The necessary craft aspects of digital business simulation software design.











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A digital business simulation requires software craft skills and mine are described on this page. These craft skills encompass programming, software architecture, business system design and quality assurance.

Programming Languages

Just as a author must have a good command of language so too must the designer of business simulations have a good command of programming languages. In the early days if you wanted to make significant personal use of a computer you had to learn a computer language and I learnt how to program in Algol 60 (a politically correct, proper language - now extinct), Fortran (still around) and BASIC (Beginners All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code).

Algol 60

Besides being an excellent modeling language, BASIC has evolved over time and I still use it. This longevity has two major benefits. First I am probably more fluent in it than I am in the English Language. Secondly, over the years I have built up a library of models that I can make use of when developing an new simulation or customising an existing one.

Language skills are important as they impact speed and quality of business simulation design.

Software Architect

Beyond being able to program there is a need to design the software structure (architecture) and this is more than creating the simulation model (grey circle). It includes the simulation platform (green parallelograms), the databases and files. Designing the simulation models involves creativity and an understanding to business structures and flows. In contrast, designing the simulation platform and data elements involve software architectural and computer system (data processing) design skills.

Diagram of my business simulation software architecture

A special simulation platform is important because it reduces design time by 80 to 90%, eases design, improves quality & usability and supports learning.

Information Systems Design

During the 1970s while working for Honeywell I wrote articles about data processing regularly. I wrote two books on data processing for Cassels - How to Pass Exams in Data Processing and Data Processing. The first book I wrote in the conventional manner using a typewriter. But I wrote the second book using the word processor on my Tandy Model 1. I then asked Cassels what media they wanted me to provide the book in. The original response was on paper - they were then going to get a Linotype operator to retype the whole book! Trade union pressure in Britain meant that Cassels could not get a British printer to accept the book on any medium other than on paper. But, they found a printer in Singapore that was happy to print from paper tape and this meant I dragged Cassels into the electronic publishing age.

Cover of one of my two dooks on data processing

Business Systems Design knowledge and experience means that I understand the information, materials and money flows in a business and its management information needs - things critical to business simulation design.

Quality Assurance

The final aspect of craft skills is quality assurance - ensuring that the simulation works. Quality Assurance is difficult because of the size and complexity of the simulation model and vital because of the way business simulations are used and the emotional engagement of the learners.

Compared to spreadsheet budgeting and planning models a business simulation is, typically, much larger and is more algorithmic, cyclomatic, structurally and dynamically complex.

Quality Assurance is especially important for business simulation because, unlike conventional software, users have the freedom enter a very wide range of decisions that stresses the software and increases the risks of crashing. Also, participants become very engaged and bugs cause disillusion and (often) anger.

At the 2014 ABSEL conference, I presented a paper exploring quality assurance - issues and solutions. The paper was nominated for the best paper award.

I see craft skills as a crucial element of business simulation design. Without them the simulation software is flawed, written in an inappropriate language, structurally wrong, difficult to test, with poor quality and impossible to validate and update. Even so, as discussed in my quality assurance paper, the software craft aspects of business simulation design are challenging.

2014 Jeremy J. S. B. Hall

Most recent update: 15/11/14
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