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Can gamification solve enterprises' engagement problem?

Katherine Noyes | April 28, 2015
Big data and other new technologies are fueling the use of gaming principles in the workplace.


If 90 percent of the world's workforce were suddenly struck with a debilitating illness that rendered them unable to perform to their fullest potential, it would be declared a global crisis.

In enterprises, that statistic is more or less the norm.

Just 13 percent of employees worldwide are engaged in their jobs, a recent Gallup report found -- meaning that they're "involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace."

The remaining 87 percent? Not so much. They're either "not engaged or indifferent -- or even worse, actively disengaged and potentially hostile -- to their organizations."

Given the widely accepted link between engagement and productivity, such data is nothing if not sobering. Increasingly, gamification is being brought in to help.

Contrary to popular belief, gamification is not about turning everything into a game. Rather, it's essentially the application of game-design principles in non-game scenarios to solve a problem or engage an audience. "Gamification is really about thinking about what you want in terms of behaviors in the organization and creating incentives to reinforce that," said Janaki Kumar, head of Strategic Design Services for America in SAPs Design and Co-Innovation Center and co-author of the book, Gamification at Work: Designing Engaging Business Software.

The concept became popular in the business world about five years ago, but it's recently undergone a fresh resurgence. According to market researcher TechNavio, the global gamification market will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 68.4 percent through 2018.

Part of what's buoying its growth is the arrival in the workplace of "digital natives" -- a generation that has grown up with access to technology from a very young age. Such workers display both a higher tolerance for risk and a higher need for feedback than the generations before them did, Kumar said, and in many ways, gamification plays into both of those characteristics.

Also playing a role, however, is the increasing maturity of technology enablers such as big data, social media and mobility.

"Big data is the engine of gamification," she said. "With the availability of users' qualitative data from social media and mobile devices, we now have the opportunity to use this information to effect behavior change through gamification."

Leaderboards have long been used to help motivate salespeople, but today the enterprise applications have expanded considerably. There are now numerous apps available to bring gaming techniques to Salesforce's CRM platform, for example. Badgeville for Salesforce is one, and it allows users to participate in missions designed around key sales processes and behaviors. Users can earn both points and badges, while analytics tools offer insights into usage by employee and over time.


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