that data to the information that companies already have. As corporates collect more and more data on their employees they could use it more proactively – to recruit the right people or develop their employees in the best way. Data can be overwhelming but making the right connections turns data into insight.
Elisa: We know that individuals love to get feedback – who wouldn’t want real and unbiased data on yourself, how you work best and what you can do to improve that? I also think there is potential to do some really interesting research from the academic side about how people make decisions and the impact of team dynamics. It would be fascinating to use simulations to study that.
Finally, after the 10 years, what do you love about working at Ososim?
Jonathan: It’s that light bulb moment – when you see someone suddenly gets it. In face-to-face sessions and during longer-term programmes you can really notice people engage with the simulations and experience that realisation they have when they really connect with the learning.
Elisa: Both Jonathan and I love problem-solving. For me, my favourite aspect is working with clients and academics to find a new way to bring across a challenge or an insight that they have. I am fascinated to dig into what people really mean on a very practical level and work that through to demonstrate all of the options to resolve the challenge. It’s so rewarding to stand back at the end and see the map of the entire process from the initial objective through to delivering the end product and the participants learning from it.
What an amazing 10 years it has been! We would like to thank our fantastic clients from the past 10 years. We are privileged to have worked in more than 85 countries, with major global companies such as BNP Paribas, Cisco and Korn Ferry, as well as government institutions, leading business schools such as London Business School and IMD, and non-profit organisations such as the World Economic Forum.
If you would like to find out more about how our innovative business simulations enable your individuals, teams and company to perform at its best please get in touch on +44 (0)1223 421 034 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.