Last year over 20 teams took part in the first Vodacom Hackathon at Vodacom World, producing a variety of working prototypes over a period of 48 hours. This Thursday and Friday more than 25 teams will be taking part in the Vodacom Hackathon 2019. We spoke to Willie Stegmann, Group CIO of Vodacom, about what to expect at this years Vodacom Hackathon.
Can you give us a brief overview of what a Hackathon is?
In very simple terms, It's innovation in real time. So the idea is that you create a competitive environment where a number of teams can co-work over a period of 24 – 48 hours on an idea or concept, which is eventually presented as a working prototype. The winning prototype will then be scaled to work within that specific organisation.
So it's a very exciting, high-energy environment, where, what would typically take months in a normal corporate setup can be compressed into 48 hours. The results are almost always innovative, clever and very exciting.
Is it always a single project? Or do the teams come up with different ideas and concepts to work on together?
The whole idea behind the Hackathon is that you don't want to make it too prescriptive. You really want to unleash the innovation and ideas that reside within Vodacom. And the way that we set this up is to allow people to volunteer concepts through specific teams, to foster those ideas. The benefit in this is that it’s not a small group of people in the boardroom coming up with ideas and then asking people to implement them. These are ideas that are coming organically from across the organisation and from different disciplines. It’s important to remember that the teams are also self-forming, so we encourage business and IT teams to get together and agree how they are going to take their specific idea all the way through to a prototype at the event.
As this is a very collaborative event, what sort of person are you looking for to take part?
I think the whole idea is to be all inclusive and not to be prescriptive. So we are looking for multidisciplinary teams that comprise people from business, technology, IT, marketing and finance. Because often ideas come from all sorts of interesting places across an organisation and that’s what we are after. So we keep it very open with teams of around 6 to 10 members.
This is now the second Vodacom Hackathon to take place. Could you give us a brief rundown of the event last year?
Last year we had close to 200 ideas that went through a pre-selection process. We then whittle that down, through a selection process, to 21 ideas that went through to the Hackathon. The event took place over two days, with the teams working throughout the night, and we made sure that there were enough resources for them across the 48 hours. So there was lots of entertainment, breakaway rooms where they could exercises. There was also a lot of good food on hand because you want to keep the sugar levels up because of the high-pressure levels. There was also a place for people to catch a few hours of sleep and just rest and recharge whenever they feel the need.
So last year’s event was really very successful. It was well supported and there was the recognition that this has got legs going into the future. And that's why we are running our second event this year.
But what I experience most throughout the two days was the energy, the excitement and the learning that was taking place throughout the event. And especially those multi-disciplinary teams, where you have business and IT coming together, is really powerful to actually see. So we're not really going to change the recipe this year. We have a similar approach in terms of processing a large number of ideas that come across and then work through the selection process to whittle it down, and then to run the event.
So what is new at this year’s event?
The one thing we have changed is that we have increased the number of teams attending the event. Last year we had 21 and this year we’ve upped that to 27. We also decided to formally extend an invitation to many of the Vodacom OPCO’s such as Mozambique, DRC and Tanzania as well as Lesotho to participate, and I’m very happy and excited to announce that we got a very good response from all the regions. And in fact, all four regions have made it through to the final this week.
What is the ideal outcome of the Vodacom Hackathon?
It’s important to understand that Vodacom is on a journey to evolve from a telco to a tech company, which is a very ambitious strategy. We see that in the digital transformation programme that we started last year and in establishing a new way of working and new cultural organisation around collaboration and innovation.
And so the hackathon really complements that very well. I think it's very important to note that the type of skills that we need in Vodacom going forward is different from what we acquired in the past. So we want to make sure that the hackathon also plays to that. This is an opportunity for you to actually show how you can make a claim to the future and from some of these new skills because remember, in the hackathon, every team will at least have one developer. So we encourage the prototype the team creates to actually be a working prototype. So digital skills, I think, is something that we want to really focus on.
Incidentally, we are on a big insourcing drive across Vodacom. We insourced close to 170 digital skills last year within Vodacom and we'll continue with that drive this year as well, in the spirit of being a tech company.
And then finally, at Vodacom, we are looking for a fantastic idea. We're looking for the next big thing that's going to bring the next ten million customers. And it's not inconceivable that through an event like this, you get the winning team, or one of the winning teams actually come up with an idea that reshapes and sets the future of this organisation. That would be a fantastic outcome.
The Vodacom Hackathon takes place at Vodacom World in Midrand from the 11th to the 12th of July.