What if you could stop a technology project from becoming a complete disaster by pausing, rewinding and correcting the exact point where things ran amok? What if company interactions were totally transparent? And what if an enterprise could look across all of its workers to mix and match the best skills?
That's the promise of "workstreaming," a phrase coined by Salesforce.com Chief Scientist JP Rangaswami. I caught up with Rangaswami for a 90 minute chat (we ran over a good bit) last week at Salesforce's Cloudforce powwow in New York. Talking with Rangaswami is always interesting because he sees trends way in advance. He was yapping about social networking, the enterprise and the principles of what appeared in Salesforce's Chatter application while he was at BT. He jumped to Salesforce a few months ago.
So yes, Rangaswami can be a bit of ahead of the game. And what follows in this post is largely theoretical. Then again, a lot of Rangaswami's theories sound half-baked at first and then become reality after a few years.
In our talk, we covered security models---perimeter security doesn't work in a collaboration-fueled, non-linear environment---characteristics of Gen Y workers and designing information systems for knowledge workers where the output is lumpy. But the most notable topic of our talk was the gamification of corporate IT. In five years, I fully expect traditional enterprise software vendors to start talking about badges, worker virtual assets and a lot of the things that are common in gaming today.
Today, Chatter is modeled after Twitter and Facebook. Five years from now, Chatter could be modeled after a video game. After all, work is a big game that's not documented all that well.
Rangaswami is clearly on the gamification bandwagon and I admittedly didn't need much convincing on the topic. Taken at its extreme, Salesforce's Chatter app could become a social game. Why is work a game? The characteristics and structure are very similar. Sometimes the workplace can be World of Warcraft and other days it looks like Farmville. Every once in a while work looks like Halo.
When Rangaswami first arrived at Salesforce he was no different than a newbie gamer. The game designer---say CEO Marc Benioff---had specific rules about company strategy, values and ethics. But the system---management or information---can only account for things that might happen. Simply put, outcomes are largely unknown.
"What does a newbie do in a game? He goes into a sandbox and gets inducted. He has to figure out how things work and the game controls. At a company this is purchase orders, how to hire and find resources," explained Rangaswami. "In the sandbox you find a way of getting feedback loops, authority and powers to operate."
In other words, 21st century work is going to have parts that look like "Mechanical Turk on acid," said Rangaswami. "Workers will choose what tasks to get down and missions will be bottom up and collaborative." Much of this approach will come with the generation changes. Your future employees are just a defend bunch.
As for team building, the old model was that someone told you what employees were on a team. In reality, workers pick people they want to work with. Same deal with a multiplayer game.
In a social networking setting, you look at groups of people and figure out who might be good to work with. Team selection becomes about collaboration and allocation, said Rangaswami. "Businesses used to be hierarchies of products and consumers and costs and revenue," he said. "Now businesses are network relationships and capabilities."
Gamification fits into the equation as a way to figure out who has clout in a company network. What workers are on the leaderboards? What should those leaderboards reflect?
Some of these gamification parts are starting to pop up at work, but the systems are crude at best. Here's Rangaswami's outline of how this gamification would come together.
- Phase one: Collaboration platforms allow people to be recognized for things they've done. Say there's a question that needs an answer. An employee points the other employee to a case history and a presentation. A public thanks is given and that the worker that answered the question builds her reputation. "Rating that answer forms the glue of the whole system," said Rangaswami.
- Phase two: Once ratings are established, a company can put in a rule. If you contribute you will get recognized. Badges are a possibility here. "Bragging rights and peer respect is what fuels the open source community," said Rangaswami. Employees start to compete for badges and recognition.
- Phase three: These badges become assets needed to get the right to play the game of work. "You could say that you don't have the right to participate in a project until you have three badges," said Rangaswami. "Projects will end up like quests and payouts. Badges set the criteria for project selection."
- Phase four: The ultimate comes when workers can trade skill shortages and credits. The organization can adjust skills and capabilities and has the analytics to see work develop. "Today if you help another employee out you just say 'you owe me,'" said Rangaswami. "In the enterprise environment that trade can be recorded."
Add all of these parts together and you get a streamed view of the work being done in an enterprise. Like lifestreaming there will be workstreaming. With all this transparency, Rangaswami argues that companies can save and replay how projects develop. How many multimillion dollar IT disasters could have been avoided this way? "A third party could come in and rollback a project and then hit play," said Rangaswami. "It changes the negativity of the enterprise and avoids the blame culture. It's harder to game the system if everything is transparent. it should be able to expose the truths about a company."
There are a few loose ends to tie up here with this gamification of enterprise systems thing. What's the IT department's job? Rangaswami argues that IT will be responsible for access, authentication and provisioning and offering a catalog of services. Think of IT as the referee of the game of work.
Another loose end is the architecture and analytics involved with these enterprise games. Rangaswami says Chatterlytics and Chatterati are crude measures to measure engagement in Chatter, but that's just the start. What game metrics best apply to work? According to Rangaswami the future of work is more about monitoring patterns not processes. "We need to stop pretending the same things happen over and over," said Rangaswami. "In knowledge work different things always happen and we spend time on exception handling thing that aren't standardized. We need to lean back, see patterns and say 'we've seen this movie before.'"