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Turning Back Office Into A Game, IT Style

Written by Todd L. Michaud
April 25th, 2012

Todd Michaud runs Power Thinking Media, which helps retailers and restaurants tackle the convergence of social, mobile and retail technologies. He spent nine years delivering technology solutions to more than 10,000 retail locations as VP of IT for Focus and Director of Retail Technology for Dunkin’ Brands.

Why is it that the same people who will easily spend hours playing Angry Birds each week won’t spend an extra hour improving their retail operations? Saving money just isn’t sexy or fun. It’s boring, and that’s the biggest problem. After all of my years in retail operations, I am still surprised how little traction well-developed back-office applications receive. You would think that saving money on inventory, labor or marketing expenses would be all the motivation that a retail owner or general manager would need, but that rarely seems to be the case.

This got me thinking about some of the new social applications, like Foursquare, and what makes them successful: Gamification. The concept of gamification involves adding game-like elements to an application to increase adoption and frequency of use. Typically, as in Foursquare, this is done by awarding “points” and “badges” for certain activities and creating a game-like environment. There is a leaderboard, and you are encouraged to “do more” to compete with the other players/users.

In retail, we call these key performance indicators (KPIs), which is about as sexy and cool as grandma’s wallpaper. If you are lucky, you get a weekly or monthly report that has 200 or so numbers on it. You need to decipher what activities you need to do to improve your business. If this number is high, then get upset with Dan. If this number is low, then congratulate Sally. These applications are dry, difficult to read and rarely include any real action-based processes on what to do when the data doesn’t say what you want it to.

But what if we took the concept of gamification and reframed our retail applications to be more like Foursquare? What if your same-store-sales number was put on a leaderboard daily against your peer set? What if you could become “king” of sales or receive a “mega-profit” badge?

Although it may seem like a subtle difference between traditional KPI reports (which may or may not even exist in the first place), it is significant. With a gamification-centered application, the entire experience is designed around being a game versus a report filled with red, yellow and green. The “Hunt For The Missing Inventory” Game or “The Inventory Turn” Game will likely be used more than the “Inventory Variance Report.”

I imagine that some of you are laughing at that the idea of building a “Hunt For The Missing Inventory” Game. But inventory variance is a huge profit-suck and many, many retailers (especially franchise systems) do not pay any attention to it. If you could increase adoption of your back-office application by adding a few of these elements, isn’t that worth consideration?

Looking to add a little more drama to your new game? How about: “To Catch A Thief.”


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