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Vendors should educate users on business gamification, says Ovum analyst

Vendors and users alike are focusing too much on points and badges instead of the larger business value of gamification, says Ovum's Adam Holtby.

Business gamification often means badges and points in today's companies. But according to a recent paper written by Adam Holtby, research analyst at Ovum, the deeper value proposition of these features can be easily lost -- and the blame doesn't lie with users.

We talked with Holtby to find out what he thinks vendors should be doing to advance the use of gamification in the enterprise and why he recommends using a top-down strategy when deploying gamification technology.

The title of your research note is Gamification success is realized by focusing beyond the superficial. So what is the deeper, nonsuperficial value of business gamification?

Adam Holtby: Because of the activities we're engaging in and the technologies we're interacting with on a consumer level, many of us now are adept in the use of technology. So [enterprise] systems have to evolve from simple systems of record to systems of engagement to ensure we're not only getting the information that we need ... but also [that] systems are being utilized effectively and optimally.

The nucleus of the research I'm undertaking is to progress this field from one that's associated just with points and badges -- kind of superficial elements -- [to] really dig down to [determine] the real value of these mechanisms. I see my role being one to help people better understand gamification at a level whereby they can understand the business value of it.

What benefits does business gamification have specifically for HR?

Holtby: My focus would be around the onboarding process and better helping [people] understand the vision and mission of an organization -- [to] bring someone onboard to the culture. Now, how that specifically would [work] would vary depending on the specific context. Gamification is [also] a means [by] which activities can not only be better defined, but the granularity of those activities can be better communicated and reported on so we're able to quantify how successful an onboarding initiative has been.

In your research note, you wrote, "Vendors must be aware that offering only gamification capability is not enough." So what's missing?

Holtby: Going back to the points, badges and leaderboards, I see vendors applying those superficial elements [and] those types of features evolving in technologies. But what they're not doing is educating on how these things can be used effectively. [Some] do it really well [like] Bunchball and Badgeville, but this is more relating to vendors that [have] their core business in a different domain, so they're not [solely] focused on the gamification space. What the key is from their perspective is to dig deep and understand how [gamification] tracks back to overall business objectives -- [using the] elements [as a] vehicle that helps drive a greater good. There's a huge responsibility to ensure it's being applied effectively and with insight and knowledge of how it's going to provide sustained value. Some technologies out there are focusing too much on high-level elements and [are] not really looking deeper into how they could [be used] to improve a specific process.

Should buyers then be looking for thought leadership in addition to capabilities with gamification vendors?

Holtby: Definitely. And I've found that relationship works both ways. There needs to be strong leadership and direction from the company that's adopting gamification technology, [and] from the vendor side, there needs to be a commitment to an ongoing relationship. [So] the vendor should understand what the customer is trying to achieve, and then drill down from that overarching business objective and take the customer on a sustained, long journey of realizing benefits through the use of game mechanics. That's really the key of that two-way relationship. Champion or champions within the business are helping communicate the value to users, and [vendors] are using their expertise and experience to guide the customer down the path to success.

You also recommended taking a top-down approach with business gamification. What does that mean, and why?

Holtby: Given that we're in the early stages -- [gamification] is a very nascent trend -- there is the temptation not just from the vendor side but also from the enterprise side to put too much focus just on the granular elements. So "we want to apply points to this" or "use badges here" without considering the wider [goals]. [But] the key question is why do you want to do that? How is that going to help you deliver more value in a business context?

Take a service like a help desk, for example. Why would you want to apply points to that context? The overarching business objective would be [that] it allows [an organization], when applied sensibly, to better quantify the performance of agents. From a management perspective you're able to gain a better understanding of the activities the agents are engaged in, and from the agent perspective it's a mechanism by which they can gain real-time feedback. So instead of just being excited about the elements and the mechanics, look at what the business benefit [is] and the value it's going to deliver. Be strategic about the way you're using the gamification toolkit.

Do you have any other tips for how organizations should approach gamification technology?

Holtby: Build a culture around the idea. Failure to do that will obviously result in any kind of initiative struggling. And ensure there's an awareness of what you're trying to achieve so you deviate focus away from [the] purely superficial [and] really encapsulate the [larger] ideas.

Emma Snider is the associate editor for Follow her on Twitter @emmajs24 and the site @SearchFinApps.

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