Gamification seeks to take enjoyable aspects of games -- fun, play and challenge -- and apply them to real-world business processes. According to consulting firm Deloitte, gamification will be incorporated into 25 percent of redesigned business processes by 2015. By the following year, it will grow into a $2.8 billion business, Deloitte predicts.
What does this mean for enterprise applications? Get ready to see game-inspired features such as leaderboards, rewards, badges, missions and levels combined with business management and operations. Additionally, gamification utilizes some of the latest technological elements.
"These elements include leveraging technologies like real-time data analytics, mobility, cloud services and social media platforms to accelerate and improve the outcomes of the initiatives," said Deloitte analyst Doug Palmer in a paper known as “The Engagement Economy.”
Alan Young, CTO of Ancile Solutions, defines gamification as "a technology-enabled, human-related paradigm intending to influence behavior, unleash or create skills, and drive users (employees) to develop intangible performance elements such as motivation, alignment, competency, creativity, etc. in order to achieve a company's business goals."
What Young is describing are video game-like smartphone applications that show how performance will impact an individual and the company. One example might be a financial business process and its effect on company TCO. The apps reinforce the correct way for users to perform a task.
"It is critical that businesses look to balance individual vs. group-based gamification," said Young. "People's motivation and engagement types should be properly extracted and leveraged toward the right type of goals, whether it is individual or group-based."
Gaming the Intranet
Beyond general applications, software providers such as Jive see corporate intranets as especially ripe for gamification. The company's Jive Social Intranet Solution provides a social platform with missions, real-time feedback, rewards, Office productivity apps and an intranet.
With intranets, the goal of gamification is to leverage employee participation to achieve corporate objectives. Curtis Gross, senior product manager at Jive Software, believes gamification can be applied to a social intranet to drive goals such as a smooth employee onboarding process and locating areas of expertise within the company.
"Gamification can drive new employees to better learn your company's process, software, products and services by providing them a game experience more focused on rewards for learning," said Gross. "If you think of educating employees in terms of game 'levels,' onboarding would be level 1."
Once an employee is past initial training, they would continue to "level-up" as they master new information like keeping their knowledge of products and services up to date. For example, additional rewards can be added when new training material is launched. This keeps the game fresh.
Another smart use of gamification is to store user behavioral data in profiles. This means that actions/activities such as completed training courses, answered questions and employee rewards are visible for all users to see via an employee's profile. New employees no longer have to wonder if they're reaching out to the right person for help on any given matter because data stored in every employee's profile clearly displays their expertise based on reputation and earned rewards. Management can identify top performers, and employees can locate experts in a particular area by looking for users with specific rewards.
"Gamification and collaboration go hand in hand as collaboration software allows employees to establish a higher level of familiarity with each other," said Gross. "Increased familiarity leads to higher engagement as users are more motivated to compare themselves to people they feel they know well. These social elements and interactions are essential in gamification in order for all involved to be better motivated by competition."
The Jive Gamification Module, for example, adds gamification to Jive's social business platform. The company uses it internally for its own employees and customers to boost activity and engagement.
Gross believes such technology will become a core part of a company's internal and external recruiting process. Traditional interviews which do not take into account actual performance data could be replaced by software that allows hiring managers to see the value an employee or candidate has created for a company. Additionally, having a social profile that tracks rewards is a way to identify employees that have gone above and beyond.
Changing Bad Habits
While this is certainly possible, how do you convince employees to change their existing modes of operation on collaboration? Employees, after all, normally only reach out to other employees when they have questions for which they cannot find answers. This Q&A usually takes place in whatever format the employee is most comfortable with - usually email or IM. They form a habit of using these tools because they are the most commonly used, not because they are the best way to collaborate. Those conversations can be made more valuable if they are shared with more people in a less intrusive way than an All@company email blast.
"You get employees to stop using these older, more inefficient tools by creating new habits by rewarding users for leveraging more social tools or new processes," said Gross. "Gamification can be a powerful strategy to change old habits."
Bunchball is another player in this game. It offers a motivation engine called Nitro, which is a Web services platform that can be integrated into any online experience, including websites, desktop apps and mobile apps. It is being used by companies like USA Network and Adobe in consumer- and employee-facing properties. In addition, Bunchball has turnkey applications which integrate Nitro with other software platforms such as Salesforce.com, Jive and IBM.
"Companies invest time and resources into creating intranets that they hope will be valuable to their employees, but they are only going to realize the value of that investment if employees actually use the intranet," said Rajat Paharia, Bunchball's founder and chief products officer. "Gamification can motivate employees to consume more content, therefore unlocking the value of under-utilized resources; collaborate more; go through training more quickly; and more."
According to Paharia, Bunchball customers like Ford have used gamification in their employee portals and seen huge increases in site utilization.
Drew Robb is a freelance writer specializing in technology and engineering. Currently living in California, he is originally from Scotland, where he received a degree in geology and geography from the University of Strathclyde. He is the author of Server Disk Management in a Windows Environment (CRC Press).