Gamification lifts future industry to new levels

Industry needs to capture the imagination of the next generation, a generation that expects something quite different from work than their older peers

One topic that receives considerable interest in the industry is gamification. I have been around and lectured on gamification since 2013, which may sound strange when ABB does not really do so much in the field. However, as a researcher in user experience it is important to keep track of both new technologies and ongoing developments, and apply the learnings where we can to add value for our customers and users. I believe that the industry could investigate the thinking behind games and apply these not only to create engaging products and systems for our customers but also to attract next generation users.

I usually explain gamification as a process of using game attributes and thinking to create engagement. Gamification for me is not to turn our industrial products into computer games. It is rather a case of identifying the attributes in computer games that make us so focused. What is it in computer games that makes us feel so good that we rather spend our time in the virtual world rather than making a difference in the real world?

What if we could grab the attention of our customers and our employees in the same engaging way? There are many aspects of this that I think are interesting, among others, a generational shift in the industry that both ABB and our customers are facing.

Next generation

It is important not only to create engaging products, but also to utilize the potential, to adapt to the knowledge and experience of the next generation users entering the industry. The new generation is different from those who grew up in the 1940’s-1970’s. Just to give an example: Last fall our user experience rock star – a researcher working in my team – decided to resign. I wrote a job ad and asked him to look at it, with a question: “Would you apply for this job? You know I want you to stay, but if you do not, I would like to hire someone exactly like you.” In response, he sent me back a new ad. Below you can see extracts from the two different versions, which I think speak for themselves, in terms of what the next generation is looking for. The second ad example, which I would have never been able to write so well, is the kind of a story that you find in computer games.

My introduction to the ad:

We are a global organization delivering innovative solutions for all ABB units. Our research projects typically develop proof of concept user experience solutions with the latest technology. Within these projects, we have a close dialogue with our business units as well as end customers to identify tomorrow’s market needs. To fulfill these needs, we monitor, identify and make use of the latest technologies, when we shape ideas and provide new innovative solutions.

Next generation description of the employment he would have applied to:

Imagine the world where the serious industries are enjoyable and fun places to work, where factories have beautiful information tools, where the decision makers can see relevant data presented efficiently, so that their decisions become well informed. Imagine power plants, robots and factories from the science fiction — we are building them today, here in ABB, and we need you to join our research center in Västerås, Sweden, to help us shape the future of these vital industries!

Industrial technology for a new generation

To take a real example from the industry we can look at the process industry and its operators. Today’s operators typically have a long experience in the field and a background in mechanics. If we look at our systems and products, they are mainly designed precisely for people born in 1940-1950’s. They are retiring now or in the near future and we see a new generation coming into the industry, a generation with completely different backgrounds and expectations, that our systems and products are typically not made for.

10,000 hours of training

I think it is interesting to link this challenge of generation shift to Jane MacGonigals research. She describes a new generation who at age 21 will have played 10,000 hours of video games. With reference to Outliers book, what distinguishes an expert is the amount of training – so after 10,000 hours you are in theory an expert. Could we adapt our products and systems to capture this generation’s full potential instead of forcing them to work as the previous generation?

Cultural Difference

Imagine when this generation, with an average of 220 keystrokes per minute, which is multitasking and constantly getting the adrenaline kicks in front of your computer at home, get to the work. As a control room operator, there is a maximum need for five keystrokes per hour and a lot of waiting. The outcome – we will get bored operators and this is not good for creativity, productivity or safety.

What do we need to do to lift the industry?

We need to create an environment without waiting, with products, systems, services that give a sense of optimism, inspiring stories, an environment that fosters collaboration, and an environment where you are always productive.

What I want is to capture the commitment of our users and every employee to brighten the future of our industry. The challenge will be to attract next generation gamers, who are extremely active in front of a computer, to start a career as operators where they face lots of inactive waiting times. Gamification might be the missing piece of the puzzle.

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About the author

Susanne Timsjö

I began working for Process Automation in 1999 with the development of the 800xA control system. At the beginning of 2007, I started to work for Corporate Research with a vision to make ABB’s products and systems easier to use. Since 2008 I have, apart from a short time at Bombardier, worked with creating innovations for ABB. I love technology, my work, my family, people and exercising. I have two wonderful daughters; I will do anything to get them interested in technology. Jag började arbeta 1999 på Process Automation med utveckling av styrsystemet 800xA. Årsskiftet 2006/2007 började jag på Corporate Research med en vision att göra ABB:s produkter och system enkla att använda. Efter 2007 har jag, med en kort period på Bombardier, jobbat med att ta fram nya innovationer för ABB. Jag älskar teknik, mitt jobb, min familj, människor och träning. Jag har två underbara döttrar som jag gör allt för att få intresserade av teknik.
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