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An inside look at the Qantas hackathon

Bonnie Gardiner | June 3, 2015
CIO's Bonnie Gardiner shares her experience as a judge at the airline's hackathon on the weekend.

"There are a couple of ideas that I could definitely see becoming a reality, I'd pick up the phone to discuss it with them."

"We have dedicated innovation teams inside Qantas, but often you can get really focused on the things that you know, so the point of doing a hackathon was throwing it out there for these men and women who have very little experience with innovation immersing themselves in some fairly simple and contained problems, and then applying their creativity and experience as a traveler."

Given the success that this weekend was, Boundy says Qantas will definitely be looking to do more hackathons in the future, with whole new problem sets, or on specific parts of the business.

"It's certainly a great way of thinking differently -- you've got to be the right organisation ... I feel like most consumer-facing organisations that are keen to innovate and keen to think differently should certainly consider his kind of creative thinking."

Jo Boundy praises the efforts of the hackathon contestants before announcing winners (Source: Gavin Heaton)

I find out the hackathon sold out in just 10 minutes, with a hefty wait list of people trying to get in, not to mention successful applicants gave up their whole weekend to take part. This surely demonstrates a large appetite for creative digital thinking in Australia, which creates hope amid doubts that we will have the skills to drive innovation now and into the future.

"I know there's a bit of a lag in people signing up to science and IT at the moment, but a lot of these guys have come through different angles to be here, whether it's been creative design, project management, or comms and marketing," says Boundy.

"While they might not be following such a traditional IT path they're still learning these skills, and I think technology is so prevalent now that in this day and age anyone could have these skills, it's not actually just a niche skillset."

It's no surprise that Qantas took the hackathon concept by the horns considering its staunch focus on innovation these past years, with CEO Alan Joyce discussing the benefits of working with agile external suppliers and developers in a LinkedIn post last year.

"Aviation has always grown and evolved through innovation. The difference today is that speed is of the essence," Joyce writes. "Airlines slow to adjust will fall behind. Those move quickly and show the courage to adapt new ideas have an opportunity to shape the industry.

Hackathons also make up part of Heaton and Jacobson's innovation toolkit handbook, and they consider them an exciting learning experience for business leaders.


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