Jury still out on value of business intelligence gamification

Madan Sheina, Lead Analyst, Information Management, Ovum

Gamification is being touted as a way to immerse more enterprise users more deeply in business processes and tasks. Gamification borrows heavily from interactive and reward & recognition elements from online games, and maps them to business goals to drive interactivity, participation, and (hopefully) better results. The thinking is simple: the more interesting it is, the more likely people are to engage. So how can business analytics benefit from gamification’s immersive impact? And is it a game that businesses would find worth playing?

Gamified BI is about competing on analytics

Ovum believes gamification has potential to improve business decision-making. The search for and discovery of BI and analytic insights has a “game-like” feel to it. Many BI systems resemble a gamified system that seeks to engage business users and change organizational behaviors to improve business performance and outcomes. Gamified functions also typically generate a lot of data for analysis. The key is providing users with an immersive data experience that drives them to improve on that information through exploration and feedback. Technically, this is enabled by the ability to access, navigate, and manipulate large data sets quickly and easily.

BI can benefit from gamification designs that engage users in collective and continuous querying and analyzing of data to solve a business problem, much like how consumer-focused “gamified” applications such as Foldit work. But with gamification, winning is not as important (or as valuable) as the experience of taking part (or competing). It’s the latter that drives usage and a more immersive BI experience.

Ultimately, gamification can be seen as a way to further operationalize BI by embedding it seamlessly into everyday knowledge work, albeit in a competitively friendly and fun way.

Gamification can enhance collaborative BI environments

Game-play concepts can be very relevant for enterprise collaboration. Games, by definition, are usually played in a competitive, multi-user environment and require interaction. BI processes are naturally collaborative in nature; few important business decisions are made in isolation. Participation requires similar game-play concepts that promote user behaviors that improve and share information.

However, gamification should not be mistaken for collaborative BI, which is about creating communities of users focused on solving a particular business problem with specific BI tools designed to answer specific queries. Collaborative BI systems allow users to perform a variety of actions, from creating content (analyses, reports, dashboards) to bookmarking to knowledge sharing. It is the act of contribution (and the recognition that accompanies it) that is intended to attract broader adoption and usage of the BI system as a whole.

While collaborative BI systems need to be backed by easily shared access to data and analysis tools, it goes beyond simply sharing information. The idea is that users benefit from the “experience” of interacting with not just the data, but also the organization as a whole. That’s where gamification comes into play. Rather than focusing on a specific query, it aims to provide a broader context on answering a business question from different perspectives by immersing users into a data and analysis experience.

Ovum believes that both are highly complementary. Gamification has a role to play in enhancing collaborative BI by encouraging participation and making the process more engaging through quasi-competitive environments. However, in order to succeed it must be designed with clear incentives and recognition, backed by functionality such as tagging, commenting, rating, and annotating reports.

Gamification as the new user interface for business analytics?

Arguably gamification can be seen as shaping a new user interface for conducting BI and analytics. However, it will not happen overnight. Attempts to put search-like interfaces in front of BI tools have largely failed. The mechanics of gaming, however, might force a change since existing BI and analytic interfaces, such as dashboards, will prove inadequate for enhancing the user experience. What’s needed is a much more appealing and intuitive user-interface design.

Gamified BI is still work in progress

Thus far, salesforce automation, CRM, and HR platforms are leading the way for integration of business applications and gamification platforms and functionality. However, Ovum canvassed all of the leading BI and analytics players and found that integration of gamification with BI is still in its infancy and at the periphery of vendors’ product designs. There are some pockets of interest starting to emerge, however – typically tied to collaborative and social BI integration efforts.

Perhaps a more interesting use case is using BI tools to analyze data generated by gamified systems – such as salesforce automation, CRM, and e-commerce systems. Bunchball, for example, currently uses gamification techniques to drive onboarding, training, and learning of complex software. The company has also built its own “analytics stack” using open source tools to provide customers with reports, dashboards, and a data warehouse that can be queried. Bunchball also maintains an internal team of data scientists that use Hadoop, predictive, and visualization tools to share analysis with customers.

BI vendors are treading carefully

As an emerging trend, gamification might be past the fad stage. But it is not yet clear whether fusing game principles with business processes and applications can become a viable, long-term concept that meets business objectives. Setting up and running token-like application environments can be tricky, and requires a fine balance to be struck between behavioral psychology and technology.

Right now there are only a handful of relevant, though still largely unproven, use cases to be seen. It’s hard to find anyone specifically focused on leveraging gamification to drive BI and analytic applications and processes. BI vendors are therefore naturally treading cautiously; badly thought-out gamification will invite skepticism, and may even back-fire.

But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen in the future – for example, for specialized applications in war-gaming rooms for boards of directors or to encourage departments to compete against one another on analytics.

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20 Nov 2015, 11:40 p.m.

Is there any evidence that using BI tools to analyze data generated by gamified systems has any effect on user engagement with the tool? For example its effect on employees.
It would be interesting to see any statistical evidence of this.