Game on: Smart businesses tap into gamification

Almost half of Fortune 1000 companies are using gamification to improve their business. Here’s how IT departments can use it to avert disaster.


As a teenager, my nephew was so obsessed with video games that we sometimes joked about his career prospects as a professional couch surfer. More than a decade on, I’m happy to report he has grown into a smart, well-rounded and socially adept man.

It makes me wonder if all those gaming hours might have had a positive impact in others areas of his life.

Organizations are also curious about how they can leverage the mechanics of gaming to gain an edge in areas such as employee engagement and productivity. Known as gamification, the process involves using the mechanics of games in non-game contexts to improve engagement and solve problems.

According to market researcher Technavio, it’s not about creating games, but about using the building blocks of gaming — community, points, badges, challenges and rewards — to promote engagement.

Though still in its infancy, gamification is hot, with companies in most industries exploring the possibilities. Technavio predicts the market will grow at a rate of about 70 per cent over the next five years. Last year, Gartner said gamification was the main lever that almost half of Fortune 1000 companies used to improve their business.

Though many current applications are driven by hype and novelty, IT pros need to investigate the business case for gamification if they want to be viewed as thought leaders, suggests Brian Burke, Gartner’s research vice-president.

Burke says gamification offers IT leaders an opportunity on a couple of levels: to apply gamification within the IT department to improve the performance of IT staff and, more broadly, to demonstrate thought leadership on how to leverage this trend in business applications.

Gamification is proving to be an effective tool in encouraging behavior in a business context. It appeals because it derives from memories and skills people learn from games in childhood, according to a recent post in Entrepreneur magazine.

“The same fundamental motivations, choices, engagement and rewards make up today’s sophisticated gamification applications: Salespeople, for example, can win rewards when they reach certain goals, and compete with one another to attain those rewards.”

Gamification of disaster recovery is a good choice in organizations where IT has been devolved to individual business units, suggests the Disaster Recovery Institute.

“When users start to store business data on their personal mobile computing devices, they don’t always respond to stern injunctions to perform backups,” states a recent DRI report. “On the other hand, making DR routines amusing or giving them a sense of achievement could appeal.”

The DRI report references U.S. chain Target, which rolled out gamification as part of its cashier checkout routine to improve processing time in retail stores across the county. A red or green signal indicates if the cashier scans an article in the optimal time.

“Why not have a similar system to help BYOD users perform data backups at the right frequency?”

In the U.S., the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency is using a gamification app to improve its response to disasters. The system allows first responders to document environmental damage and upload geo-tagged images to a searchable database, according to NGA tech lead Ray Bauer.

The app proved itself during a tornado outbreak in Oklahoma in 2013.

“We didn’t even tell the folks what the points were for, and people started to compete in a friendly way,” said Bauer. “They were actually coming to look for more work, because the analyst next to them had completed their work and had 10 points and they completed theirs, and only had eight.”

Image courtesy of Free Digital Photos

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