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Hackathons: Building The Developer Ecosystem While Innovating Outside Organisational Lines

Hackathons: Building The Developer Ecosystem While Innovating Outside Organisational Lines

Businesses Are Using The Principles Of Hackathons To Break Through Organisational Inertia

If you’re not disrupting your own market today, someone else will.

This is a driving principle for companies of all sizes as they plan for digital transformation. Open innovation can play an important role in accelerating digital transformation for existing businesses of all sizes across all industries.

Hackathons on open innovation platforms have become popular lately. Several Fortune 500 companies are leveraging developer communities to build solutions and improve existing processes. Businesses are using the principles of hackathons to break through organisational inertia by offering short intense bursts of creativity and problem-solving in a high energy atmosphere. In a hackathon environment, innovation can be accelerated with excellent results.

With increasing competition and evolving customer needs, enterprises have been forced to rethink their product and business strategies and develop innovation ecosystems that not only respond quickly to fluctuating market demands but also reinvent themselves fast enough to outpace the competition. Given the need for speedy relevant updates, businesses are tweaking their innovation operating models to bridge the gap, from idea portals, cross-BU collaborations, and internal product demos to hackathons.

Hackathons And The Developer Ecosystem

Hackathons have become the easiest and most popular innovation tool to crowdsource ideas and solutions. Tech firms are leveraging external hackathons and developer communities to bring in fresh perspectives and refuel the innovation engine.

Perhaps the greatest example of leveraging hackathons is a social networking giant that hosted 50+ internal hackathons and 80+ external hackathons and workshops in universities and cities globally. Many of the trademark features of open platforms were ideated and prototyped through hackathons. Several other tech giants and unicorn startups, from global taxi providers to leading digital payment companies have been successfully developed on hackathons to drive innovation faster.

While internal hackathons do a great job of mobilizing in-house technology and product teams, external hackathons and developer communities bring in the highly desired ‘outside-in’ perspective. Global tech giants have already cracked the code and utilize massive global developer communities to create applications at breakneck speeds. Moreover, these developers not only build the products and applications, but they also create awareness and act as brand evangelists.

Progressive tech companies have built large developer communities and aligned them with their internal engagement platforms and forums to keep the dialogue ongoing and continuous. Mid-sized companies are realizing the importance of leveraging external developer communities and are focusing on creating developer portals.

Open Innovation Programs

Open innovation programs such as hackathons may seem to be a quick fix to often long-cycled innovation process, however, the fact is that not all hackathons are successful in bringing about innovation. Internal or external hackathons require meticulous planning and even then, the end outcome and return on investment can be underwhelming.

These are a few best practices for maximizing the outcomes of hackathons and other open innovation programs:

Set The Tone

Clearly define the what, why and how of your open innovation programs to set the tone. The process should start with a clear need to define how hackathons or developer engagements in general fit into the organizational strategy and vision along with the expected outcome. Would you like to develop innovative features for existing products? Obtain specific product feedback? Create mindshare and branding? Source high-quality talent? Define customer-centric themes, customer personas, and problem statements. For example: outline the needs of the end customer and provide direction on how the solution may benefit them.

Diverse, Cross-functional And Global Participation

Hackathons remain the most tried, tested and proven method for startups to source rapid innovation. Large organizations, however, often find internally driven innovation programs only half as successful due to longstanding organizational inertia and ‘thought firewalls’. It is important that large organizations invite participation of a diverse, cross-functional and global developers to fuse new and innovative ideas into existing thinking for internal programs.

Get The Language Right

It is important to clearly draft intellectual property terms, product and process rights, branding and communication guidelines. The last thing that organizations want from open innovation programs are IP litigations, therefore it is imperative to involve legal and branding teams to draft clear open innovation agreements and set the right expectations.

Don’t Limit Open Innovation Programs To Events

Open innovation programs should facilitate a continuous flow of information between organizations and developer communities. Developer feedback should be encouraged and adopted in product sprints and iterated with developers for fine tweaks. Only by effective enablement, engagement, and empowerment of open innovators – be it developer community, outside engineers, designers, and coders – can the endless creativity and out-of-box hacks be leveraged and monetized.

It is important that large organizations execute early at scale and speed, and invite wide participation from an array of communities both outside and inside the organization boundaries to transcend thought firewalls. Open innovation programs are promising and can help large organizations accelerate digital transformation and increase client focus.

Author

SVP Global SMB Products & Strategy and Chairman India, Pitney Bowes Inc.

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