Modern day enterprises are highly complex and multi-faceted From their business models via business, via business processes, to the supporting IT systems How can they focus on what is essential? Assess possible risks, or develop new business models? Henderik Proper and his research team at the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST), focus on the use of enterprise models to answer such challenging questions Just like a building or a city has a design that you can draw, Enterprise models are drawings of an organisation, with all its aspects You can touch the façade of a building, you can walk around in a city, An organisation – yes, you can go to a bank, but the organisational structure is abstract The buildings, the IT systems, that may be tangible, but generally they are abstract, intangible things This makes it a bit difficult to talk about this topic, but also to work with molds If we are to understand them truly, the abstract business processes and organisational structures first have to be brought into a clearer and more tangible form A promising way to do so, the researchers have discovered, is to manipulate such models via intuitive user interfaces, which have also been developed at LIST Here, for example, they are working on a project, aimed at optimising the logistics of construction sites Their models enable companies to quickly identify the consequences any changes in one area would have for the rest of the company Before receiving the funding to build up an expert group in Luxembourg, through the PEARL programme of the Luxembourg National Research Fund (FNR), Henderik Proper worked at different universities, as well as in industry Around 2008, I was working in industry, quite happy in the sense of the applied context, but I was getting a little bit unhappy about the lack of room to reflect on things After moving between industry and academia a number of times, I thought it would be good to land in the middle, at an RTO (Research and Technology organisation), like ours – LIST The core group around me here in Luxembourg is about 5 – 6 people We work closely together with people at the University of Luxembourg, We work closely with people in other departments, as well as people from the University of Antwerp, and the University of Nijmegen, so that leads to a number of concentric circles And so we are part of this broader network Henderik Proper knows from experience that people’s acceptance of a model increases when a model is presented as a game In this form, decision-makers can, for example, enact or ‘play through’ the planned changes in an enterprise with all the consequences – entirely risk-free You might want to use a game to let senior management experience risks, so you tune the game to illustrate in terms of their enterprise what the risks are It might also be a way to teach people, or to validate, how a business process runs You need to work with the people who do the business process, let them play the game and reflect on ‘is this the way you do the business processes or is it different?’, and then you get a spontaneous reaction, so it is a means of validation, so in general, that depends on the purpose of the model, and the message you want to communicate, you need to tune the game to that Whether a simple board game or a high tech simulation, research results become tangible through gaming, making models more effective in helping decision-makers make the right decisions. If you are thinking about possible changes, you need to assess the options, you need to design different scenarios, and each of these scenarios translates to a new set of models Based on these different scenarios, you can also compare them in terms of properties: ‘What is more secure? What is more agile? What is more cost-effective? How can I earn more money?’ All these trade-offs can be made in terms of those models The research, however, extends well beyond the world of models: To stay grounded in reality, Henderik Proper and his team also conduct field research The increase in networking and mobile applications in recent years, has given rise to an exciting new field for the researchers: There are a growing number of online platforms presenting goods and services in the consumer’s immediate environment, in real-time For example, the experts are studying the use of a mobile phone app for tourists in Luxembourg From this, they can discern the principles of how these new businesses are organised, and how they can best be represented as models. Every branch, every company, every organisation is different What are these differences? And at the same time, what are commonalities? These are difficult questions that call for new ideas and solutions every time a new enterprise, its business model, or its organisational processes are to be analysed. An unexpected source of inspiration for Henderik Proper was his great passion for photography I like the abstraction, and I like the challenge of finding the right abstraction It’s relatively easy to make abstractions, but what is needed in a situation? What message do you want to get across with your model? Who do you need it for? Those are fascinating things. This might be resonated in one of my favourite hobbies: I like to take photos, landscape photos, also there I try to find the right angle, the right abstraction of what you want to convey, what you saw, which is a challenge In enterprise modelling, we are doing something similar, but there it is for clarifying the structures of an enterprise – taking ‘photos’ of the enterprise There is a new, exciting development in Luxembourg that has recently caught the researchers interest: The country has taken on the challenge to start space mining To mine for raw materials on asteroids and comets But how does one go about successfully establishing such an industry if there is no prior model to follow? The knowledge of the enterprise modellers at LIST could help turn such a vision into reality As the first scientist to be funded through the FNR’s PEARL programme, Henderik Proper was able to set up a permanent expert group at LIST, which is successfully tackling enterprise modelling challenges. It’s an example of sustainable and practically-oriented research that could benefit the economy and society in Luxembourg and beyond.