Getting past the hype of gamification

Getting past the hype of gamification
Game mechanics can help CIOs increase employee and customer engagement with new systems.
By Bud Mathaisel and Galen Gruman

Enterprise IT agendas are already overloaded with mobility, social media, cloud, big data analytics, security, and other major initiatives, so it is understandable if CIOs are put off by gamification—the use of game design techniques in online business environments to engage and motivate the workforce and inspire customers. But they ought to consider three things before they ignore it.

First, most major system rollouts do not gain the user uptake that CIOs would hope. A common reason for low usage is a lack of employee engagement, a problem explored in the article, “The game-based redesign of mainstream business.” By using appropriate game mechanics in online business environments—including enterprise resource planning (ERP) and other enterprise systems—you can stimulate the kind of intrinsic motivation that leads to higher employee and customer engagement. No CIO should ignore that.

Second, there’s the engagement level of the IT staff itself. There’s no evidence that IT employees are any more engaged than the broader workforce. No CIO should ignore this, either.

Finally, who better to lead game-based design efforts than the CIO? The CIO is the enterprise expert on structured data and all the unstructured data from employee collaboration and interaction. The two types of data can help enterprises understand their engagement problem, choose the appropriate game mechanics to create more engagement, and monitor progress.

“CIOs are being called into these conversations much more. They understand data at a greater level than any other executive within the organization”
—Ari Lightman, Carnegie Mellon University

“CIOs are being called into these conversations much more. They understand data at a greater level than any other executive within the organization,” says Ari Lightman of Carnegie Mellon University’s CIO Institute. “They can help design mechanisms, whether it’s gaming or communities of engagement, to identify the data that’s required to put into the systems are working the way they should. CIOs are the ones who understand the data.”

The case for game mechanics in IT projects

The failure rate continues to be fairly high for IT deployments—often due to low use or indifference, not poor quality technology.
 

The failure rate continues to be fairly high for IT deployments—often due to low use or indifference, not poor quality technology. During the past five years, $1 trillion of software was sold, but the uptake by users is estimated to have been 50 percent, and lower in some categories, including internal social media networks.

IT deployments are often crammed down the throats of users, or at least experienced that way. Gamification could be the catalyst to turn around this situation by helping IT initiatives get pulled by the users, not pushed on them. Gamification is something CIOs can bring to the table when the topic is change management. Gamification can harness the psychology of human behavior to make the difference between a failed deployment and one embraced as enthusiastically as many games.

CIOs have always been urged to consider psychology in the design and deployment of applications and infrastructure. Game design techniques suggest a structured way to do this with proven mechanics. Gamification becomes an approach to apply psychology to engage users and leverage their enthusiasm toward what may appear to them as a personal goal, but in reality is a mutual goal of the individual and the business.

The user’s sense of progress (goal gradients), the inherent or psychological rewards along the way, and the instinctual cooperation and competition of games produce some passion that can make the difference. Perhaps enhanced collaboration is itself a goal, as in R&D and data analytics; game-based design can be the means to achieve it.

Game-based design approaches also align with the changes in power dynamics and in the nature of work, which come with the changing demographics and work styles of younger employees, including mobility, bring your own device (BYOD), and consumerization of IT.

Active engagement modeling

Game-based design calls for some technology ingredients, but it primarily requires human ingredients since human behavior is the key differential. PwC refers to this approach as active engagement modeling (AEM). AEM is new ground for many CIOs, especially those with technical-track careers and those unfamiliar with how to apply psychology to human motivation. If mastered, AEM is a worthwhile skill that can add to the CIO’s personal capabilities and is important to leadership anyway. It is about getting inside the heads of users or customers to understand what motivates them and keeps them motivated.

AEM methodology involves seven steps, and it iterates these steps to move from one mastery level to another. The steps derive from the thinking, feeling, and learning principles described earlier. Using the Autodesk example discussed in the article, “The game-based redesign of mainstream business,” the seven steps consist of the following:

  1. Establishing the goal and purpose of the game-based design initiative: For Autodesk, one goal was to improve the awareness and adoption of new software modules that enhance a tool’s use, such as the tool for scanning blueprints as a baseline.
  2. Confirming the specific target audience: For Autodesk, the target audience would be current and prospective users of the other Autodesk tools, introducing them to the new tools.
  3. Establishing specific targets: Autodesk wanted to turn more visits to its website into purchases of the new tool.
  4. Thinking, feeling, learning: Autodesk considered how architects and engineers think as they design or remodel infrastructure, what services they need in a specific architecture or engineering project, and how they could use the Autodesk products together. Much of this information is gleaned via marketing analytics and would need to be done well regardless of the use of game-based design techniques.
  5. Overcoming obstacles: For Autodesk, one obstacle is to replace the current process, which is familiar to a product’s users, with other tools they might use or manual processes (sending in surveyors to remap the current infrastructure).
  6. Understanding and establishing incentives: Autodesk wanted potential customers to understand the efficiency and accuracy possible with the new tool.
  7. Benefits: For Autodesk, measuring things that matter is a central concern, such as time, accuracy, and the professional application of disciplines.

These seven steps constitute the first phase of AEM. (See Figure 1.) The details associated with each step will be specific to the situation. Determining these details is the essence of making AEM work, and represents most of the work required for game-based design (game tools themselves are a relatively small part). Within this first phase, a feedback loop helps validate that the goal or purpose is being achieved, and may lead to revisions.

Figure 1:
Seven steps to active engagement modeling

Figure 1: Seven steps to active engagement modeling

After the benefits step, a branch to a second phase also occurs. The next phase is to help users move to the next level of mastery, the next target gradient. Target gradients are the stepwise incentives for the gaming— the levels of progress and linked rewards for achievement. (See Figure 2.)

Figure 2:
Leveling up in active engagement modeling

Figure 2: Leveling up in active engagement modeling

AEM in practice

A first phase could be mastery of the basics. The second and subsequent phases would build on that basic mastery to higher levels of proficiency. Determining how many levels of mastery and what should be in each is the essence of AEM work.

As natural gamers, humans easily lose interest in repeating the same steps and achieving the same old goals. If the enterprise wants to keep users and customers engaged, then AEM requires the up-front design of levels of recognition and progress. Software game designers know this fundamental principle and reflect it in their game designs, and they know when to replace a game with a new one and new challenges. These levels must be meaningful to the audience and fit the purpose.

Some of these levels are reflected in intangible rewards, such as merit badges (in Cub Scouts or Boy Scouts, for example), and some of these can be reflected in tangible rewards (gift cards, time off, and so on). Designing these progress levels is complex. The experience of many who have applied game-based design is that intangible rewards are sufficient and more desirable in most situations. CIOs should work closely with HR to ensure the best match of goal gradients and rewards to the enterprise’s overall perspective of human capital management.

What motivates one audience may not work for another. What keeps an audience engaged depends on the character of the individuals and the culture of the organization. The challenge of motivating human behaviors requires different techniques and thoughtful application; thus, AEM is not about making the experience more fun for the user.

One design factor is that AEM must be considered in context, not as just a sideshow. The CIO must take a holistic approach in which the game-based design is aligned with other enterprise business factors, such as organization design, business culture, informal and formal reward and recognition systems, and what else is going on in the enterprise. Since human factors are the essence of game-based design, the crowdsourcing of ideas and the testing of pilots is invaluable. It is better to have the direct feedback of potential users than to try to guess at their thinking.

Gamification opportunities for the CIO

What is game-based design to the CIO? It is four elements, all intersecting for alignment:

  • AEM: Human behavior and the mission aspects of engagement, progress, collaboration, and competition
  • Business context: The business goals, current business processes, and ecosystems
  • IT tools: IT architecture, measurement systems, and analytics
  • Game elements: The total experience of gaming, including the style and format of the user interface and the forms of incentives and rewards that are built into the application

The word design is used as if it was an exact and analytic methodology, but in the game-based design domain, the CIO is dealing with human factors that may be unpredictable and not subject to design disciplines. The CIO can use help from those who have a deep understanding of those human factors. The CIO should establish consensus on game-based design by collaborating with key groups such as HR, marketing, and sales. The consensus should include the goals, the opportunity areas (pilots), the participants (inside or outside the enterprise), and the master plan that has budgets and timelines. Some possible opportunities for applying game-based design are described in the following paragraphs.

Airline flight simulators use gaming techniques to help pilots avoid and mitigate the risks of flying. CIOs can employ similar business cockpit simulations for new applications and infrastructure, new IT security approaches, data analytics, human capital management, use of resources such as call centers, or improving collaboration. In each, the human element is the key to success or failure.

IT security

Security is viewed by many as a type of game—some would say a war game— one of successive one-upmanship. Humans are natural gamers, and this instinctual drive is often the most powerful of motivators, so why not use this power to demonstrate the best and worst practices that lead to security compromises?

“It’s all about driving a certain kind of activity or behavior or participation [such as] a great IT security competition where people can show off how much they know, get a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, and win a competition.”
—Rajat Paharia, Bunchball

Rajat Paharia, founder of Bunchball, described security as a game-based design idea at a Knowledge@Wharton conference: “It’s all about driving a certain kind of activity or behavior or participation [such as] a great IT security competition where people can show off how much they know, get a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, and win a competition.”

It is human behavior that leads to security breaches, often unintentional, so making security a personal game, with a goal of reducing compromises, could be a valuable application of game-based design. During wartime in the pre-digital era, motivational posters—“loose lips sink ships”—were used to challenge individual awareness and action.

Gamification has been applied to hack-a-thons for testing the integrity of new software. In some hack-a-thons, the tangible reward for uncovering compromises in the software is the opportunity to win a tablet device, for example.

Data analytics

In data analytics, engaging people, perhaps competitively, to find patterns or hidden objects may yield large rewards to the enterprise as well as encourage and reward those who are the Sherlock Holmes equivalents. Google’s image labeler—applying natural languages to image searches—is better than using an algorithm because it relies on humans to identify the image.

Another company, Tagasauris, applies crowdsourcing and game-based design disciplines to data curation and tagging, annotations, labeling, and translation for images.

Marketing and sales

CIOs who have been anxious to prove their value to the business would benefit from a closer linkage with the chief marketing officer and the chief sales officer on game-based design.

Not surprisingly, marketing and sales organizations have been early adopters of game-based design techniques. Perhaps the CIO can learn from their progress. More importantly, CIO leadership in game-based design is a productive way to establish a relationship with the chief marketing officer and the chief sales officer. CIOs who have been anxious to prove their value to the business would benefit from a closer linkage with them on game-based design.

Optimization of assets and resources

Another game-based design opportunity is in optimizing the use of assets and critical resources such as software licenses, call centers, and energy. SAP has employed game-based design in its SAP SuccessFactors initiative, which encourages people to become certified experts. Through game-based design approaches, CIOs can increase the number of certified users for software deployments. Building game-based design into software training would preserve valuable licenses by granting license-to-use only to the certified experts. The important additional benefit of game-based design to certification is that it can help ensure higher levels of competence and collaboration.

JouleBug, a company that uses mobile apps, big data, and game mechanics to promote energy conservation, helps people and organizations save money by monitoring individual behavior on energy consumption. The company also can cover other “green” initiatives such as waste disposal. It provides detailed information on the habits of individuals, giving insight to businesses on the collective behavior of individuals and thus how they can optimize their sustainability programs. With the JouleBug app, individuals can use this information to compete with family, friends, and co-workers. Users are able to integrate their utility bills and other personal data with the application, and they can track habits such as carpooling or using their own mug at the coffee shop. IT is one of the largest consumers of energy in many enterprises, and using this capability, the CIO can take leadership on green.

Human capital management

Human capital management, which is intrinsically about human behavior, is another natural opportunity for game-based design. Reengineering the mental models encapsulated in game-based design can assist the enterprise in its goals for ethics and regulatory compliance (the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, bias, or inappropriate behavior in the workplace, for example), leadership development, and health (lifestyle, diet).

Game-based design transformation for the CIO and IT team

While digital gaming itself has been around for a long time, it is no longer limited to just standalone applications outside the enterprise. Gamification is being integrated into enterprise software and linked to an array of other applications via application programming interfaces (APIs). IT organizations will require new skills, a new methodology (AEM), and some new technologies and architecture.

Skills

Experienced third-party sources can jump-start game-based design, but it is crucial that knowledge transfer occurs between those with expertise in these areas and those inside IT who are responsible for software development and infrastructure deployment.

The critical new skills needed in IT include capabilities for the following:

  • Psychology (motivation, achievement, collaboration, and competition)
  • Related goals and incentive systems such as:
    • Progress along goal gradients
    • Tangible (monetary or time off) or intangible (recognition, titles, or badges) rewards
  • Meaningful measurement and tracking
  • Analytics for real-time assessment of progress toward the goal, failures, repeat attempts, and so on
  • Crowdsourcing of ideas and approaches
  • Game theory and design—expertise in game theory and practical applications
Game-based design must work without major barriers or obstacles to use, and must be fully integrated to the UI and underlying core.

Talent in these areas may already reside in the IT organization or elsewhere in the enterprise. If not, third-party sources, such as those listed elsewhere in this issue of the Technology Forecast, can help an organization to get started. Experienced third-party sources can jump-start game-based design, but it is crucial that knowledge transfer occurs between those with expertise in these areas and those inside IT who are responsible for software development and infrastructure deployment.

Engagement manager

In PwC’s research, several seasoned game-based design sources cited the need for an engagement manager within IT. The engagement manager is a permanent program manager who helps create the master plan for game-based design and adjusts that plan as needed to achieve success. Choosing a qualified engagement manager at the outset will be an early example of the CIO commitment to game-based design, and, of course, a critical factor in the success of the program. The engagement manager should be a dynamic, progressive talent who knows human behavior and motivation, and would be full time in this capacity.

“Hire a smart person who knows human behavior.”
—Jun Kim, Tableau Software
“Appoint a full-time engagement manager at the outset of game-based design.”
—Kris Duggan, of Badgeville
 

“Hire a smart person who knows human behavior,” advises Jun Kim of Tableau Software. This sentiment is echoed by Kris Duggan of Badgeville: “Appoint a full-time engagement manager at the outset of game-based design.”

A related issue is where in the IT organization the engagement manager should reside. Deciding whether the role is part of IT applications, IT strategy, IT R&D, or a wholly separate group reporting to the CIO and others (chief marketing officer, the chief sales officer) will require careful consideration of what would work in the enterprise.

Methodologies

AEM can become part and parcel of the normal design process. CIOs can begin by choosing a pilot or a few pilots where AEM is most promising. Deploy quickly, monitor the pilot faithfully, and be willing to make course corrections. Establish the lessons learned, publish and promote the lessons to engender more insight in AEM, and lead the adoption of AEM throughout the enterprise as it may have applicability outside IT.

Technologies and architecture

Game-based design will require some new technologies and a revised architecture. (See the article, “Improving the customer and employee experience with gaming technology.”) Game mechanics are often applied at the user interface (UI), with the help of the representational state transfer (RESTful) API models. This architecture has a stable core and a dynamic UI. The UI has the design characteristics of games and many advanced smartphone designs—dynamic and intuitively usable—while incorporating the game principles of goal gradients.

Figure 3:
Architectural model for gamification (enterprise view)

Figure 3: Architectural model for gamification (enterprise view)

Game-based design must work without major barriers or obstacles to use, and must be fully integrated to the UI and underlying core. Figure 3 illustrates what needs to change from current architectures. This field is 80 percent of the UI edge, and that is where most game-based design work is needed, so there is little influence on the portfolio of applications that have been deployed and must continue to work well.

Conclusion: Getting started

Just because game-based design has promise does not mean it applies to everything. Prior experiences of some organizations reveal that game-based design applies best to situations where failure is due largely to human factors and where motivators can be intrinsic to the job. However, there is no downside to at least considering game-based design for every major IT initiative that is user or customer facing.

Collaboration with HR, marketing, and sales is essential. HR in particular is crucial to assessing any potential issues with applying game-based design internationally.

Collaboration with HR, marketing, and sales is essential. HR in particular is crucial to assessing any potential issues with applying game-based design internationally. Mario Herger, technology strategist and community manager at SAP Labs, cautions that some work council or regulatory issues could complicate or crater an initiative. Many employees have negative perceptions (subliminal or outward) of game-based design because they view games as a way for the enterprise to manipulate them. So keep the experiments fresh and true to business goals. HR can be a valuable partner in avoiding these issues during the design phase.

It is vital to keep the applications fresh, as humans will not continue to engage unless they have new challenges and rewards.
 

Assign an engagement manager. With goals relevant to the organization, create the master plan, start small, and experiment. It is vital to keep the applications fresh, as humans will not continue to engage unless they have new challenges and rewards. The engagement manager’s skills are important to meeting this challenge.

Since the approaches may be broadly applicable on an ongoing basis and may need to be tuned to the human frequencies of the enterprise, internal IT must take leadership early. The CIO’s role is certainly to provision the technologies, architecture, databases, and tools. Beyond that, CIOs can demonstrate that they can change the culture and performance of their organizations.

When the value is proven through the measurements of progress toward goals, the enterprise will likely be pleasantly surprised at this new dimension of the CIO and IT. And the new mutual relationships with the chief marketing officer and the chief sales officer are a great way to reinforce the CIO’s business acumen and performance. Gamification may well help CIOs to keep their jobs and get recognized for their mastery of leadership.