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[Interview] QlikView’s Donald Farmer On Gamifying The Workplace

QlikView’s Vice President for Product Management Donald Farmer happened to be in town when software company QlikTech held its QlikView Business Discovery World Tour last week, where it showcased its business intelligence and data discovery platform and featured various partners implementing its solution, including Deloitte and Google. We managed to catch the renown data scientist - who spent almost ten years in Microsoft prior to joining QlikView working on a wide range of technologies, leading projects for OLAP, ETL, metadata, data quality, master data management, predictive analytics and in-memory analytics - for a quick chat about gamification at the workplace.

1. You have a background in archaeology, and even fish farming, before becoming a data scientist! How do you reconcile that?

Donald Farmer: Archaeology actually shares a lot of similarities with big data. Both require plenty of digging into large amounts of data and processing that information into something that's ultimately useful. Many people don't realize aside from digging in the dirt, archaeologists spend most of their time sitting in front of the computer churning through huge amounts of data looking for patterns. As it turns out, fish farming is actually a huge data problem. Even with commercial fish farming, nobody really knows how much fish one can get at the end of the day. Sure you can set the tangibles - you know the size of the farm, throw in a certain amount of fish eggs, determine the temperature of the water and may even know the rate at which the fish can grow depending on the amount of food you're feeding them, but at the end you can't tell how much fish you're going to get. I went in trying to look at that problem.

2. What are the key advantages of gamifying the workplace and how does one approach it?

While there are different approaches to gamification, we're largely referring to the various social technologies that can be employed for collaborative, productive purposes at the workplace. There are three elements that - as they are in any good game - constitute good implementation of gamification at the workplace: 1. The setting of clear goals, identifying objectives employees are supposed to achieve and how relevant to job scope and tasks. 2. Making it enjoyable to play, driving motivation. 3. Constant status updates for tracking progress. What I like to see implemented is the idea of "set completion". So imagine, when you complete a task as an employee your game dashboard informs you that you've "completed 7 tasks out of 10". You're now aware of your progress. That's good. But let's take that even further, by simplifying complex processes into "scores" so that employees know where they are in relation to the rest of the organization. What if the dashboard also tells you've completed 7 tasks out of 10 but your peers have already averaged 8 out of 10? That's powerful motivation.

3. Gamification can be seen by some enterprises as frivolous and a distraction to a regular business environment. What do you say to that?

That only happens with poor implementation. For example, you can make things too competitive and creating losers when you don't need to, which demotivates people. Or you make it so trivial and not integrating it properly into the business workflow, making it a distraction. Remember I was talking about clear goals? I know of a hospital that used gamification. Originally they tried to encourage the doctors by tracking the number of patients that came under their care and how fast they left the hospital. But the doctors argued that they were in the profession of making sick people well, so the hospital then reworked the game system such that the doctors were given a scorecard that they used to compete with each other instead. That worked out very well for the hospital. Ultimately properly implemented gamification at the workplace motivates people to have a good and productive business day.

4. The Bartle Test of Gamer Psychology classifies player personalities into four types: Achievers, Explorers, Socializers and Killers. Which do you think will succeed best in the gamified workplace?

Different people approach games differently, so gamer personality certainly factors here. A social gamer, for example, will probably do well in tasks that require collaboration and interaction with team members. The achieving types tend to be self-oriented and self-motivated and therefore are likely to do well in completing tasks. I'm not sure how well the "Killers" will fit in though!

Daniel Goh is the founder and chief editor of Young | Upstarts, as well as an F&B entrepreneur. Daniel has a background in public relations, and is interested in issues in entrepreneurship, small business, marketing, public relations and the online space. He can be reached at daniel [at] youngupstarts [dot] com.

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