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You can’t Organize a Virtual Hackathon. – Challenge Accepted

It has been three years now since we ran our first Smart Predict Hackathon. Our motivation for these Hackathons was mainly triggered by two things. First, the tool SAP Analytics Cloud (SAC) is our self-service tool for Business Intelligence, Planning and Augmented Analytics, but most of the time in customer interaction they see a demo but don’t get a chance to try it on their own to fully experience the self-service character of this tool. Second, we felt that for some topics there is a better way to learn than just classroom training.

While many consider this kind of learning to be dull, we found a way to make new topics, in our case the Augmented Analytics capabilities in SAC, hot to learn. That is how we came to this experimental learning concept that is not only a lot more fun, but also greatly oriented on real-life project work.

Of course, we wanted to repeat the great time we had the past years with these on sight Hackathons. So, we planned for more events 2020. We came up with new materials and a new use case for the participants, booked a design thinking room and organized motivated experts for the planned event. But unfortunately, during the ongoing pandemic we couldn’t deliver this planned on sight events.  But still we didn’t want to let this stop us and make us give up these great formats for 2020. So, we decided to try to organize a virtual Hackathon and keep the essential characteristics.

Let me quickly guide you through those characteristics. Apart from other workshops, the focus of our hackathons is on real life use cases and the extensive hands-on sessions that make the participants use the tool on their own as much as possible. The participants work together in teams to master two challenges. While the first task is a real use case picked by the experts, the second one lies in the participants hands. They are free to come up with their own ideas and define the concept of this use case. Further, they can earn extra credits if they implement it with open available data. Even if the focus is on learning and having fun on the last day all teams present their results and the best team is rewarded with fame and honor.

But of course, the teams are not left on their own. Experts with different backgrounds share their knowledge with the participants and are available all the time to support the teams. In daily expert sessions the experts give the teams a quick overview of different aspects of the tool. After each expert session, the participants can prove what they learned (or not) in a quick quiz. The experts’ favorite part is always to listen to the team’s great and innovative ideas. Well, besides the evening event with pizza maybe. Unfortunately, we could not find a way to deliver pizza virtually, so we had to discuss the potential use cases with the customers without pizza at the end of the first hacking day. So how did the virtual event go in general? I mean no pizza is quite a bummer.

The virtual event for our German customers was a great success. We had 43 participants from 14 different customers. We provided a brand-new challenge that allowed our customers to experience the new feature predictive planning. I don’t want to tell you to much about it, because you might want to join one of our upcoming Hackathons this year, so here is just a short introduction on what to expect. In their assigned team the participants were using the Smart predict feature in SAC and build a time series forecast for the next quarter. After the forecast was approved, they pushed it into a planning model and build a nice dashboard to make it as easy as possible for the end users to consume the forecast and make more confident planning decisions.

As a very nice side effect of the teamwork across different companies, industries and knowledge levels regarding the SAP tools, participants started to share their knowledge and experience. Participants started to learn from other participants which added a new perspective to the event. Some participants even worked on their own use case.

Sounds all easy but what about the challenges of such a virtual event?

I have to admit we were a bit skeptical at the beginning. Since it is a virtual event we were a bit afraid that some customers would just go on mute and work on their own. We were proven wrong! It was amazing to see how well this knowledge sharing happened in this set up.

In addition, we were also a bit doubtful if we get immediate customer response. It helped a lot that we as experts turned our camera on an encouraged the customers to do the same, also to use the chat as much as possible or give us open feedback, when something is unclear.  We tried to generate a very open atmosphere, so everyone feels comfortable to speak up, asks for support and also share honest feedback.

So, in the end it felt as if we were one user community happily hacking together.

For the experts, it was especially rewarding to see how well this virtual Hackathon format was received by the participants, thus justifying the effort that went into designing and preparing the event.

What was the Feedback? And by the way you mentioned upcoming events?

This learning experience resonated so well with the participants that we took the courage to further develop the format. We decide to offer two more events this year and open them for more participants from Europe. One German speaking and one Englisch speaking event. If this gets you interested feel free to register using the following links:

Englisch event 12-13th of October: https://events.sap.com/de/analytics-cloud-hackathon/en/home

German event 19-20th of October: https://events.sap.com/de/sap-analytics-cloud-hackathon/de/home

Special thanks go to our sponsors Jens Ihringer, Florian Decker and Christian Scheidel; and of course, our experts. Such events would not be possible without you.

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