Gamification and Gamified Business Intelligence

Posted on November 8, 2012



I have become somewhat preoccupied with gamification of late. After the usual reading and research concluded with some structured study with the Wharton School through the excellent Coursera program, it became apparent that it was less of a diversion than I first thought. Indeed, there is considerable overlap between the aims of gamification and the aims of Business Intelligence.

To understand why, let’s start with the  definition of gamification from Professor Kevin Webach, the course lecturer and also the author of ‘For the Win‘ which is;

“The Use of game elements and game design techniques in non-game contexts”.

It’s an excellent, insightful and crisp definition. However it really only explains the ‘what’ but no the ‘why’. For this, I would refer you to Brian Blau and Brian Burke of Gartner who extend the definition as;

“The use of game mechanics to drive engagement in non-game business scenarios and to change behaviors in a target audience to achieve business outcomes”

Level 1

Both definitions are about using game elements in a non-game context but  Webach is being more inclusive whilst Gartner very specific. For Gartner is’s about business whilst Wharton include  external gamification and gamification for behavioural and social change. The former is gamification as a marketing device such as Foursquare. The latter is a rich and interesting area that would include Runkeeper and Zamzee encouraging us to be become a little fittter and OPower which, by comparing our energy usage to our peer group, helps us be more aware of our consumption.

The third Wharton category, internal gamification has the greatest overlap with Analytics, Business Intelligence and Performance Management. A definition of which can be derived from some minor modifications to the Gartner definition of gamification;

“The use of  analytics, business planning and key performance indicators to drive engagement  and to change behaviors in a target audience to achieve business outcomes”

Analytic applications are systems, sets of mechanics, to align, engage and improve the performance of the business. They, like a gamified system, are an abstraction. They are a derivation of business activities not the activities themselves. The numbers, charts and indicators become a new reality distinct from the business activity from which they are derived. They are, in a sense, gamified systems but with only a small subset of the rich set of (game) mechanics that might be made available. In fact I have argued for some time that this subset of mechanics is as woefully inadequate as the user experience/user interace design effort in most corporate analytic applications. We still think that a dashboard is a pretty cool interface.


Business intelligence can, more often than it should, be driven by whatever data is available. Equally common is to deliver a system that is a marginal improvement in the information system it replaced but in a new tool or technology. The design will pay scant regard to how the information will really be used and are open to being ignored or even ‘gamed’. Measure a sales team on orders and there may be an increase in cancelled orders. Measure baggage handlers on the time it takes the first bag to arrive on a carousel and the second and subsequent bags might wait for the first bag on the next flight.

Internal gamification is designed around a deep understanding of the players (staff, workforce) and their motivations. It draws inspiration from an extensive palette of behavioural (game) mechanics.

Level Up

Business Intelligence then, could reasonably be defined as an early attempt to gamify the workplace. Sophisticated BI  intended to engage the workforce and align organisational behaviours through carefully designed elements of which analytics and key performance indicators were just a small subset, would be a game that many businesses would find worth playing.