Qantas is set to benefit from a wealth of new ideas generated during its first ever hackathon last weekend. External developers were invited to team up and tackle real business problems specific to the airline, which steered its way back in the black earlier this year following a multi-billion dollar cost cutting drive.\nAs a judge at this event I saw firsthand the real appetite that exists out there for product and service development, as well as the many interesting ideas and agile creation coming out of the coding community.\nIt demonstrated that hackathons are a direct route to new entrepreneurial thinking and that corporates would be remiss to ignore the opportunities present in coding competitions and similar initiatives in a time of digital disruption.\n\nThe venue for the Qantas Codeshare hackathon last weekend (Source: Qantas)\nRun entirely onsite at the Qantas Centre of Service Excellence in Sydney, the Qantas Codeshare hackathon began Saturday, with venue doors officially opening at 9am. Following welcomes and announcement of the problem sets, coders began work at 1pm and continued until midday on Sunday. Pitches began at 1pm, followed by deliberation from the judges, and subsequent prizes.\nFrom start to finish, the weary and dedicated coders had just 30 hours to contemplate and create new applications or service offerings that would improve the service Qantas provides to its customers. Coders were required to build a working prototype with a core feature that addresses real life problems, and granted a mere five minutes to present their ideas to the judges.\nTeams were allowed to leave in the evening or stay to work through the night at the impressive venue, complete with enviable \u2018tactile napping stations\u2019 that the author wishes were a regular feature in the office environment, including blow-up mattresses and bean bags available for crashing. Coders also had access to catered meals, and various sugary reinforcements to keep them powering through.\nHackers came in all shapes and sizes, with one particularly young helper looking no more than 10 years old! Needless to say, he was kept well away from the hacker beer fridge.\n\nHackers questioning Megan Flynn, Qantas Group Manager Environment and Carbon Strategy, on how to improve QF carbon offsetting program (Source: Nicole Williamson)\nThe event was a collaborative effort from Qantas\u2019 digital innovation team, along with the founders of the Disruptor\u2019s Handbook, Gavin Heaton and Joanne Jacobs, both digital advisors and hackathon experts. Last year David Murray, Qantas adviser on digital innovation, approached Heaton after he watched him give a presentation on digital disruption to ask if Qantas could collaborate with him and Jacobs on a hackathon.\nHeaton tells me that he and Jacobs have worked extensively with Qantas to deliver an event that understood their particular needs and concerns.\n\u201cWe call it \u2018finding the way to yes\u2019. We take the same approach with the community - we advocate on behalf of the teams as well as Qantas. We are looking for ways of bringing them all together," he said.\n\u201cAs it turns out, it came together exceptionally well. We are happy, and the feedback from Qantas has been very positive.\u201d\n\nStill hard at work in the wee hours of the morning (Source: Gavin Heaton)\nThe real world problems presented to contestants included granting customers more control over their journey, increased participation in the Qantas carbon offsetting program, and ownership of the end-to-end customer experience. They also included better integrating travelers\u2019 social media networks with Qantas experiences, and creating a new point of sale (POS) system to enhance ancillary revenue.\nPitches and prizes\nAs everyone packed up their computers and scoffed the last of their lunch, we began to shuffle into the auditorium, ready to be wowed by the ideas.\n"I do not envy you guys [the judges], this will be a real challenge," Jacobs warns me.\nHackathon winners were to be awarded between $500 and $4000 worth of Qantas travel vouchers, and entrants could also apply to take on a six month digital Qantas cadetship. But first - the pitches!\nJudges other than yours truly included Steven Cooper, seasoned hackathon judge and developer advocate for PayPal and Braintree Payments, Frank Arrigo; API evangelist in the Telstra Software Group and co-ordinator of Telstra hackathons; and Jo Boundy, head of digital and entertainment at Qantas.\nPresentations from the 11 teams were nothing short of impressive ranging from travel planning apps with built-in APIs from Google, Uber and Hooroo to name a few, as well as gamification tactics, with quizzes and surveys used to increase customer engagement in market research initiatives in exchange for frequent flyer points.\nEveryone was also very impressed with the virtual reality application pitch using Google Cardboard to provide travelers with the next best thing to real life experiences when planning their journey.\nThe teams were judged not only on their level of innovation and creativity but also the likelihood that the ideas could become a reality within Qantas strategy.\n\nTeam \u2018Cool Mac\u2019 coding in the comfort of business class (source: David Wilson)\nAfter much deliberation with my fellow judges, the winning team was a group of four from Deloitte Digital who created an on-flight frictionless payment concept for Qantas travelers who wished to upgrade seats, purchase additional items and contribute to carbon reduction in real time.\nIn second place was a team of academic game developers from Tasmania (Team Tasmania) with clever new aviation-themed game options specifically for the Qantas Joey Club - a relatively new program that benefits children as the fastest growing segment of the Qantas Frequent Flyer membership base.\nWith so many great ideas, you\u2019d wonder how we managed to pick just three. Well, we didn\u2019t.\nSharing third place were two pitches of equal ingenuity, with Sam Killin, the \u2018Lone Wolf\u2019 developer creating \u2018Qantas to the Door\u2019, and a duo called \u2018Cool Mac\u2019 with the idea for \u2018Qantas iQ\u2019.\nThe former is an opt-in rideshare service for Qantas customers that allows them to access details of other passengers headed to similar destinations, cutting travel costs and encouraging mingling \u2013 Uber and Tinder combined! The latter is a sassy natural language botnet service similar to a travel agent Siri (fondly referred to by some judges as \u2018Qiri\u2019) to discuss and book flights, cars and accommodation.\n\nA presentation by team \u2018Play to Lead\u2019 pitching gamification concept, Qantas Engage (Source: Steven Cooper)\n\nJo Boundy and myself trying out the virtual reality solution \u2013 QURATION \u2013 with Google Cardboard (Source: Gavin Heaton).\n\u201cWe are absolutely overwhelmed by all the phenomenal ideas that you guys came up with,\u201d said Boundy before announcing the winning teams.\n\u201cI can\u2019t believe that you\u2019ve not only been onsite here for the while weekend - that in itself is an impressive feat \u2013 but also, the ideas that were generated in such a short period of time. Extremely creative, extremely innovative, very unique thinking and certainly challenged my thinking. It\u2019s fantastic to see you thinking outside of the box.\n\u201cWe know at Qantas that we don\u2019t have a monopoly on good ideas, and you guys have proved that by coming in here and challenging our thinking, so personally from me and on behalf of all of Qantas, a massive thank you, it\u2019s been awesome.\u201d\nThe victors, made up of Bradley Clayton, Hadi Michael, Jake Doherty and Lachlan McDonald, said that they entered for the thrill of the challenge, but winning was an added bonus.\n\u201cWe came to have fun and we absolutely had a tonne of fun,\u201d says Clayton. \u201cWe loved the venue and everything they set up, we loved the challenges, and getting our teeth sunk into a real world problem, and I guess winning was a bonus. Even if we didn\u2019t win we\u2019d have still walked away with a great experience.\u201d\n\nDeliberating: Frank Arrigo with Gavin Heaton and Joanne Jacobs, plus Jo Boundy\u2019s arms and my foot (Source: Steven Cooper)\n\u2018An appetite for creativity\u2019\nAfter announcing the prize winners and the hackathon draws to a close, Boundy reiterates to me how overwhelmed she is with the solutions presented, which would no doubt take a lot longer to produce in a larger corporate like Qantas.\n\u201cThere are a couple of ideas that I could definitely see becoming a reality, I\u2019d pick up the phone to discuss it with them.\u201d\n\u201cWe 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."\nGiven 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.\n\u201cIt\u2019s certainly a great way of thinking differently \u2013 you\u2019ve got to be the right organisation \u2026 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.\u201d\n\nJo Boundy praises the efforts of the hackathon contestants before announcing winners (Source: Gavin Heaton)\nI 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.\n\u201cI know there\u2019s 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\u2019s been creative design, project management, or comms and marketing,\u201d says Boundy.\n\u201cWhile they might not be following such a traditional IT path they\u2019re still learning these skills, and I think technology is so prevalent now that in this day and age anyone could have these skills, it\u2019s not actually just a niche skillset.\u201d\nIt\u2019s 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.\n\u201cAviation has always grown and evolved through innovation. The difference today is that speed is of the essence,\u201d Joyce writes. \u201cAirlines slow to adjust will fall behind. Those move quickly and show the courage to adapt new ideas have an opportunity to shape the industry.\nHackathons also make up part of Heaton and Jacobs\u2019 innovation toolkit handbook, and they consider them an exciting learning experience for business leaders.\n\u201cWhen you only look within the walls of your company, you will get mostly the same answers that you've been getting to the same challenges. Taking an \u2018outside-in\u2019 approach means that you bring a new frame of reference into the equation,\u201d says Heaton.\n\u201cIt helps us all get a bigger sense of issues, opportunities and what can be done about them.\n\u201cAlso, there is a perception in the Australian corporate community particularly, that emergent technologies should be treated with suspicion or even as a threat. The reality is that these technologies can help a business thrive.\u201d\n\nThe winning team with Joanne Jacobs, plus Judges Steven Cooper and Frank Arrigo (Source: Steven Cooper)\nJudging the Qantas Codeshare hackathon was a unique experience that merged corporate and casual, hard work and great fun, the way innovative processes should be.\nThe business value Qantas is likely to garner from the event, along with the opportunities and 'street cred' for its participants, particularly the winning teams, proves that to further innovative efforts in Australia, businesses need to turn to our thriving developer community. They also need to embrace local startups and entrepreneurs and recognise that the best ideas are not just IT-based, but a collaborative effort.