In Vista
March 22, 2021 by Jamie Tetlow

Using Hackathons as a catalyst for collaboration in global teams

This week JATO’s Engineering, Product, Data and Delivery teams (and a few others!) are coming together to take part in our 3rd Hackathon event. The event runs for 3 days and will see over 50 people breaking into groups, coming up with ideas and building prototypes to solve a unique automotive data challenge. It’s a new initiative at JATO but we’re already seeing the benefits across the organisation.

Microsoft Teams screenshot with the Hackathon #1 judges applauding the participants

We were building up to our first Hackathon in May 2020 as countries round the world were experiencing prolonged lockdowns. Our early hopes of bringing an extra buzz and the smell of pizza to our offices were dashed, but we’ve been amazed at how our teams adapted. We’re a global organisation and the shift to remote Hackathon teams was handled with ease – indeed, one of our goals is to test the concept of globally distributed teams (cue Microsoft Teams!).

We also want to promote collaboration and innovation. If, along the way, we create something that leads or contributes to a new product then that’s a bonus. Most of all, we want our people to have fun, be creative, and enjoy the event.

Google search results screenshot of a query for 'Audi A3' that includes additional JATO information supplied by the JATO Chrome Extension

In our first two Hackathons we’ve seen 20 prototypes developed across the broad themes of ‘data ingestion’ and ‘Outside-in: taking the customers perspective’. Our CEO David Krajicek and CIO Andy Paxton have joined our judging panels, along with other members of our leadership team, to watch and listen to the pitches and to award our winners. Our Hackathon #2 winner was the “JATO Chrome Extension” that saw the addition of a JATO information box above Google’s Knowledge Graph box. This allowed logged-in JATO customers to see relevant JATO content and links (JATO Carspecs model details, JATO News articles, JATO blog posts and information from our specification definitions glossary) alongside their search results. In Hackathon #1 our winner tackled the idea of “Highlighting Important Data Changes in Natural Language”. The team trained a Microsoft Luis app that could receive detailed vehicle sales questions, identify the intent and key entities (makes, models, customer segments, time periods), and return specific answers from our JATO Volumes dataset. All winners and runners up have taken away prizes as well as the obligatory stickers, t-shirts and hoodies.

With a view to ‘continuous improvement’ we’ve gathered feedback after each Hackathon. It’s been an overwhelmingly positive response that the event is meeting our goals of collaboration and innovation. A constant message we’ve received is that participants would value even more freedom with ideas and so, in Hackathon #3, the teams can choose their own direction. We’re excited to see how far they will stretch the boundaries.

Screenshot of the Microsoft Luis app response to a question for UK sales data by segment for Q1

We’ve seen our teams benefit from having dedicated work time to explore new ideas and new technologies. They’ve found ways to be creative and express themselves when removed from their current commitments. They’ve also explored the tools, ways-of-working and behaviours that support collaboration across the globe. We think these events give our people, and the wider automotive industry, the opportunity to explore the future.

So far, our Hackathons have been internal events but we’re keen to expand sometime in the near future. If you’re an existing customer or have an interest in prototyping at the intersection of technology, data, digital and the automotive industry we would love to hear from you – please get in touch.

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