A solution to simplify the process of buying approved essential items for prison inmates and their families was the winner of this year’s transTasman Datacomp innovation competition.

“Charlie” a conversational AI assistant who helps young Australians navigate the mental health resources that are available to them was awarded second place, and third place went to an app designed to incentivise small businesses to engage with manageable actions to tackle climate change.

Datacomp is Datacom’s annual innovation challenge, and the solutions were the result of hundreds of competitors – who came together in Auckland and Sydney – and thousands of hours’ work condensed into just three days.

Each of the Datacomp challenges was briefed in by a local organisation looking to solve a genuine problem for their customers or community.

The winning solution from team ‘Ngā Mihi’ was a response to a challenge set by Siosaia Maka and Livi Kavesi, graduates of the Take2 programme, which provides an opportunity for people who are in prison to learn to code and then connects them with internships with tech companies, creating the foundation for long-term employment opportunities in the tech sector.

Kavesi, who is currently studying to become a full-stack developer at Dev Academy Aotearoa, made a powerful pitch for help from the Datacomp competitors: “My name is Livi and six months ago I was in prison. I was one of 7,500 people who struggle just to obtain these basic items. We want to provide a service that helps families and friends navigate through the complex processes of prison."

Maka, who is now a software development intern at RUSH, says the challenge was really important to them because of their first-hand experience with the struggles of not having these basic items and seeing the stress it puts on the families of inmates too.

While the winning “fast lane” e-commerce solution to simplify access to basic items in prisons has a way to go before becoming a reality, Maka says it was overwhelming to see how much people cared and were willing to try and change things.

Datacom Associate Director Susie Stone was mentor for the Ngā Mihi team and says as well as developing a smart technical solution, making a human connection is vital to a successful pitch and working closely with the Take2 graduates helped create a compelling case to put to the judges.

Stone, who is keen to stay involved in the project, says the first big goal is running a successful pilot with an Auckland-based corrections facility, which will involve getting items approved for purchase and engaging with a major New Zealand retailer on the commercial model for the supply of the goods and the logistics into the correctional facility.

The ‘Four Pillars’ team came second with their solution for the Australian Department of Health’s Head to Health national mental health platform. The challenge was to find ways to support digitally-enabled mental health system navigation with a focus on helping young people (ages 16-24) to find the care that was right for them.

Four Pillars team member Rebecca Edwards, a Datacom senior consultant in customer experience and service design, says their conversational AI solution Charlie meets people on the platforms they already use, for example iMessage and WhatsApp.

“Charlie initially asks a few targeted questions and builds a personalised set of recommendations for the user and can then follow-up over time to check on their wellbeing and offer further suggestions.”

Charlie app image

“Next steps are about developing a more detailed presentation, finalising the associated costs and then working with the Department of Health’s Head to Health team to look at how we can develop and build Charlie into their platform.”

Third place winners, the Climate Haerenga team, created an app to answer the challenge set by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) to “supercharge the use of digital tools to enable and empower small businesses to make positive changes, embed new practices and ultimately tackle the climate emergency”.

Tricia Bond, a Datacom project director and member of the Climate Haerenga team, says the strength of their pitch was understanding that their focus needed to be on incentivising small businesses to take climate action, not trying to compete with all the information already available via MBIE’s Digital Boost programme and the Climate Action Toolbox.

Team mentor Rowland Parr, a GM for regional business platforms and data, says leveraging the existing questionnaire-based Climate Action Toolkit as the starting point for their solution was a smart move, along with honing their target audience.

“The team understood the total market size was 546,000 small businesses but then quickly looked for the group within that market who would be the early adopters of their solution – a much more targeted group of 3330 – and did market research to understand what types of incentives would resonate with them.”

The Climate Haerenga has met with MBIE to discuss potential next steps for the app, which allows small businesses to track their progress, earn incentives and compare their climate action with companies in their area and sector.

At the outset of the hackathon-style event, Datacom CEO Greg Davidson called on the Datacomp teams to “look beyond competition towards collaboration, uniting around shared visions and the impact we can have when we work together”.

“I’d encourage you all to be inspired by the common beliefs of Te Ao Maori and indigenous Australia. In both cultures, togetherness and connectedness remind us to work together in service of a shared vision for the betterment of people, lands and waters – leaving them in a better place for future generations.”

Davidson said after two years where many Datacom employees had spent a lot of time working remotely it was exciting to see the energy of the teams as they worked together in Sydney and Auckland to build solutions with the potential to create meaningful community impacts.

This year’s challenges came from 12 Australian and New Zealand organisations including the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (Scamwatch), Australian Federal Police (ThinkUKnow), Beca, Catholic Healthcare, Harrison Grierson, the Indigenous Defence & Infrastructure Consortium, Te Pukenga and the University of Auckland.

With nearly 300 competitors this year, Datacom estimates around 10,000 hours were spent problem-solving for the Datacomp 2022 challenges over the three days – and nights – of the competition.

Related industries
Technology Public sector
Related solutions
Advisory & consulting Customer experience Software engineering