Ideas float around the business, but not everybody gets a chance to build on them. That is the opportunity we get in these hackathons.Jennifer Cherrington-Mowat, Genesis Energy\nJennifer Cherrington-Mowat is the first to dispel notions hackathons are primarily the domain of technical people.\nA successful hackathon doesn\u2019t have to be technical to be truly effective, says Cherrington-Mowat, head of technology and digital at Genesis Energy.\nAs proof, she cites the latest hackathon focusing on the company\u2019s generation assets - its portfolio of thermal generation and renewable generation assets in this country.\nIt is the second hackathon for the organisation in six months.\nIn March, the first hackathon, or \u2018internal innovation competition\u2019 focused on the retail side of the business - its energy and gas brands Genesis and Energy Online. \nThe participants were given the challenge to \u2018reimagine the customer experience through the use of mobile and\/or digital technologies'. \nThe winner of the first event came from customer services. The team had pitched a chatbot to help customer queries. The chatbot is now on the company's website, while six ideas pitched during the debut hackathon are in development.\nIn the latest event, there were 10 teams. Of the 120 people who participated, around 90 were from the generation business of Genesis Energy.\n\u201cThey produce a lot of data every single day,\u201d Cherrington-Mowat says.\nThe two-day hackathon was held at Huntly Power Station in Waikato.\n(Source: Genesis Energy)\nShe says some of the people who joined the hackathon have been working at Genesis Energy for 30 years. \n\u201cThis is not about designing a new app, or game or a different way to pay,\u201d says Cherrington-Mowat.\n\u201cThis is big, fundamental stuff. \u201cWhen you think about IoT and big data, and how we have access to so much of it, the potential for having safer, more efficient and more effective generation assets means this hackathon had far bigger potential.\u201d \n\u201cIt has been interesting getting our energy generation engineers talking to our data scientists,\u201d she says, as the company focused on the opportunities around big data during the recent hackathon.\n\u201cThey were quite excited to have the chance to be the brains behind it all,\u201d she says.\nTeams in action during the two-day hackathon (Source: Genesis Energy)\nAll of the people are empowered to make a difference. Jennifer Cherrington-Mowat, Genesis Energy\nBrainathon, generation brainstorm, thinkathon\nShe says some people called it a \u2018brainathon\u2019 \u2018generation brainstorm\u2019 and a \u2018thinkathon\u2019.\n\u201cIt could be anything,\u201d she says. \u201cIdeas float around the business, but not everybody gets a chance to build on them. That is the opportunity we get in these hackathons.\u201d\n\u201cIt is part of our reinvention of the Genesis culture,\u201d says Cherrington-Mowat.\n'We make sure we mix up the teams. These events are a great way to have people in the [energy] generation business think of the end customer as well.\nFirst place went to The Dream Team, which developed a mobile app prototype allowing a field worker access to information held about an asset, by scanning the asset while out on the field. The app offers operational improvements, health and safety improvements, and accessibility to key information in the right context.\nThe Birdseye Team was second with a prototype application of Hololens and augmented reality. The team's scenario allows an engineer on site and a remote engineer overseas, to provide real time support to the on-site engineer.\nThird place went to the Future LPG4ME team which developed a prototype to digitise the end to end process for bulk\/wholesale LPG distribution. This aims to improve experiences for customers, schedulers and operations teams.\n\u201cThe potential for improving what we do or making it safer is phenomenal,\u201d she says, on these and other projects pitched at the hackathon.\nCherrington-Mowat says Genesis Energy is already planning its next hackathon, but the majority of the team members will come from outside the company.\nThe company has a panel of 10,000 customers and the plan is to get volunteers to join the next hackathon.\n\u201cI am sure if we put something on the website, 'would you like to come and help us design our next couple of products', I imagine there will be lots of people who would like to get involved.\u201d\nEwan Morris, managing director, ABB NZ, is one of the judges (Photo by Divina Paredes)\nLessons learned\nShe says the first hackathon provided them with lessons for the succeeding event.\nThis time around they made sure there were enough developers so all the teams got support. The developers come from Genesis and also vendor partners like Datacom, Microsoft, Theta and ABB.\nThey also noted that the hackathons need not run overnight or as a \u2018'24-hour kind of thing\u201d.\nShe says some of the teams stayed until 9pm, but working overnight was not a requirement. \u201cIt is more family friendly as well,\u201d she says.\nGetting aside cash to fund the top projects make a difference, she adds.\nThe teams were given six minutes to pitch their project. (Photo by Divina Paredes)\nCherrington-Mowat has been involved in hackathons before, having worked with technology companies.\nShe highlights the importance of getting insights into customers.\n"Asking customers, without a doubt, works every single time, especially if they see your products and services because they are going to be the ones that will use them." \nAt a previous company she worked with, she used to go to the chat room on Fridays, where customers phoned in their suggestions. \u201cI just stayed there to listen, go away, make a list and make the changes that will have the biggest impact on customers.\u201d\nJohn Perez, Group Manager Omnichannel and UX and Jennifer Cherrington-Mowat, executive GM, technology and digital at Genesis Energy\nAge of the customer and big data\nShe says the use of digitalisation allows a lot of companies to make a difference with their data. \n\u201cIf you look at the cost of data storage, processing the tools that are out there hellip; the ability for non-technology people to take data and introduce insights is the key difference,\u201d she says. \n\u201cReally, none of these tools existed even five years ago and certainly if they did, we couldn't afford them. Now you can almost buy them off the shelf. You just have to fill it up and have clever people to look at it and see what they can get out of it."\nShe says Genesis Energy CEO Marc England had stated staff should think of the business 'as a startup with some heritage'.\n\u201cThat is an interesting way of looking at a utility company,\u201d she says. \u201cAll of the people are empowered to make a difference.\u201d\nThe top prize went toThe Dream team who developed a mobile app prototype that can allow a field worker access to all information held about an asset by scanning the asset while on the field. The team members are:Steve Leppien, Stan Reader, Reyna Ramirez Montes, \nAbdul Gibran, Gareth Findlay, Michael Dunn, Marilyn Cheng, Kevin Harman, Leyton Such, Martina Perez,Mike Tianyang (Source: Genesis Energy)\nThe second place went to the Birdseye team which protoyped an innovative application of Hololens and augmented reality technology. The members are: Shane Seddon, Mike Cook, Brynn Elwin, Sneha Shankur,Ellie Watson, Daniel Johnston, Adam Whitmore, Colin Stevens (Source: Genesis Energy)\nThe third place went to the Future LPG4ME team who developed a prototype to Digitise the end to end process for bulk\/wholesae LPG distribution delivering improved experiences for customers, schedulers and operations teams. The team membes are: Julian McCree, Hope Allum, Glen Priest, Steve Duxfield, Sane-Marie Botha (Source: Genesis Energy)\nSend news tips and comments to email@example.com\nSign up forCIO newsletters for regular updates on CIO news, views and events.\nFollow Divina Paredes on Twitter:@divinap\nFollow CIO New Zealand on Twitter:@cio_nz\nJoin us on Facebook.