I went to a preview showing of a new SAP product last week and had about the most fun I've had an analyst event since… well, if I had more fun than I had at last week's event, I can't remember.
In the process I got to see the product up close and personal, and it looked really nice. While that's not really meant to be a "and by the way, product X was really nice" – there's an embargo on the news until March 1, so I'll have to be circumspect [Note: The follow-up column covering the product is posted here] — I have to admit that they way in which we were shown how the product works was perhaps as significant as the product itself.
That's because SAP chose to "gamify" the presentation of product X to the analysts: the SAP team very cleverly used the doldrums of the post-lunch digestive phase to stage a game in which the analysts were teamed up and then competed to take the product through its paces. We were given some very rudimentary tasks that gave everyone a good sense of what the user experience of the new product looked and felt like. There were bugs, there was confusion, and there was a ton of fun to be had in the process.
Most importantly, there was engagement at multiple levels. We engaged with the product, we engaged with one another, we collaborated, we competed, and, here I am, a few days later and still under embargo about the product itself, mulling over how what I saw and what I experienced is still fresh in my mind.
This is the promise of gamification, the latest buzz word to rage around the technosphere. Gamification is fundamentally the process of taking the engagement mechanisms we find in games -- rewards, punishments, excitement, drama, competition, collaboration -- and "plugging" them into our day to day lives.
A game is "Angry Birds"; a gamified user experience is one in which the user is having fun by being challenged and rewarded for his or her actions. The challenges and rewards come in a many different forms -- called game mechanics -- that borrow from the world of online games, like Angry Birds, as well as offline games, like Solitaire. The goal is to make "work" enough like a game to be as compelling and engaging as a game, but with an outcome that has measurable benefit beyond pure fun.
Which is exactly what took place at the product X preview last week. And it worked. And if gamification can work in taking a product demo to the next level, imagine what it can do for, say, purchase order processing.
SAP has been looking at gamification for a while, and is beginning to make a run at the concept in its development work as well as in analyst events. SAP's Community Network site has a number of references to recent gamification activities that are on-going at the company. One of SAP CTO Vishal Sikka's team was at the recent Gamification Summit in San Francisco, and the company recently had a talk by Stanford professor Byron Reeves, author of a book on the subject of gamifying the enterprise.