Case study: 3 heavyweights give gamification a go

Enterprises are gamifying internal apps to engage employees, solve problems, increase collaboration and identify new lines of business.

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Got gamification yet? If you don't, you're not alone -- according to Gartner, fewer than 5% of organizations worldwide are using gamification. But get ready: Analysts expect enterprises to start embracing the technique in many areas over the next two years, and the impact, they say, could be far-reaching.

Brian Burke, research vice president at Gartner, defines gamification as "the use of game design and game mechanics in any kind of non-entertainment context." The technique involves adding an element of gaming to an application or platform. On an enterprise social site, for example, users could earn points by doing certain things -- such as sharing valuable information or helping another user with a problem -- with the person who earns the highest number of points receiving some sort of reward.

The goal is to use game psychology and game design to change behavior, explains Thomas Hsu, executive, global social collaboration at Accenture, which uses gamification internally and advises its clients on the topic as well. "Game designers are incredibly good at designing things that are fun and motivating, whereas typical tools used in enterprises were not designed with that in mind at all."

The earliest adopters of gamification typically used it to form a stronger bond with customers, so called "customer engagement." One example: SAP's Community Network (SCN), which comprises 2.5 million customers and partners. SAP has gradually added more and more gamification features to the 10-year-old network to encourage participation.

But now companies are gamifying internal applications to engage employees. Burke expects internal efforts to overtake consumer-engagement uses in the next year or so. By 2015, 40% of global 1000 organizations will use gamification as the primary mechanism to transform business operations, Gartner predicts. "We see gamification being leveraged for change management," says Burke. "We see that as a big opportunity."

In terms of growth, gamification has a "land and expand" kind of profile, says Carter Lusher, research fellow and chief analyst of the Enterprise Applications Ecosystem at Ovum. A company will add gamification to something on a small scale and get good results; the technique then starts spreading throughout the company. (See Gamification dos and don'ts for tips on successful implementation.) "People don't realize it's not about fun and games, but about creating engagement with employees, customers and partners," says Lusher. "Once they experience this themselves, then they get it."

Internally, gamification can be used in a sales contest, which results in more business, or to increase the effectiveness of a software rollout. "Every year organizations collectively spend billions of dollars on new software, such as business analytics or CRM or HR packages, and the problem is the users don't use it or they only use part of it or they use it incorrectly," says Lusher.

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Computerworld Features Editor Tracy Mayor chats with Imran Sayeed, CTO at NTT Data, about how they used gamification for internal systems and employee participation.

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