January 30, 2020 – In June 1999, OpenBSD held the very first recorded hackathon. A bunch of developers from around the world were invited to congregate in a house in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and, within a week, they had the first IPv6 and IPSEC stacks completely integrated into an operating system. You may have no idea what that means, but that achievement was an industry first, and it proved just how successful humans can be when uniting so much talent in one room to collaborate on a joint mission.
The hackathon has gone through a bit of an evolution since that event in Calgary more than 20 years ago. These days, hackathons are not just coders or developers. They have expanded to become a type of crowdsourcing event that brings together talent from multiple backgrounds to help solve a business challenge and explore new ways of doing things.
We love that kind of ingenuity. Only through fostering innovative ideas can we move ahead as an industry, which is why we began hosting our own hackathon event four years ago.
American Express Global Business Travel has established itself as a leader of innovation in the corporate travel management industry by building our own proprietary tools as well as partnerships with companies known for their cutting-edge technology. Through KDS, a company we acquired in 2016, we have an award-winning booking tool that harnesses artificial intelligence to create a customized journey for travelers. We have built a special benchmarking solution that measures 40 KPIs, including traveler well-being. And behind it all is our sophisticated Core Technology Platform, which brings together trip data, traveler profile, and content options to enable consistent experiences across all our products and third-party integrations.
We launched our first hackathon in 2016 to continue that tradition of innovation and to help turn imaginative ideas into tangible results that will benefit our clients and partners. Today, our hackathon is a highly anticipated event at our organization.
What it’s all about
Open to all GBT employees as well as contractors, we anticipate more than two dozen teams to enter this year’s competition. So that the teams are solving for real-time business travel issues, we assembled a 12-member Hackathon advisory committee that solicited input from leaders across GBT about the kinds of projects participants should devote their time and energy to. From their feedback, four categories emerged.
The first category invites teams to devise solutions that improve the “bleisure” experience for our clients’ travelers. The second is on creating better business travel experiences for growth and medium enterprises. The third centers around hyper automation and asks participants to come up with solutions that help to automate the end-to-end process within business travel. For the last theme, participants are asked to focus on emerging technologies that likely will gain broader adoption in the corporate world within the next 12 to 18 months.
Employees have had the last few weeks to organize themselves into groups of up to six, brainstorm ideas, and enter their submissions. With only five teams allowed for each topic this year, the teams soon will be notified which ones will be moving forward in the competition. Those that are selected will have a few weeks to solidify their concepts and receive coaching from the advisory teams.
Then starting on Feb. 24, the real fun begins. Teams will converge in Phoenix, where they will have two days to work on their prototypes.
During this frenetic phase, each team will race to build their models and presentations, working around the clock to create a high-quality demonstration. Members of the Hackathon advisory committee will be on hand to help teams stay true to the mission of solving for relevant business travel issues.
Because our employees are spread across approximately 120 countries, some teams will be collaborating with their colleagues in other parts of the world, managing their tasks in different time zones. Others will be huddled together in conference rooms, writing code, testing, and working on their business case and presentation material.
At the end of the 48 hours, many of the groups will have a fully operational prototype. Then one by one, they will present their demos to the panel of judges:
- Chris Adams, VP Client Management in Middle Markets
- Mark Rude, VP Traveler Care
- Alex Stutz, VP Global Supplier Management Americas
- Jeff Lawlor, VP Data Analytics
- Harg Malhi, VP Technology
- Troy McKaskle, VP Enterprise Architecture
These six judges will select a winning innovation based on four criteria:
- Functioning prototype/demo
- Innovation/creativity and relevance
- Feasibility to commercialize cost-effectively
First-, second- and third-place winners will be announced at a special reception on the final day of the event. But the group that walks away with the grand prize will have more than a shiny trophy and office bragging rights. This year’s triumphant team will earn funding for its innovation to be piloted as an official GBT project led by Chief Information Technology Officer David Thompson. If the pilot goes well, chances are high that it will land up in production.
“As one of the leading travel management companies in the world, we’re in a position to drive real innovation in the industry and our Hackathon is a big part of that,” David Thompson said. “Our talented employees use cutting-edge technology to create solutions that our customers need every day. This creates an exciting place to be a developer, and we are always looking for more bright minds to join the team.”
If you are interested in being part of an organization where ingenuity and originality truly are valued and celebrated, make sure to visit our careers page.