Many CIOs have no doubt cursed the invention of Angry Birds, given the app’s unstoppable popularity and unquantifiable impact on corporate productivity.
Ten million people installed the game’s latest space-based incarnation, released in March, in just the first three days of release. This comes on top of over 700 million downloads (and counting) of the game’s prior versions.
But it’s worth pausing to ask why games like Angry Birds hold such a grip on people, and what ideas IT can take from this. There are at least three key lessons worth considering here, which CIOs can use to help address specific challenges.
Lesson 1: Refreshing corporate training
Many firms are obliged to roll out training courses to thousands of users, either due to regulatory requirements or else a simple need to get people up to speed on new tools.
These are often of limited effectiveness, given that many treat this as a mere box-ticking exercise. But there is great scope for inventiveness here.
For example, just as apps like Angry Birds draw you in by giving you a series of basic levels at the outset, to teach you about the various possibilities within the game, so too could training programs for internal tools or devices.
Cisco is a leading example here. It provides an entire games arcade, as a more enjoyable way to help users learn particular networking principles. Some vendors now specialise in providing tools that help firms create such games.
Lesson 2: Boosting user engagement
The same principles of gamification can help user's acclimatise to new IT platforms.
Rather than coercing users to change their behaviour, a game-based approach can stimulate proactive change.
For example, creating competitions for internal teams: league tables, award badges, rankings, and other game-style features to incentivize people to get engaged with specific applications, and proactively learn how to use them.
This may sound trivial, but there’s a serious outcome within this: each virtual interaction replaces a phone call to the help desk and so steadily drives down the firm’s overall call costs, a key metric for any CIO.
The same principles can also be applied in another domain: corporate innovation.
Companies such as Google and Best Buy have long used internal prediction markets, often based on virtual currencies, which allow employees to suggest, rate and predict which ideas are most likely to be successful.
Such ideas are spreading and diversifying: the Department for Work and Pensions has an innovation game, Idea Street, uses gaming and social networking to gather ideas from across 120,000 staff.
It generated 1,400 in the first 18 months, of which 63 are now being implemented.
Gartner predicts that by 2015, more than half of firms managing innovation processes will add gaming principles to these.
Lesson 3: Deepening customer engagement
Probably the most successful example of this comes from Nike, with its Nike+ running platform, which allows users to track their runs, engage in virtual competitions with their friends, and share their progress and rankings via social media.
Over five million people now track their performance this way. All of this directly builds a strong engagement with the corporate brand in a powerful way.
As millions of Nike users post their runs on Facebook or other social networking sites, the company gains from the indirect marketing messages, as each run is shared via the branded social networking application.
Not long ago, social networking tools looked like a major office distraction, before evolving into powerful corporate tools. Gaming apps like Angry Birds may appear a distraction. But they also hold great scope for innovation.
CIOs should take pause to consider if their firms could do something similar. Once they’ve finished that next level, that is.
Gavin Michael is Chief Technology Innovation Officer at Accenture. Follow Gavin on Twitter @gavinmichael