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Is the Metaphor of War Appropriate in a Business Setting?

March 26, 2024


There is no question that today’s business environment is uber competitive. And, in some cases, cyber-attacks and espionage by national entities against commercial businesses come very close to being acts of war. Nevertheless, one must be careful when using metaphorical language, especially metaphors about war. At Enterra Solutions®, we were aware of this fact when we announced our Enterprise Growth WarRoom™ offering for consumer products and retail companies.[1] We felt that the term “war room” was sufficiently well understood to mean a place in which important strategic and tactical decisions are made without necessarily being tied to actual warfare. As the press release announcing this new offering noted, “The rate of change experienced by companies due to inflation, changeable consumer behavior, challenging supply chains, and other macro issues is faster than their ability to adapt with their existing tools and processes. Guided by Enterra’s Strategic Intelligence Unit, Enterra’s new Intelligent Agent-driven offering will deliver a quantitative system-based approach to driving growth, competitiveness, and resiliency for global organizations.” This team of highly capable individuals uses a capability which, a couple of months later, we announced was available from the SAP® store — the Enterra Business WarGaming™ solution.[2] As that press release noted, “Enterra Business WarGaming™ integrates with SAP S/4HANA® and SAP S/4HANA® Cloud and delivers anticipatory analytics to systemically scale enterprise competitiveness and resiliency for customers.”


War Rooms and War Gaming


Not everything that takes place in a war room can be classified as part of a war game; nevertheless, war gaming can play a significant role in how decisions are made. As one might expect, the term “war game” finds it genesis in the military. A war game involves a model or simulation. War games are generally exploratory in nature and various outcomes can be examined by changing variables in a specific scenario. In this way, numerous strategies and tactics can be tested in a controlled environment. Strategies define the broad outlines of how a company can achieve its long-term goals. Tactics, on the other hand, provide detailed, shorter-term steps required to progress toward long-term goals. Both strategies and tactics are important in today’s complex business environment.


Why are simulations (or war games) important? Academics from the United States Naval War College, which has run war games longer than any other global institution, explain the value of war games. They write, “War gaming is a tool for exploring decision-making possibilities in an environment with incomplete and imperfect information. Additionally, a value unique to all war games is the occurrence of previously unknown issues, insights, or decisions that arise during the conduct of a game. War game participants may make decisions and take actions in a game that even they would not have anticipated, if not for the game environment.”[3] Note that they stressed the importance of war gaming in environments characterized by incomplete and imperfect information. Such environments beg for the application of cognitive computing solutions. The now defunct Cognitive Computing Consortium once noted:


The cognitive computing system offers a synthesis not just of information sources but of influences, contexts, and insights. To do this, systems often need to weigh conflicting evidence and suggest an answer that is ‘best’ rather than ‘right’. Cognitive computing systems make context computable. They identify and extract context features such as hour, location, task, history or profile to present an information set that is appropriate for an individual or for a dependent application engaged in a specific process at a specific time and place. They provide machine-aided serendipity by wading through massive collections of diverse information to find patterns and then apply those patterns to respond to the needs of the moment.”


Not only can a cognitive computing system deal with ambiguous situations, it can be embedded with tribal knowledge so that the machine plays the role of a data scientist or subject matter expert to help optimize a business and help it run at the speed of the marketplace. McKinsey & Company analysts note, “Speed is a true superpower for any company and the only way to be prepared for a world of rapid change. … Speed needs to be applied not for its own sake but with some clear end-goals in mind. A key question to ask is, what value is currently being trapped — and where?”[4] Some value is being trapped or slowed because decisions that could be made by artificial intelligence are still being made by humans. That’s why Enterra® is focused on advancing Enterra Autonomous Decision Science™ (ADS®). As we noted in our WarRoom press release, “At the center of [our] initiative are seasoned professionals supervising autonomous Intelligence Agents that are well-versed in the global marketplace. Enterra’s Intelligent Agents can run countless simulations to derive insights and recommendations to help companies achieve their revenue, share, margin, and profit goals.” And, guided by the professional, the Intelligent Agents accomplish this at computer speed.


Decision-making is at the heart of every business. Bain analysts Michael C. Mankins and Lori Sherer assert, “The best way to understand any company’s operations is to view them as a series of decisions.”[5] They add, “We know from extensive research that decisions matter — a lot. Companies that make better decisions, make them faster and execute them more effectively than rivals nearly always turn in better financial performance. Not surprisingly, companies that employ advanced analytics to improve decision making and execution have the results to show for it.” Better decision-making is one of the goals of both the Enterra Enterprise Growth WarRoom initiative and the Enterra Business WarGaming offering.


The late Nobel prize–winning economist Thomas Schelling believed gaming was a great tool for generating insights. He wrote, “Games have one quality that separates them qualitatively from straightforward analysis and permits them to generate insights that could not be acquired through analysis, reflection, and discussion. That quality can be illustrated by the impossibility theorem: one thing a person cannot do, no matter how rigorous his analysis or heroic his imagination, is to draw up a list of the things that would never occur to him.”[6] Cognitive computing adds a new dimension to war-gaming and decision-making. As our WarRoom press release notes, “Enterra’s core technology platform has been using human-like reasoning artificial intelligence since its inception to enable organizations to autonomously perform complex data analysis, insight generation, optimization, and decision-making at scale and at the speed of the market.”


Concluding Thoughts


In our WarRoom press release, I stated, “Companies across the globe are faced with the complex challenge of navigating an unprecedented and complex market landscape while maximizing corporate objectives. They are seeking solutions that will help them better interpret market signals and make strategic decisions that will drive market valuations. The Enterra Enterprise Growth WarRoom [and Enterra Business WarGaming] are designed to meet this demand and provide a unique approach that drives competitive advantage for clients through a blend of AI technology and cutting-edge autonomous business management science.” Making businesses more competitive may not be “going to war”; however, failure to be competitive can leave embattled companies on the trash heap of history. Just like in war — the spoils go to the victor.


[1] Enterra Solutions, “Enterra Solutions Launches Enterprise Growth WarRoom™, Empowering Consumer Products and Retail Companies to Reinvent and Navigate the Evolving Business Landscape,” Business Wire, 13 December 2023.
[2] Enterra Solutions, “Enterra Business WarGaming™ Now Available on SAP® Store,” Business Wire, 20 February 2024.
{3] Shawn Burns (editor) and David DellaVolpe, Robin Babb, Nick Miller, and Gordon Muir (contributors), War Gamers’ Handbook, U.S. Naval War College.
[4] Homayoun Hatami, Dana Maor, and Patrick Simon, “All change: The new era of perpetual organizational upheaval,” McKinsey & Company, 15 June 2023.
[5] Michael C. Mankins and Lori Sherer, “Creating value through advanced analytics,” Bain Brief, 11 February 2015.
[6] Thomas Schelling, “The role of war games and exercises.” In A. Carter, J. Steinbruner, & Zraket, C. (Eds.), Managing nuclear operations, Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution, 1987, p. 436.

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