The Simply Business 2016 hackathon

Next week, Simply Business staff take a break from their day jobs to pursue a bunch of exciting projects. Here’s what’s happening…

Walk into the Simply Business London office on the 23rd or 24th May and you may catch some unusual conversations.

There’s a chance you’ll hear a team debating the best way to add a boom box to a mobile drinks trolley, or stumble across a spirited discussion about how artificial intelligence can be used to find the ever-elusive Wally.

What a hackathon is all about

Nope, it’s not that our management team’s on holiday and we’ve all gone rogue. It’s because we’ll be in the middle of a hackathon, a chance for employees to put their everyday jobs on hold and use technology to fix a problem or build something new.

Hackathons are well-known in the world of tech, but we reckon there’s no reason that Silicon Valley staff should have all the fun.

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We’ve been running hackathons here at Simply Business for the last few years. They encourage creative thinking and problem solving, and provide a chance for people from right across the business to come together.

This year’s Hackathon is called ‘Hack Something Better’, and it’s being supported by IBM Watson, a technology platform that gleans insights from huge amounts of data by using cutting-edge natural language processing and machine learning.

Who knows, our two days of free-range coding may lead to the creation of The Next Big Thing, or at least a little thing that could make a small but vital improvement…

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Ideas have been pitched and employees have pledged their allegiance to a team, so the stage is set for two days of frantic, pizza-powered coding next week.

So what kind of projects are Simply Business staff tackling?

Some hackers have come up with business-relevant projects, for example the crew planning to use IBM Watson’s Speech to Text technology to analyse call recordings to better understand our customers, or the team planning an insurance swiping app for super quick policy price estimates.

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Others want to improve our working environment, like the group building a way to ‘check in’ to a hot desk and let your colleagues know where you’re working for the day, or the folks planning a virtual PA to help Google Hangout meetings run smoothly. And not forgetting, of course, the intrepid team working on that laptop-controlled drinks trolley for Friday afternoons…

Then there are the groups working on projects that aren’t directly related to our core business or our working environment, like those seeing if they can use deep learning to solve ‘Where’s Wally?’ puzzles or the team that wants to apply blockchain technology to event planning.

Wednesday is crunch time

Next Monday and Tuesday everyone will be feverishly working to bring their ideas to life. After two days of flat-out hacking, Wednesday is presentation day, when the rest of the company will get to check out what’s been created and a panel of specially-selected judges will pick their favourite projects.

The judging panel includes Lexi, a tech lover and an ambassador for Whizz-Kidz, our official partner charity, and Oliver Cox and Devika Thapar from IBM Watson. They will be joined by members of the Simply Business leadership team, who will be doing their best Simon Cowell impressions and awarding retro prizes for the best hacks.

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It’s going to be a busy week and we can’t wait to see the results. By next Friday I may be plucking a beverage off the remote-controlled drinks trolley as it passes my desk, instructing my Google Hangout bot to organise my next meeting.

But more importantly, I’ll have explored new technologies, got to know new colleagues, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll have managed to Hack Something Better.

Which of our Hackathon ideas sounds the most exciting? Let us know below!

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