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Should your digital transformation include gamified apps?

Gamification means more than adding AI or video to apps, or even offering badges and prizes. See how behavioral psychology can engage, motivate and help your audience learn.

Modern AI and AR technologies might tempt CIOs or enterprise architects to add gamification to enterprise apps to engage and motivate end users and customers already comfortable in the digital world.

But even the coolest new tech won't deliver the desired result, unless app developers fully understand what makes an audience tick.

Enterprise gamification has always meant more than simply adding a video to an application or creating a system of rewards that involves points and badges, which can quickly bore intended users. A successful app will infuse progressive learning to achieve a desired result.

Enterprises started gamifying some of their applications around the late 2000s, but growth peaked around 2014, according to Gartner, the Stamford, Conn., consultancy. A report by Allied Market Research, based in India, pegged the gamification market at $9.9 billion in 2020 but projected it will rise to $95.5 billion by 2030.

Today these apps are found in a variety of places -- such as in CRM, change management, marketing, health education and wellness and, of course, in HR.

Gamified apps follow rules for all apps

The term gamify is something of a misnomer because gamification is serious business with a serious goal. Like any new application, a gamified app needs to define a business outcome, offer a way to measure success, identify an audience and understand what motivates those users to succeed.

"Gamification leads people to believe that it's going to be magical and entertaining and fun," said Brian Burke, a Gartner analyst. "Fun, not so much. But it should at least engage."

Brian Burke, research vice president, GartnerBrian Burke

He added that architects must pick a model that will help users learn. For example, should the game be collaborative or competitive? Is it a multiplayer game? Is it a campaign that continues, or is there an endpoint? Each user should be on a journey to learn a new skill or, on an even more ambitious scale, change a corporate culture. The idea is that the application motivates users to achieve some of their own goals and, hopefully, some of those goals will overlap with corporate goals as well, Burke said.

However, since architects are incorporating app design with behavioral psychology, it's hard to get it just right.

"We need to plan to play, test and iterate over time," said Burke, who is also author of Gamify: How Gamification Motivates People to do Extraordinary Things. "Start with a small pilot and evolve it and grow that group until we get a full rollout with an evolved gamify solution."

Who drives the gamification design?

CIOs and enterprise architects exert influence on application development. It's unclear where or how much influence in the age of DevOps, however, which can complicate execution because the DevOps team does not necessarily report to top IT leadership. It is also why team communication and collaboration must be paramount.

In an email, Isaac Sacolick, a consultant and former CIO and CTO, described the role of both product managers and architects in an agile world. Product managers have a direct role in defining the DevOps team's target end users, objectives, priorities and story-level requirements.

But product managers are not supposed to dictate or prescribe how the team achieves the objectives, and therein lies a partnership because most product managers want to influence the build, Sacolick said. Sometimes they can do that by acceptance criteria, but it also requires collaboration and partnership with the team.

Architects also want to steer priorities around reducing tech debt, developing reusable components and sunsetting legacy apps. This is accomplished by influencing both the product owner and the team, explained Sacolick, who is also author of the upcoming Digital Trailblazers: Essential Lessons to Jumpstart Transformation and Accelerate your Technology Leadership. Standards can help provide guardrails for the app, but architect-level enforcement happens through influence.

Ideally, there would be an architect assigned alongside members of the agile team, but most organizations have more teams than architects, hence the added need to influence, he said. This goes for all apps, not just gamified ones.

Enterprise gamification and the career ladder

If enterprise architects (or CIOs) can clear these development hurdles, application gamification may prove useful, particularly if the executives see their roles as larger than solving technical problems: They also want employees to flourish.

"Their view has to be more about the personal journey; the whole employee lifecycle," said Roman Rackwitz, founder and CEO of Engaginglab GmbH, a consulting firm in Munich that helps companies design gamification apps.

Rackwitz advised architects to consider how hobbies and sports engage an audience. "Games are overcoming obstacles," he said. "A journey is unfolding in front of you by making decisions. They force us to solve something. After we figure that out, there is a next level. [End users] must become better if they want to progress."

People don't want to be rewarded for doing nothing. They want to solve the problem.
Roman RackwitzFounder and CEO, Engaginglab GmbH

This is exemplified in software created by Sell & pick GmbH in Munich, which uses data analytics to help employees learn about what they are good at on the job and where they may need to improve. The company sells a real-time tool for waiters that collects data and shows patterns. Individuals can react to the feedback on their own terms.

But it's a tall order to design applications around behavioral psychology -- they are expensive to produce and likely to fail, at least initially. And typically, companies will design games that are easy to fulfill, fast to finish and offer a reward, Rackwitz said.

"People don't want to be rewarded for doing nothing," Rackwitz said. "They want to solve the problem."

Enterprise gamification use cases

Many gamified apps are developed in-house, though most companies leverage some type of gamification software that can integrate with one of their own platforms. Options often come from the genre of business intelligence software, such as Centrical, BI Worldwide and Zoho.

Gartner itself uses a gamified tool to help its own employees to avoid clicking on phishing emails, Gartner's Burke said. Employees receive an email that looks for information. If the employee flags it as a phishing email, he or she is congratulated. If the employee misses it, the company flags the employee for additional training.

At BioNTech, a German pharmaceutical company, managers found that they lost members of their sales team, not because the wages weren't competitive, according to Engaginglab's Rackwitz. The usual reason sales staff quit was because people felt they did not progress. The company set out to show employees, through a gamified app, the specific new skills they learned just by doing their jobs.

Other established uses of enterprise gamification described by Burke in his book include those by Nike,  Khan Academy and Quirky. Nike promotes its brand while it engages runners and uses badges and trophies to map their progress, Khan Academy offers a knowledge map that shows progress in skills development, and Quirky has 1.2 million inventors who submit product ideas. The community votes up the best ideas, and can influence the design of a product and its look.

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