The old model that the tech industry has followed has been mostly coercive: users are forced to engage with their enterprise software because the boss said so, their job performance demands it, and they basically have to or else. The new model says that people should be engaged with enterprise software because they want to, because it's compelling, because it's -- gasp -- fun.
Having fun at work is a very subversive notion, though of course anyone who is having fun at work will tell you how much having fun compensates for working too hard. And anyone not having fun at work will tell you how much not having fun makes work even less fun. Subversion is complicated that way. So is fun. And work.
Why gamification is having its heyday has to do with the raging success of online gaming (by which, in this context, I mean games like World of Warcraft or Farmville, not the other gaming, which involves gambling and other vices.) Not only are games like WoW, Farmville, and Angry Birds popular, but they have spawned enormous online communities where the amount of time spent on community activities -- chatting, forming teams, sharing tips, bragging, etc. -- vastly exceeds time spent actually playing the game.
Translate this to the enterprise, and suddenly the notion of reaching one billion users puts the word "reach" in a different perspective. If a company like SAP can not only reach these users, but engage them in a gamified experience that is compelling and fun, SAP can potentially make users something more than just users: they can be participants in a community environment where that old coercive model of engagement is a thing of the past.
The trick is that gamification is hard, coercion is easy. It would have been so much easier if SAP had just lectured the analysts into a stupor, instead of taking a risk and engaging us in a game. Of course, the results of gamification are vastly different, and SAP took a risk in getting the analysts so deeply engaged in the product -- after all, playing a game around a bad product will only serve to reinforce a negative experience.
But, regardless of the tenor of the analyst's assessments that will come out tomorrow, it's clear that all of us writing about Product X can do so from a rare position of knowledge, gained from the gamification of the knowledge acquisition process.
A little fun can go a long way, especially in the enterprise.
Josh Greenbaum is principal of Enterprise Applications Consulting, a Berkeley, Calif., firm that consults with end-user companies and enterprise software vendors large and small. Clients have included Microsoft, Oracle, SAP and other firms that are sometimes analyzed in his columns. Write him at [email protected].