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Flipkart looks at hackathons for new solutions to engage people, grow biz

Source | Business Standard : By 

Flipkart is looking at hackathons as a way to fast track innovations and build solutions that can be implemented in its business quickly. So far, the company says a little over a dozen such solutions born at hackathons over the past six years have made it to production.

The company’s seventh such 24-hour annual hackathon will come to a close on Friday, with over 100 solutions emerging from it. Flipkart says unlike other schemes to help engineers come up with new innovations, hackathons work best because they have fewer restrictions on what engineers can build.

“It’s an engagement program to empower our engineers to create something that excites them. Engineers have a green signal to take projects to production, get experimental data and then take a call on its viability. The teams just come together organically with their ideas,” said Amar Nagaram, Engineering VP at Flipkart.

The theme of innovations range from increasing customer impact, easing customer experience and simplifying employee interface to social welfare. Flipkart is also running another Hackathon in Bangalore to help solve the city’s traffic woes. The contest is open to people outside the organisation as well.

The management takes a backseat during hackathons to allow “Flipsters” or employees to indulge themselves in 24 hours of absolute innovation. Participants are given a free run to take their hacks to production and ensure that they are workable. In the past more than 30 hacks have gone into production with almost a dozen still in production.

“It is a seamless engagement of product, business and engineering teams to innovate, ” added Nagaram. Almost 70 per cent of Flipkart’s engineering team participated in this year’s hackathon.

Flipkart’s hackathons have thrown up innovations that have not only reduced company spending but also increased ease of use for customers. The hackathons do not necessarily focus on business-centric hacks for innovation. After the Nepal earthquake participants created a hack that allowed the creation of chain of networks to help people access internet connection in times of disaster. “Even on regular days we resolve a number of problem statements but this is just concentrated 24 hours where we just hack and not think about anything else,” he said.

Hacks have to be completely usable to qualify for evaluation. The evaluation is a four-hour long process spanning ideas from almost 200 teams of three to four participants each.

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