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Nicholas Hamilton

Is It Time For Data Management To Get Its Game On?

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Delegates at last week's Asia-Pacific Financial Information Conference were fascinated by the suggestion that data management can be improved and made more engaging by adopting techniques from the computer games industry

Last week's Asia-Pacific Financial Information Conference (APFIC) in Hong Kong opened the eyes of many delegates to what—depending on your point of view—is either an important game-changing innovation or a new buzzword that will torment those who think they will never see the back of big data and cloud technology.

Ears pricked up and eyebrows were raised at the end of the first day of the conference when, during a panel about opportunities in the year to come, Marc Anthonisen, Hong Kong-based regional market leader, product and content, at S&P Capital IQ, said the pricing and data vendor is planning to make its products "fun," "enjoyable" and "intuitive" by using a technique he called "gamification." Make data management fun—ideas don't come much more radical than that!

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Is it possible to make data management tasks as engaging as Call of Duty, Medal of Honor or Grand Theft Auto?

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In case anybody hadn't been paying attention on the first day, or their memories of Anthonisen's comments had been clouded by the dinner and drinks that followed that evening, Louis Eccleston, president, S&P Capital IQ, took up the theme again in his keynote address the following morning, when he told delegates that gamification could be used to make "technology more engaging by taking advantage of human's predisposition to engage in gaming." And the term quickly became the buzzword of the conference, with other delegates measuring their own company's product plans against the new sexy-sounding term.

Gamification means applying the design, technology and conventions of computer games to non-gaming contexts. It is widely used in the marketing industry to engage the public's attention and derive valuable data about them. The best known example of this is Foursquare, an app that rewards users when they visit real-world venues, such as restaurants and shops, and record the fact by "checking in" online.

Gamification is also being used to facilitate innovation and encourage people to perform mundane but important tasks. In an example that is particularly pertinent for data management, technology provider Microtask created an e-program for the National Library of Finland that uses gamification to motivate members of the public to correct spelling and other mistakes that were created when documents from the library's archive were digitized. In one game in the program, the player is shown two different words and asked to determine as quickly as possible if they are the same.

S&P's use of gamification is still at the design and prototype stages. However, Eccleston said the company will use the technique as part of its plans to replace the tabs and navigation bars he believes currently clutter user interfaces. "The typical graphical user interface is obsolete," he declared.

As with big data and the cloud, sceptics will no doubt question whether gamification is really such a new idea. (This writer, for example, learned to type by using a game that involved propelling an avatar across a computer screen and scoring points by hitting the correct letters on the keyboard) However, gamification clearly takes the concept of making work fun to new levels by using the internet and collective endeavor.

Observers say gamification is motivated by vendors' desire to make their wares more ‘sticky.' Mention of stickiness will no doubt make mangers at financial firms anxious, as they recall efforts to replace technology that staff have grown attached to and believe they are dependent on.

But an equally powerful image in the minds of those considering the merits of gamification should be that of their teenage sons (and daughters) who have become so engrossed in their computer games that they struggle to pull them away from their consoles.

Is it possible to make data management tasks as engaging as Call of Duty, Medal of Honor or Grand Theft Auto? As S&P gets busy developing prototypes and hundreds of APFIC delegates report back to their colleagues, it looks like 2013 is the year when we will start to find out. Let the games begin!

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