A Little About 'Gamification'
'Gamificiation' describes a recent trend of adding non-essential game-like functionality to applications to increase customer engagement and loyalty. The idea is been with us for many years in many forms, but 2011 seemed to be the year of the Gamification Company - businesses built to help you, Enterprise, bring this fun into your web, desktop, and mobile applications.
The phenomenon is beginning, to be sure. The simplest and one of the largest early examples is Foursquare. Foursquare created a points based system for checking in to your favorite locations and being able to promote that loyalty. Never before had being the Mayor of the Laundromat been cool. Even Microsoft is working on ways to help you feel good and tell the world about taking out the garbage.
For many, gamification is an extension or a method of 'simplicity' - a method to take a complex process and break it down into smaller achievements. This has the lure of making an seemingly tiresome and tedious enterprise process fun and rewarding as these "achievements" roll in. Some very large organizations are building this approach into their enterprise systems, finding ways to reward their employees with points for participating as...employees.
Is Gamification For Your Business?
This post is not to justify or critique gamification in Enterprise systems. Personally, I believe there are very valid scenarios where this approach has merit, including the tracking and sharing of training achievements, rewarding participation in company message boards or knowledge base, and for exceeding expectations in customer service, etc. And I'm sure applications outside of these examples are successful, even if they do produce a full eye-roll from the end-user as they're rewarded for completing something they've done a thousand times prior.
My concern is that businesses will eventually feel that this approach is a mandatory aspect of process building. That it somehow is the trade off of simplicity. "If we can't make it simple, we'll make it a game."
Everybody sees the trend toward simpler, more-focused, better-designed software. Enterprise developers see the consumerization of IT.
You could look at this trend and say, "As software improves, it respects its users more. It works better and looks better, is easier to learn, and leaves out the things that waste a user's time."
Or you could look at this trend and say, "As software gets simpler, it gets dumbed-down -- even toddlers can use iPads. Users are now on the mental level of children, and we should design accordingly. What do children like? Games."
...It should be obvious that one conclusion respects people and one doesn't
Managing Simplicity in Enterprise iPad Applications
The largest challenge we face in designing iPad specific applications for the Enterprise is simplicity. It's a design balance, and an incredibly difficult thing to do well. Enterprise systems are built to manage large amounts of customer data, handle all customer scenarios, and be a driver of internal processes. The applications we're building on the iPad are designed to focus in on a customer at a time - to maximize the benefit from the time we have sitting with a customer. An application designed to complete a customer scenario via an elegant and simple process. To hopefully get technology out of the way - allowing multiple Enterprise systems to provide data to the scenario in a single application.
This, however, doesn't happen all the time. At times, Enterprise systems or requirements force us to put steps into the process that are not "customer beneficial" - steps that are required by the current back office process or systems, not our customers. We constantly challenge our customers on ways to bypass these needs or force situations into our 80/20 mantra, but that's not always possible. When we've discussed introducing gamification techniques in applications in these situations, it has always felt forced; that we've crossed over from respecting the end-user to manipulating them - almost bordering on patronizing them.
As we move forward as an organization that designs Enterprise Mobile strategies, we'll continue to strive for efficiency of design in all applications. When that is not attainable and we're required to include functionality that is not beneficial to the scenario at hand, we look for ways to make those requirements as unobtrusive and 'automatic' as possible.
The time of your end-users is precious, especially the time when they're in front of your customers, resellers, and partners. Respect their time. Respect their needs for information consumption and presentation when they interact with their customers. And finally, respect that fact that your end users know what processes are valuable to their customers and which are not.
My concern is that businesses will eventually feel that this approach is a mandatory aspect of process building. "If we can't make it simple, we'll make it a game."
Gamification may have a place in Enterprise systems as discussed above, but when it comes to applications that are built to drive revenue, close deals, and present your business to your prospects, customers, and partners, let's work to find other methods.
If you liked this article, follow me on twitter at @ericjohncarlson. Read more about how we help our clients get started with our iPad App Portfolio Definition Workshop, or grab our new eBook on How to Realize the True Benefit of the iPad in the Enterprise.
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