Business Intelligence isn’t a game. It’s way more important than that!

It’s about finding nuggets of gold. It’s about improving your time. It’s about multi-user functionality. It’s about reaching goals and bettering scores… Wait a minute…

Many of us will remember the excitement of freeing the princess from the grasps of an unsavoury villain. Or dodging obstacles flung in your way by a shady anti-hero, while navigating around a pixelated screen. A lot has changed from the early days of home computer entertainment. But the basic rules remain the same – engage, explore, influence.

Now, replace the ‘princess’ with ‘data’, and the unsavoury villain with an unwieldy assortment of spread sheets; or think of these obstacles not as pixelated hurdles but as natural barriers to the growth of your business and you’ll see where this is going. These early principles of gaming are now seeping into the business world.

Business can learn an awful lot from games.

The adoption of game-led elements in a non-game context – or gamification – is a trend that many businesses have touted. The early days of customer loyalty cards (think “points mean prizes”) have been advanced to capitalise on the ‘always-on’ technology that we wholly embrace today. New tools, apps and tracking devices gamify daily existence in the search for a better quality of life – ‘The Quantifiable Self’. Set goals, discover better ways to reach them, gain insight and share your results – actions that lead to reward.

Gamification is often seen as a powerful tool to enhance performance and productivity. Kind of like good business intelligence, really.

It drives exploration, it leads the path to desirable outcomes and drives engagement with the source of interest. But while there can be similarities between gamification and data analytics is there a space for the gamification of business intelligence itself?

Well, opinions seem divided.

The governance of data is an important stewardship. Hard work and large investments in time and money are made in creating a single version of the truth. Anything that distracts or alters from that vision is quickly called to question.

While the gamification of vital business functions (especially those that rely on strict compliance and official records) may not always be wise, traditional approaches to data governance don’t always achieve the levels of employee engagement required to work effectively.

That argument aside, there are certain areas of analytics and business intelligence that are better suited to competition and reward than others. Areas such as interactive data exploration and scenario modelling – investigative actions that are powered more by problem solving and lateral thinking.

One area that can work particularly well is the gamification of customer and staff driven data – data that relies heavily on human judgement.

Barrachd saw this when we worked closely with a client, using analytics to cut the company’s CO2 output and drive efficiencies in fuel across a large fleet of vehicles.

The company installed vehicle tracking to collect data from on-board sensors within each vehicle. This data not only allows the company to ensure that they are using optimal routes. It also provides more detailed aspects of driver behaviour such as fuel used, miles travelled, cruise control, idle time, hard breaking incidents and so on… This allows the best performing drivers to be rewarded as well as identifying if any drivers may need extra training.

Initially there was a concern that the drivers would find the monitoring obtrusive or resent being analysed. In fact, the opposite was true. We found that the drivers actually gamified their actions to compete with their colleagues, as well as with other depots, to make each run as efficient as possible.

Ultimately, this reaction reduced the company’s carbon footprint by 5%, saving millions of pounds in fuel bills too.

It tapped into basic human drivers (no pun intended) of mastery, a sense of purpose and, perhaps more importantly, the social element – the drivers being able to pit themselves against others with the same goals.

There’s a fine balance to consider, though – a balance between incentivising competition and incentivising collaboration. In the case of BI, the taking part is even more important than the winning (but just try telling that to an enthusiastic fleet of van drivers). BI relies on the engagement of managers and users to work.

We like what we know.

While the technological challenges around BI are complex enough, there is often an even tougher task on the horizon: getting stakeholders to actually use the tool.

Users need to see the value in the goal or the importance of the outcome to their role (or the wider business) to ensure an experience that encourages discovery and investigation. Use and familiarity are often the best way to demonstrate the power. It’s here that some believe is the perfect point to use gamification, encouraging users to invest time to learn to use the new tool.

The challenge is to change behaviour, and embed new processes into every day use – but doing so in a competitive but fun way.

The “always on” possibilities realised by BI Active Reporting mean this is another area ripe for gamification.

Integrating BI with Cognos Mobile means that the information you need is always at your finger-tips, no matter where you are. The potential for discovery takes on a whole world of possibilities (literally) – intelligence right by your side. A ‘Quantifiable Self’ to improve your business, if you like.

There’s been no shortage of talk about the possibilities of gamification to help shape business intelligence. However, it’s clear that despite its success in other areas, gamification’s still very much in its infancy and not at the driving end of product designs. But perhaps it’s the simplification and engagement of big data itself that’s central to any ‘game’?

Research points to the need for a more appealing and intuitive user-interface, which is now being delivered through highly visual dashboards. And it’s this drive that might continue to fuel the change needed.

But does gamification work?

That was the title of a study funded by the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation. It looked closely into the use of gamification – which methods, what kinds of results they yield, and under which circumstances. And while the review indicated positive effects, it highlighted that they often depended on the context in which gamification was implemented and on the users using it.

At the end of the day, the search for analytical discovery already has a game-like feel to it, changing business behaviour through the sharing and improvement of data across enterprises, increasing efficiency and performance.

If the user process could be incentivised further in the BI realm, gamification could very well help businesses go on to the next level…

…And, of course, save the princess.

Save the princess

Posted in BI, Big data On June 26, 2015 By