Nathan Tritt

Senior Technical Product Manager

Fusion Hackathon: How We Scored Record Attendance and Ideas

Topics: Featured.

We recently wrapped our fifth and largest enterprise-wide development hackathon and the results were some of the most exciting we've seen since we began hosting these events in 2015. 

The goal of Fusion Hackathon was to generate ideas for leveraging both internal and external data to solve business problems, and the entire company was invited to participate. Twenty-nine teams accepted the challenge – a record number. While our judges have historically selected a first-place winning idea (which the company then invests in) along with second- and third-place winners, this year 11 teams are having their ideas explored further – and hopefully many will move forward. That's how impressed the judges were with the quality of the ideas. We all were! 

What made this such a stand-out event? Generally, the more we do them, the more mature and sophisticated the events and ideas become. This time, I believe three things specifically contributed to our success: 

  1. We broadened the theme. The past two hackathons had been specific to a technology: Blockchain in 2016 and Bot in 2017. This year, we broadened the theme—leverage data to solve business problems—with the hope that more people would feel inspired to put their creative juices to work. 
  1. We also offered a bigger range of pre-event education opportunities. This year, our pre-event offerings went beyond technology-specific instruction and included training in design thinking, which we know is critical to the successful development of any new product or app, and offered a "Pitch Perfect" training designed to help participants effectively communicate and generate enthusiasm for their ideas. 
  1. The teams have become increasingly cross-functional. Traditionally, our hackathon participants have primarily been engineers and developers, because we want people to not only come up with an idea but to build it, too. Over time, though, the teams have begun to broaden out to include other employees and contractors with business knowledge or subject-matter expertise. They’ve even added people who are good at pitching, because the teams must present their ideas at the conclusion of the event. 

At the conclusion of the event, the teams’ ideas were judged against five criteria: 

  • Impact - Will people use this? Does it make life easier for clients, the field or home office employees?
  • Innovative - Is the idea new, creative, unique?
  • Applicable - How is the team effectively using fused data to drive business value?
  • Completeness - How functional is the product at the end of the hacking time frame?
  • Fusion - To what degree did the team fuse internal and/or external data sources to create the solution? 

The first-place team, named Team Reaction, built an app designed to help improve retention rates among newer financial advisors. The app scales an existing growth program by bringing together productivity and book-of-business data from existing apps and systems to make information more visible and usable.

Each of the teams received feedback from the judges on their ideas and presentation, which they can take with them to become even more successful at the next event or to further build out the idea on their own.

On a smaller scale, there's almost always another area within the company that’s hosting its own hackathon specific to a product or business. These events are growing in popularity here, because they allow people to flex their creative muscles and solve problems that may have nothing to do with their day-to-day jobs. Hackathons pay off for the company, too, by bringing fresh perspectives to problem solving, generating ideas that will help us advance innovation and focusing our use of technology to better serve our clients.

Building a Micro Chatbot Platform

We’re hoping to eliminate cumbersome user interfaces within our company and make it faster and easier to get information by unlocking the potential of chat.