February 15, 2016

Lessons in innovation from the Fazer Food Services hackathon

Simon Panelius

Vice President, Operational Development, Fazer Food Services Oy

Fazer Food Services' first-ever hackathon was a huge success. Here's the reflections on the two-day event and how it helped us think outside the box.

Earlier this month, Fazer Food Services joined forces with Tieto and Aalto University to run CXHack Fazer - a two-day hackathon in which we invited participants to "add digital flavours to the lunch experience". 

The event was a huge success. We've already announced the winners, whose idea was to use smart buttons in our restaurants to gather real-time feedback at every stage of the customer journey. Their solution and many others will be developed further, and might even end up being used in some of our premises in the not-too-distant future.

But first, let's step back a little. Why did Fazer Food Services choose to run a hackathon?

Learning to think outside the box

My colleague Hannu Rahnasto has already written here about the drivers for digital transformation in the contract catering business.

Like many others, our industry is changing - our guests in schools, universities and workplaces are starting to see our restaurants as just one of their possible options for lunch, and they expect us to compete with the open market in terms of food and service. For some time now, we've been looking into how innovation in the digital arena can help us overcome these challenges and develop our business.

It was this that led us to the idea of running a hackathon. After all, what better way than to be innovative than to think outside the box and look for totally new perspectives on our industry and business model?

We didn't know what to expect or even where to begin, but that was partly the point - the event would be a completely blank canvas for participants from all backgrounds and walks of life.

Our partnership with Tieto came about by chance, but the XHub team came up with an impressive concept for the hackathon, and helped us assemble a diverse and talented group of participants for the two-day event.

How the hackathon went

The atmosphere at the hackathon was electric. Everybody was on a journey out of their comfort zone, and it was amazing to see the teams go through the entire forming, storming, norming and performing process in just 48 hours.

Personally, I think what impressed me most was the way their solutions developed and matured overnight. After a difficult first day, the participants returned on the second with a much better idea of where they were headed and how they should get there.

The winners of the hackathon came up with a simple but compelling solution to gather real-time feedback from guests on our Aalto University campus restaurant. They weren't the only team to explore ideas around feedback, either - some of the other submissions included a solution for delivering comments via social channels like WhatsApp, as well as a way to qualify other customers' feedback by rating the validity of their opinions on a touchscreen.

These ideas hold enormous potential for us. Contract catering is all about making a lot of different people happy, but traditionally we've only been able to gather feedback through intermittent questionnaires and focus groups. Having this high quality data available in real time could make a genuine difference to how we manage our customers' experience.

Other participants came up with totally different ideas. One team attempted to gamify our menu; others explored the social side of eating at the campus restaurant. All of their solutions were useful, innovative and unlike anything we would have come up with ourselves.

What's next?

Now that the hackathon is over and the dust is settling, we're looking into the possibility of piloting some of the teams' solutions in our restaurants in the near future. In the long run, they may even find a permanent home in the way we run our business.

Whatever happens, this definitely won't be the only hackathon we ever run. It's taught us a lot about the value of thinking outside the box, and we're already planning a followup in another area of our business  “Foodathon” that'll apply this learning to the way we create recipes, too.

Even for a large company like Fazer Food Services, there's a lot we can accomplish by changing the way we work and thinking more like a startup. CXHack Fazer is evidence of this. 

To read more about the results of the hackathon, click here.

Find more about Customer Experience Management and Tieto Experience Hub.

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