November 17, 2015

Digging for treasure at the Ultrahack event

Ksenia Avetisova

Head of Enhanced Reality Lab & Strategic Innovation Lead, Data-Driven Businesses, Tieto

They say innovation is all about stepping out of your comfort zone. Sometimes we could all use a good kick to make that first step.

For instance, if there is an ambitious plan to organize the largest hackathon in Europe, why not take part in it? 

Surely everyone knows that hackathons are for geeky coders, who love gaming and level up on energy drinks & pizzas. What common ground could we possibly have with such a crowd, you may ask? In fact, as it turns out, the answer is many miles of solid common ground.

I’d like to share a story of our recent treasure hunt adventure as part of the SlushHacks concept, and our key findings from that experience. The concept was nothing close to being simple - several simultaneous hackathons, running over a weekend before Slush, each involving multiple partners and an insane amount of participating teams. Just the kick we needed, right?

Our main driver - apart from curiosity - was to test out how our own CXHack concept can be scaled up. Tieto Experience Hub and CEM have organized previous 24 hour CXHack during spring, and these were a great success, with 50 participants and a 100% hitrate on outcome concepts.

In preparation of making the next step and involving more partners into the picture, we have noted the following things during the UltraHack:

1. There’s more to it than you think

A hackathon is by nature a gamble - outcomes are unpredictable. and that’s what makes it so exciting! However, there are things that can steer it to success. It's important to keep in mind that the main event - a day or two when teams are getting together to hack the challenge - is just a tip of the iceberg. Preparation for this event is crucial in order to achieve desired results.

2. Involve the right people early

It’s not a one-man show. Setting up a project team and involving all relevant parties should be done right at the start. If multiple units of organization have a stake in the outcome, they should have also equal stake in preparations and organizing matter. 

Establishing clear roles and responsibilities and keeping up with team communication is the key to success. Do not make the mistake of only inviting your marketing and communications responsible towards the end. They need to be aware of the whole process in order to tell compelling and coherent stories across different channels. That requires quite a bit of effort, but it pays off at the end. 

3. Set impactful challenge supported by prizes that motivate

Coming up with a challenge formulation is not as easy as it sounds. Reserve proper time to make it appealing exactly to the target audience you are looking to engage with. One key quality of a strong challenge is the promise that it will make an impact if the challenge is hacked.

Prizes also need to be strategically planned - there are no limits here, choose what you feel will motivate the teams the most. At UltraHack, teams were awarded with devices, services, software licences and even car driving time in addition to standard cash prizes.

In addtition of appealing challenge and prize, our Ultrahack challenge coders got also access to many APIs and data assets as a motivator. They got a unique opportunity to use TeliaSonera's M2M in a Box device, which can be used to collect different data easily: e.g. motion, temperature, humidity, etc. 

4. Engage with the teams in advance

The main event WILL BE hectic. And most likely loud. You will not have time to properly meet and greet the teams, yet alone to get to know them, which is essentially what you are there for as an organization. Arrange a short reception for the accepted, or interested teams, spend time networking and understanding their background, strengths and ideas.

Then, share yours. Provide more background on the challenge, especially any work you are doing around it already - both to inspire, and to eliminate overlapping concepts.

5. Provide mentoring to empower teams achieving best results

Include most experienced professionals in the field of your challenge to mentor the teams before and during the actual hackathon. They should support and gently push the teams forward to create an atmosphere of openness and learning.

A hackathon is first and foremost is a learning experience in search for innovation and disruption. It can be only be considered a success if all parties are inspired, motivated and feel that they have advanced their skills. Every team and participant should feel like a winner regardless of the results, and it’s mentors’ responsibility to provide feedback with improvement points and encourage the teams to take work forward. For organizations like ours it was also very important to connect with potential partners and employees, as building relationships with participants is in itself a key goal.

Our track at UltraHack draw significant interest, and we had seven teams selected to participate in the hackathon competition. All the teams were very different, but united by their drive and passion. Some worked through the night from Friday to Saturday and even pushed it to late hours on Saturday night. When it came to pitching the concepts to the track jury it was very difficult to identify the clear winner, due to the fact that strongest four concepts were very different from each other and all potentially valuable solutions.

The winner of our track - QUNO - was concepted from zero by a team of three easygoing and open-minded hackers, one of whom was working remotely from Ukraine. Tim, Johan and Andry might not have realized from the start what kind of treasure they accidentally dug into. Check out the story of UltraHack experience told by the team itself.

Needless to say, all the teams have shown great commitment and came a long way over the weekend. They have also received feedback from the track jury panel on how to improve the results. As our main judge and Finland’s well known serial entrepreneur Taneli Tikka underlined, it is very important to clearly state the reasons for results, and be transparent about the criteria and ratings of concepts.

Several of the teams have decided to carry on developing their projects and pitch them in their universities or other competitions.

Jari Kekkonen, Head of Tieto Retail Experience program, says: “Our aim is to coach them to improve results next time. And especially because of that, our team is open for advice and mentoring even after the UltraHack is over."

All in all, as partners of UltraHack we gained a lot. In addition to external inspiration and networking, I was amazed by the scale of involvement of my colleagues as well. We were given a chance to explore various ways of communicating with external partners like TeliaSonera , but also internally in Tieto. We managed to build stronger connection between different parts, CEM and Industrial Internet, Tieto Retail Experience and marketing, and identify directions that require joint effort. 

Find some of our Ultrahack memories in form of images and feel free to read more about our solutions: Customer Experience Management, IoT and Tieto Experience Hub

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