Last year, SAP Co-CEO Jim Hagemann Snabe said SAP would look to the video game industry for inspiration as the company re-thinks its approach to software development. Does this mean that some of us can look forward to using a Killzone 3 interface to enter our travel expenses? Not exactly, but that’s the general idea. Here’s how Jim framed his thoughts during a UK user group conference:
“If I look at how my kids are consuming software, if it's not desirable immediately, they throw it away. Can you imagine what happens to your IT landscape when these people come into business? I don't know how you want to keep your IT strategy going so we'd better make our software delightful as well."
Jim also said he was inspired by a recent visit to games developer EA Games, makers of the wildly popular Madden NFL video game series, among others.
"They have one rule - if they don't see visible joy in seven minutes the game will be a flop, so I told that to our developers: visible joy in seven minutes. We're still working on that. That obviously does matter a lot and we are doing a lot [around that]".
Video games mean big business and enterprise software developers are learning a lot about the emotional connection gamers make with the likes of the aforementioned Killzone 3 (which sold over 500,000 copies in its first week of release in North America ) and Angry Birds (a top-seller on the iTunes app store). But is SAP really “doing a lot” to tap into the video game zeitgeist as Jim suggests? Analysts recently enjoyed a taste of the “gamification” side of SAP. The Los Angeles Times is also following the story. And after speaking to a few SAP employees that are passionate about the topic, I also get the sense that we’re entering an exciting new era, one that holds the potential to help us reach one billion users by 2015.
Reuven Gorsht, Senior Director, Strategy, Global Pre-Sales at SAP is charged with looking at the different ways in which SAP customers really work. Not surprisingly, Reuven is spending a lot of time on the topics of mobility, gamification and how these areas impact the end user.
“Mobile devices are much more user-oriented,” he said. “The ability to touch things and expect instant action means the paradigm is changing in a major way.”
This paradigm shift means a rising number of enterprise software developers are keeping the user experience top of mind, at the beginning of a development cycle, as opposed to the “last mile” where it carries little significance and ultimately leads to user adoption issues post implementation.
“Games contain certain mechanics that keep users (players) engaged and coming back for more,” said Reuven. “People spend millions of hours playing Farmville. How do you apply those attributes back to enterprise software?”
One method that has worked is for SAP to create experimental applications designed to enhance everyday SAP functions. “Lead-in-One” (video below) is a good example of this. Since most Sales Managers dread the somewhat cumbersome task of assigning incoming sales leads to their account executives, Reuven and his team put a golf-themed iPad application on top of the process. Golf balls are leads, and holes represent the sales reps.
“As you drive the balls into the holes, you’re actually performing a business task,” said Reuven. “We’ve taken a painful process and deployed a game-like interface to make it fun.”
Lead-in-One was a big hit at SAP’s recent Field Kick-off Meeting and it is currently making the rounds with SAP developers. A sustainability-themed app called “Seeds” could also make the rounds which enables SAP employees to collect and report on their own contributions like carpools and recycling. Based on an incentive framework, employees can share ideas (new bus routes, for instance) and earn seeds (points) for each idea they nominate. A dashboard ranks each office or team, keeping users in a competitive spirit and wanting to participate. Users could potentially cash in points to crowd fund solar panels or more electric cars for SAP.
At the end of the day, gamification isn’t always about fun, shooting things or collecting points. It’s about providing balance, according to Mario Herger who works in Technology and Strategy Innovation for SAP and moderates SAP communities like “Gamification at SAP” and “Innovation Steampunk.”
“Video games are very good at providing the right balance between skill and difficulty,” said Mario. “The right information is exposed at the right time to keep users engaged and not overwhelmed. Likewise, users should become gradually comfortable with SAP functionality as opposed to being exposed to all of it at once, which often leads to confusion and frustration. It is absolutely critical for SAP to continue adopting gamification principles in order to reach one billion users.”
You can follow Tim on twitter: @TClark01
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