Channeling Mary Poppins in the Enterprise: Make a Game Out of It

Don Tennant
Slide Show

Six Mistakes that Lead to Poor Enterprise Software Adoption

If you’re a parent, you almost certainly know that one of the most effective ways to get kids to do what you want them to do is to make a game out of it. I was a pro at that well before my first, let alone my 80th, viewing of the “Mary Poppins” video my mom sent the kids some 20 years ago, so I had a special appreciation for one particular scene. When Mary Poppins wanted to get Jane and Michael to clean up their messy playroom, she took this approach: “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun, and snap! The job’s a game!”

Now, suppose we were to take that concept and apply it to the enterprise. Snap! We have enterprise gamification. It’s a topic that Steve Sims, chief design officer at Badgeville, an enterprise gamification company in Redwood City, Calif., knows a lot about. In a recent email interview, I asked Sims to encapsulate exactly what enterprise gamification is, and explain Badgeville’s approach to it. He explained it this way:

Enterprise gamification is the application of techniques from games and similar experiences to engage and motivate people in real-world enterprise use cases. Social collaboration; learning and training; sales and service performance are just some of the areas where gamification has been used successfully. Badgeville follows a user-centric approach: We start with an understanding of the users' motivations, and design a program around that. Following SDLC (software development lifecycle) principles, Badgeville identifies business objectives, engages in persona analysis, and uses that information to choose features and create models and approaches to engage and motivate the user base. 

I asked Sims what Badgeville knows about enterprise gamification now that it didn’t know when the company launched in 2010. He said they’ve learned that gamification systems are robust, living organisms:

Users, content, and interactions with the system continually change over time. Given these facts, programs need to be monitored, improved, and enhanced over time. This insight led us to realize that the key to longer-term program success involves analytics to understand what is going on in the environment; and someone watching and tuning the program over time, based on the insights derived from this data. While this may seem obvious, I am not sure a lot of companies look at their programs this way.

I noted that in 2012, Gartner famously predicted that by 2014, 80 percent of gamification apps would fail. So I asked Sims what Badgeville’s experience has been in that regard. He said it hasn’t been as bad as Gartner predicted:

Program failure numbers for Badgeville have been better than the 80 percent failure rate identified by Gartner. Companies that rely heavily on leader boards or extrinsic rewards probably do a lot worse. Also, it took a little time to identify the ‘right’ business scenarios for gamification: Business-to-consumer scenarios are funded through marketing budgets, and tended to come with evaporating budgets and the goal of driving short-term gains—in many cases, there simply wasn't enough focus there to make gamification work for any type of longer-term engagement. The enterprise, however, is a much better environment for sustained engagement, as users are generally more emotionally invested in their personal career growth.


On the topic of remote workers, Sims pointed out that gamification can help create more cohesion and a shared vision among employees who may feel disconnected:

Remote workers have an interesting problem, as they often feel disconnected from what is going on at the home base of operations. Whatever can be done, both physically and virtually, to encourage feelings of validation, affiliation, and fairness between remote workers and workers at the main offices is a good thing. One advantage of gamification is that it creates consistency—everybody is ‘playing by the same rules,’ so to speak. It also helps build cooperation and teamwork, if people are competing together against some shared objective.

Finally, I asked Sims how enterprise gamification will be different five years from now. He addressed the question in terms of four key areas:

  • Employee focus: Gamification will continue to grow in the enterprise with a focus toward employees. Across talent management, social collaboration, and performance management, companies will continue to look at how they can improve the human element of their business.
  • Self-serve solutions: Gamification will become more self-serve in the future. Gamification is highly targeted now, but needs a fair amount of customization to be successful. As it becomes more prevalent, gamification will need to be easier to stand up and manage. Expect gamification to become more plug-and-play in the future, while maintaining an ability to support the company's individual needs.
  • Integrated analytics: Gamification programs will rely on data analysis becoming more sophisticated in its ability to identify trends and issues associated with a company's programs and initiatives.
  • Holistic corporation: The fully connected corporation—one in which there are multiple gamification programs that are connected—is an area in which we’ll see progress over time. Vendors that make the strongest moves in this direction will be the vendors that make gamification a legitimate industry in the years to come.

A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.

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