Supply chain’s importance has become evident during these unprecedented times. Therefore, firms need to invest in sustainable technologies & strategies that could be applied to a broader workforce. Gamification is one such way. Dr. Abhishek Behl, Faculty, OP Jindal Global University, through this article, presents an overview of how gamification has been used as a tool and a strategy to improve supply chain coordination. Unlike other complex technologies, gamification is easy to implement and has proved to have longevity. Thus, it is critical to implement game-based solutions to supply chain organizations that will help them improve their performance and help them stay connected.
Co-ordination is a critical piece in supply chain management. The nature and complexity of the supply chain network often make it difficult for firms to practice and improve coordination. Supply chain coordination helps firms to improve their operational performance. Supply chain performance still uses traditional approaches that rely on operations management fundamentals. The most common approach in supply chain coordination uses a problem characteristics approach. However, with the growing complexity in human-computer interaction, firms have heavily relied on tasks' mechanization. The steady rate of development in technology in business operations has transformed business operations using industry 4.0 applications. The 4th Industrial Revolution has also helped supply chain operations get automated, which has helped improve efficiency.
Along similar lines, blockchain has also gained prominence in the supply chain space. It helps to improve transparency and trust among stakeholders. On the flip side, many firms hesitate to invest in blockchain and similar technologies for several reasons: lack of funds, lack of learning, and handling the complexity of data to extract meaningful information. The growing reliance on technology makes firms empowered on the one hand and makes employees crippled on the other hand. While digitization is reaching the forefront of every supply chain process and is actively being used to improve productivity, coordination among various stakeholders involved in SCM is highly affected. Some well-established strategies to improve coordination include quantifying the bullwhip effect, improving dialogic communication, using technology, and devotion of resources.
Recent studies and evidence-based research have also shown that firms have invested in tech-based resources like cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and big data analytics to improve coordination. However, most of these technologies are complex and often give an advantage to large-scale firms. It leaves us with an important question: How can supply chain coordination be developed organically for supply chain firms? How can the process of supply chain coordination be made sustainable? The answer to these questions lies in offering solutions that can be used, practiced, and implemented across all supply chain management levels. We propose to address these concerns using gamification as an approach.
GAMIFICATION: AN OVERVIEW AND APPLICATION IN SUPPLY CHAIN MANAGEMENT
Gamification is defined as ‘the use of game design elements in a non-game context’. Games have always been a source of entertainment, and it is a general belief that it draws the participants' attention and even spectators. Organizations often use game elements in marketing, health and wellness, human resource management, education, user engagement, and e-commerce platforms. Some of the critical components of gamification include game designer, game design elements, online platform, and end-user. As game design elements and gamification are centered around understanding the end user's behaviour, selecting, and deploying the suitable game elements is crucial. For example, the most used game elements like points, leader boards, badges, spin wheels, and mystery boxes often give positive and favourable results. However, there are a lot of studies that differ from this approach. The use of gamification as a tool and strategy has also started to gain prominence in supply chain management and operations. Some classical logistics and supply chain industry cases have experimented with gamification and have reached significant positive results.
For example, the famous coffee brand Starbucks improved their profit margins and delivery efficiency to distribute disposable items to their stores. While the company could match the demand for coffee to the stores, they were still facing issues concerning the last-minute orders placed for ancillary items. This, in turn, costed the firm, heavy logistics cost to meet the immediate demand raised by the store. Starbucks eventually gamified their data center, and each member of the supply chain was awarded positive or negative points to place and fulfil orders. The data was also made publicly available to all the supply chain stakeholders, which helped improve the organization and collaboration between them. The use of game elements acted as a medium to improve transparency and behavioural pivots of the supply chain members.
Another example of gamified supply chain management is training the staff of Audi, one of the world’s renowned car brands. One of the critical pieces behind the success of Audi is its customer support. Drawing on the simplest form of a supply chain where firms and customers lie on two ends of the supply chain, every firm needs to avoid losses in the path. The firm designed a virtual training program that captures the mood of the customer. The customers' responses are captured on the mood barometer that helps the salesman become wiser and empowered to deal with customers better. It helped them to engage the customers better over time, which in turn helped grow their sales.
While the above examples use various game elements embedded in the existing supply chain system, there are some examples wherein is used as an external tool in supply chain management. For example, SCM Global is an exciting simulation-based game designed on the job roles of a supply chain analyst. The simulation uses Google Maps supported map wherein the players can drag and drop factories, warehouses, distribution centers and connect them via rail, road, or air routes.
The game simulates the demand and supply and allows the supply chain analyst to learn ways to meet the two. Various organizations have successfully used the game to teach their supply chain workforce to visualize the actual situation while keeping them engaged in an almost real-time situation. The game also uses hints, feedback, and dashboards to show the performance of the player. Thus, gamification can be successfully used to improve enterprise resource planning.
GAMIFIED SUPPLY CHAIN MANAGEMENT: A SYSTEMATIC APPROACH
Gamification is often misunderstood and misinterpreted with games or game theory. This confusion often makes the task more challenging for firms as they feel that launching a game or embedding a game in their workflow would deviate their workforce. However, gamification as a process is far different from this. Gamification can be plugged into almost every aspect of the supply chain process: managing demand and supply of raw material, manufacturing, warehousing, retailing, and reaching it to the customer. Some of the crucial steps that should be considered before deciding and while implementing gamified solutions are:
1. Deciding whether to gamify or not?
As it is said, “necessity is the mother of all inventions.” First, it is essential to decide the need to gamify certain aspects of the supply chain—identifying areas where supply chain operations are hampered because of a lack of collaboration and coordination between various stakeholders. Gamification is one of the ways that can be used to mend the bridge; however, selection of the proper game element is critical.
2. Selection of appropriate game element
Once the firm is sure that there is an intent to implement gamification in one or more supply chain processes, it is critical to select the right game element. The choice of game elements is often made based on popularity, visibility, ease of implementation, and choice of poor or inexperienced game designers. The selection of game elements should ideally depend upon the supply chain process and stage. Supply chain managers should also assess the behavior and psychology of the people involved at every stage and select the game elements accordingly. The digitization of the supply chain process further makes it easier to test and implement game elements appropriately.
3. Degree and duration of implementation of game elements
Once the game elements are decided, supply chain managers need to answer two critical questions: To what extent do they want to gamify the process? And, till when do they want to gamify it? For example, in a B2B2C supply chain, it is vital to integrate inventory and services offered by multiple businesses. Gamification can be used as a tool for onboarding businesses on a B2B2C platform in an engaging way. Similarly, such businesses can also use game-based elements to capture the customers' attention to avail their product or services by offering them discounts, deals and making the customer lifecycle engaging.
4. Understanding critical metrics of improvement
Many firms often invest in gamifying their processes and lack understanding of key parameters that might get affected because of introducing game elements. Every stage in supply chain management involves different people with different skillsets and critical performance indicators. Thus, supply chain firms must use frameworks like Octalysis and see whether the firm is more inclined towards white or black hat gamification. As white hat gamification tools would help supply chain processes and professionals empower, work on epic meaning and accomplishment of tasks, the negative side gamification would base upon concepts like scarcity, avoidance, and unpredictability. Thus, to achieve high coordination, firms reward people who initiate and steer process and involve peers, which indirectly resembles the characteristics of white hat gamification. On the contrary, some functions of SCM also involve dealing with people and situations that are unpredictable, which can be handled well using black hat gamification. As every process has some key indicators that measure and indicate its success, firms must map those with the correct game elements to achieve higher efficiency.
5. Revisiting and Revising
Most of the supply chain processes are dynamic. However, most of the strategies adopted by supply chain firms are static. The gap between the nature of the process and strategy is often flagged in the literature on supply chain coordination. Gamification is also one such strategy that is often used as a static resource. However, it defeats its underlying nature, which is engagement and motivation. To maintain and improve coordination, the level of motivation and engagement must be maintained in the supply chain process. It can be achieved in two ways. First, using a variety of game elements in the same process. Second, changing the position of the game element in the process. The nature of the supply chain process would decide the choice between the two options.