Datacom’s innovation competition Datacomp is now in its ninth year and this year’s competitors will spend a combined 10,000 hours trying to solve complex challenges set by organisations in Australia and New Zealand.

The theme for this year’s Datacomp is “Together” and more than 270 Datacom employees have signed up to be part of the three-day hackathon-style event, which is running simultaneously in Auckland, Sydney and virtually from Friday 19 – Sunday 21 August.

“If we have learned anything from the pandemic, it has been the power of coming together, and the sense of hope that creates,” says Husain Al-Badry, Associate Director for Innovation and Growth. “At a macro level it’s not just about governments and countries working together, it needs to be about how industry and business come together to reimagine and seize opportunities in a changed world.”

The Datacomp competition has an impressive track record of creating effective solutions to challenging problems with over 90 prototypes created and more than 20 solutions resulting in either commercial engagements, new business concepts or ongoing opportunities that are still being explored and developed by Datacom and partners.

Making a difference

Past solutions include the “BoxConnect” solution for Kotahi, which helps New Zealand exporters, importers and industry partners create a more efficient and sustainable supply chain.

BoxConnect works by matching import and expert flows across Kotahi’s network to optimise utilisation of empty container assets.

Another successful Datacomp pitch led to an AI-driven health and safety solution for Vulcan Steel which used custom vision tools from Microsoft to sift through footage of heavy steel being unloaded and identify and flag potential risks to workers, for further evaluation and follow-up. This solution was called out by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella at one of the company’s Inspire events.

One of the earliest successes came from the first Datacomp competition held in 2012: Sealord was looking to enable its sales teams and the result was a mobile sales app on Windows 8 which gave sales reps a fully mobile app experience with offline sync capability.

A group of people gathered as winners of Datacomp

In 2018, Simon Ferrari, GM for Strategic Talent Acquisition, was part of the winning Datacomp team 'Taupuhipuhi' that developed the pitch for an app for the Starship Foundation.

“The 2018 Datacomp theme was ‘Emotional Experience’ and teams were challenged to imagine and design a future where technology provided a deeper emotional connection and experience for people.”

“We had an ambitious goal to build an app that would ‘help youth understand their feelings and deal with difficult emotions in real-time’ to help positively impact youth suicide statistics that really grabbed the attention of the judges.”

Simon says the app won the judges over because it was designed to engage with the user’s emotional state, across various channels, which really struck at the heart of the theme – and because of the team’s hard work in conceiving, shaping, validating, articulating and MVPing the solution.

A screenshot of the Village app

The Village app is now available on Google Play and the App Store to support youth mental health by connecting them with their community and people they trust.

“There is an immense sense of pride and joy in seeing the concept we worked so intensively on over the Datacomp weekend get backing and evolve into the Village App, launched earlier this year.”

“Datacomp is an incredible experience – the level of energy amongst the participants, the atmosphere of collaboration, the diversity of background, thought and experiences, the learning opportunities, the thrill of the competition and the fact it is really well run,” says Simon.

Simon’s advice for hopeful Datacomp contenders? “Don’t be afraid to dream big but be sure to aim at a reasonable MVP that you can build and validate within the weekend.”

Energy and collaboration

One of the central drivers behind the Datacomp competition is to gives Datacom’s talented innovators and experts the chance to step out of their day jobs and tackle new challenges.

Joon Park, a business consultant with Datacom’s Datascape local government team, has taken part in every Datacomp event to date and says it offers an amazing opportunity to connect with people from across the business and tackle challenges people are passionate about.

“From the moment we kick off, to the prizegiving at the end, Datacomp is an emotional rollercoaster with countless highs and lows. Amazing kai [food] and fun mini events dispersed between painful moments where your solution doesn’t work or arguing with teammates over the finer details of literally everything … and just wishing you could get more sleep.”

Joon Park from Datacom Datascape

“I love seeing everyone’s passion and energy towards building something that has the potential to bring about change.”

In his eight Datacomp events, Joon and his teammates have taken out first-equal, second place (three times) and a third place but he still wants to add an outright win to his list.

“My favourite is still Datacomp 2014 when we tackled the concept of IoT (Internet of Things) and taking an everyday thing and making it smarter using Arduino kits and a variety of sensors. We created the concept of a smart electric stove, it knew when it was on, what the temperature was, whether there was a person attending the stove and it could detect fires. I was so proud of the fact that we had a fully working prototype.”

“We threw in an alcohol sensor as a tribute to the original idea that sparked it all and our team name, Don’t Drink and Fry. The original idea was basically to prevent drunk people from cooking, but quickly evolved to deal with unattended cooking – providing the owner with an SMS notification when this was detected and even automatically turning everything off after a certain period of time. I still remember the statistic: more than 50% of NZ house fires start in the kitchen.”

Joon – who has also received some additional Datacomp accolades for Geekiest Code, the Awesomeness Award, Best Presenter and the title of Hack Junkie – says taking part each year has helped him build valuable connections around the business but his best advice to anyone taking part in Datacomp is to “just enjoy the ride and have fun”.

Datacomp 2022 industry challenges

Ahead of the Datacomp competition, Datacom invites its customers to submit a brief with a challenge they are looking to solve. This year’s Datacomp teams will choose a challenge from ACCC Scamwatch, AFP ThinkUKnow, Beca, Catholic Healthcare, Datacom’s own NoW strategy team, the Australian Department of Health, Harrison Grierson, IDIC – the Indigenous Defence & Infrastructure Consortium, MBIE and Digital Boost, Te Pūkenga or the University of Auckland.

The challenge from the ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) is driven by the recent scam statistics that show an estimated 55% of Australians aged 15+ (11.1 million people) were exposed to a scam between 2020 and 2021. ACCC’s Scamwatch site provides information to consumers and small businesses on how to recognise, avoid and report scams and their Datacomp challenge to help stop scammers in their tracks.

The challenge they have set:

    What processes, tools, services can we create or make better use of to help us prevent and combat criminal scam activities which are causing division, distrust and inequality in our community?

Design and engineering consultancy Beca has set Datacomp teams a challenge to help Aucklanders understand how their city is changing and developing and to encourage them to engage with decisions about its future.

    How can we use data to model different city outcomes in an engaging and highly visual way?

    Create a game to:

  •     model and visualise different interventions
  •     see how these meet our city goals
  •     capture feedback
  •     engage a range of people
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