The ‘BI gamers’ you didn’t know your company had

For most people it seems that ‘gamification’ in the workplace is simply about rankings, things such as who can score the most likes on their company’s internal social network.

That’s taking an interesting idea and making it dull. People love to play games. They are motivated by games and puzzles, and using that enjoyment to nudge behaviour and drive ongoing engagement is really what gamification should be about.

We like to play video games in part because we enjoy overcoming obstacles to achieve goals – and video games give us a chance to achieve some arbitrary goals in a fun and engaging way. So much so that we’re willing to repeat the experience again and again until we level up. You can see why companies are interested in how this behaviour could potentially be transferred into a work context, especially when millennials are about to begin coming into the workplace having grown up expecting to use software and tools which are fun, as well as functional.

BI developers often turn to games to find inspiration and this is especially true in the visual data-discovery end of the BI industry, which actively encourages everyday users to engage with data analysis. For example technical capabilities like progressive disclosure, that is showing more functions as user gain more skills, and data orientation pane (or ishiness) echoing techniques found in gaming software. Why is this needed? Well, we need people to want to use BI software; otherwise they don’t get value from the data. For this to work they need to be challenged, entertained and also rewarded so it can become embedded in their daily routine.

But like gamers, BI users vary significantly and divide into identifiable groups. You could already identify ‘gamified’ BI users within organisations who have adopted a data-driven approach. Companies have groups of employees who play different games depending on what they need to achieve, however they ultimately use the technology to solve business problems. Often without knowing it, these players ultimately work together to find insights that can benefit the company in different ways.

To showcase the different type of BI user behaviour, I’ve pulled together a list of gaming personas you may have noticed in how BI is being used in your organisation.

  1. The casual BI gamer

In the BI world, a casual gamer is someone outside of the IT department that uses software in short bursts for daily reporting and simple analysis so they can find patterns and spot opportunities.

Casual gamers enjoy pattern recognition games like Candy Crush, drawing on the same skills that advancements in BI technology have opened up for data analysis to everyone from the sales to the HR team.

These gamers only need a basic understanding of analysis and, like Candy Crush, this requires short bursts of concentration so they can use the technology to spot patterns and outliers. In fact, some organisations are considering implanting ‘ghost’ data outliers into their BI software to challenge employees to spot these anomalies and keep them engaged (a trick learned from airport security work).

  1. The strategy-based BI gamer

Conversely, the strategy-based BI gamer uses concentration over a longer period of time. Anyone who has played strategy games like Command & Conquer or Age of Empires knows that they require a great deal of considered gameplay and the player needs to be able to deal with several different moving elements which are linked to each other.

Similarly, a high level market analyst, for example, will spend hours analysing different strands of data from across the business to work out permutations and come up with an informed business plan. Using these carefully compiled insights, they can work with the C-suite team to create market strategies so they can bowl over the competition.

  1. The role-playing BI gamer

This is the BI user who, like fans of role playing games such as The Legend of Zelda or Pokémon where you take a character on an adventure, enjoys finding and playing out stories from within the data. Storytelling is becoming a hot topic in the world of analytics. People want to know the stories behind the data presented to them and answer questions such as why things are the way they are and how it came to be so.

They want to be able to take their data on a journey, questioning what the data means on the way leading it to a conclusion which could be a useful insight. These users are more directed in their approach and will also accumulate more skills to help them continue in their quest to answer these questions.

  1. The architect

One of the major reasons for the success of games such as Minecraft and The Sims is that they allow users to flex their creative muscles and create their own virtual worlds. In The Sims for example, the player can build their own home to their exact specification and then move in avatars to live in that environment and watch the family grow.

Similarly, the BI architect user enjoys creating and developing their own apps and visualisations so they can carry out customised analysis fitted to their needs and problems they are trying to solve. It’s becoming increasingly easier for BI apps to be created outside of the IT department so all kinds of employees can create their own ‘data worlds’ that can be interrogated.

  1. The online BI gamer

Finally, online gamers not only create their own apps and visualisations, but share them online with others too. In a similar fashion to how the internet revolutionised how gamers around the world play and interact with each other; the BI industry is also currently going through an online renaissance. In Qlik, users can share an analytic experience, love it and collaborate in real time.

As well as sharing data apps with other users in their communities, users also share tips and best practices so everyone can make the most of the technology. Furthermore, users can also purchase third party datasets online as well to provide themselves with new data which can shed new light on their internal data assets. This helps them create a more informed picture of their organisation and unlock even more insights they wouldn’t have seen before.

Therefore, without realising it, gaming styles have infiltrated data-driven companies. Long gone are the days of parents wondering why their children are spending so much time playing videogames.

In 2015, it pays for businesses to gamify their BI and get the parents themselves interacting with data in their jobs, so they are the ones ‘blowing away’ the competition in real life.

James Richardson, Business Analytics Strategist, Qlik

Image source: Shutterstock/Dean Drobot