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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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8 Comments

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  1. David Mattice
    Good article
    I have noticed in my own programs that the business users I write them for like them better when they look good, not just function well, but have a nice appearance too. I can imagine that tomorrows user community will want the programs they are using to look good and be fun to use at the same time.
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    1. Tim Clark Post author
      David, thanks for your comments. I agree that presentation is half the battle. Also, when you think about the 20-somethings entering the workforce they will demand that the UI’s of their business apps are nothing short of eye candy.
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  2. Vineet Gupta
    It is great to see refreshing new approaches from SAP. The biggest complaint about SAP is that it is too hard to use. Gamification of SAP is so far from where we are today? Let’s start with small steps. How about an option for routing workflows as Text messages.

    Let’s start today with small, practical non-disruptive steps and maybe we can achieve the vision of gamification.

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    1. Tim Clark Post author
      Vineet, you’re right, it is absolutely refreshing to see SAP embrace different approaches to improve its solutions. But I don’t think that improving the user experience is disruptive. It goes without saying that Gamification isn’t the answer to everyone’s problems but it adresses a lot concerns of taking smaller, “consumable” steps on the front end. Or as Mario Herger mentions in the article, exposing the user to functionality gradually so they don’t become overwhelmed.
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    2. Reuven Gorsht
      Hi Vineet,
      In my opinion, SAP needs to be bold in this area. Distruptive technologies such as  Mobility and in-memory computing present us with an opportunity to achieve a usability paradigm that is very user, task and role centric.   Yes, there are many constraints to taking such a big leap, but if you take the an example from the consumer market and account for how devices like the iPad have really set the bar for usability )(that a 3-year old can pick up in minutes), my belief is that enterprise software needs to head in that very direction much sooner rather than later.
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    3. Mario Herger
      What you suggest is basically treating the symptoms, but not the causes.
      If the process itself is not good, then even the gamification approach won’t make it better. By looking at the process from a different perspective – like the gamification perspective – will help to way better understand.

      We do not have the luxury anymore for a pure treatment of the symptoms. The gamification wave at SAP was triggered by the mobile area. 1/2 a year ago colleagues in the mobile community expressed their concern that we will put the same kind of UIs on the iPad or other mobile devices. While this was never really ok, it worked for a long time. Now with mobile devices, not only the difference in UI quality is shockingly apparent, users have a choice: there is either a desktop version or a mobile. If the mobile version is not good, they never will use it. And the strategy that with the next couple of patches we will improve it won’t work: Apple’s app store keeps all ratings visible. Either the first version is good, or you already lost.

      So no way, that we just introduce patches and ptachwork (like sending text messages for a broken process). We need to start a more holistic approach. Gamification will not be the lone saviour, but it’s a beginning.

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  3. Tom Cenens
    Hello

    I’m very interested in gamification as I’ve always loved gaming since I was little.

    I do believe gamification will play a large part in what we will see as applications in the future but on the other hand it also calls for some caution.

    A lot of games get boring after a very short ammount of time so it will be a challenge to create applications that keep people engaged.

    Getting achievements and rewards in the application and refreshing it will certainly help to tackle that point.

    Kind regards

    Tom

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