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The Classified Post Hackathon highlighted the innovative skills of the young generation

Published on Saturday, 02 Nov 2019

The Classified Post Hackathon is the place to be for those who want successful careers, and the event scored big with its third edition. The Classified Post Hackathon is a 24-hour competition for students and recent graduates which asks participants to envisage digital solutions for large corporations. The event took place at the Hong Kong Science and Technology Park (HKSTP) on October 18 and 19, with Hong Kong Telecom (HKT) acting as the major sponsor.

Dubbed a cradle for creativity and innovation, the contest tested the skills of young university students and graduates in terms of creativity, blue-sky thinking, curiosity, and problem-solving. This year, in 24 hectic hours, participants addressed the theme of a “Future Smart Campus”. Teams worked hard to build solutions relating to HKT’s Tap & Go mobile payment gateway based on data sets hosted by the HKSTP Data Studio.  

A briefing was held at the Hong Kong Productivity Council building on October 12, during which key partners gave participants information about their company backgrounds, products, and services. Dr Hazel Lee, Polytechnic University’s faculty coordinator for student development, gave the participants various practical tips, touching on presentation skills, prototyping, idea generation and data utilisation.

The Hackathon progamme was packed with action. As soon as the opening ceremony was over, teams began their 24-hour brainstorming sessions at the HKSTP Exhibition Hall, enjoying free snacks and meals during some well-deserved breaktimes. Representatives from participating companies like HKT provided support when it was needed. Eventually, six out of 22 teams qualified for the final round of presentations. A 15-minute pitch during the finals was followed by a five-minute Q&A session with the judges.

Competition was keen, as all teams came up with a variety of inspiring ideas about how to build the smart campus of the future. Competitors identified the “pain points” that students encounter when using payment systems, and pitched ideas like cashless transactions, QR code payments, and a centralised platform to settle expenses like school tuition, school meals, and event fees. One team even added a gamification element to encourage students to use their product. The judges were impressed by the students’ broad range of ideas when they saw the prototypes and demos.  

The judges were looking for ‘bright ideas’, and that aspect contributed to 80 percent of the score. The criteria for ‘bright ideas’ included creativity and innovation, the quality of the demonstration, how the data sets hosted on HKSTP Data Studio were applied, and how the Tap & Go payment gateway integration suite was employed. Other criteria included presentation skills, the ability to visualise the topic, teamwork, and preparation and research.

Participants gained confidence by turning their ideas into reality and made use of the many opportunities to meet leaders in business technology to expand their knowledge. Corporations looking to recruit graduates could evaluate which of the young participants would become the shining stars of tomorrow.

Each year, the HKSTP Data Studio plays an integral role in the 24-hour Classified Post Hackathon. The “treasure trove” of data it contains allows contestants to use datasets to devise business solutions. The Data Studio is a collaborative platform providing real-time datasets and data technology for developers to create proof of concept applications, and is part of the HKSTP’s Smart City Platform.

A Date with Data

Data Studio was established to stimulate the development of I&T solutions which generate economic and social value from open data and big data. It is a secure experimental platform which start-ups and SMEs can use for trials when they look for new solutions and innovations.

A week before the Classified Post Hackathon, a briefing was held to introduce to the contestants about this invaluable resource, explaining how to register for free to search and extract data during the 24-hour challenge. The platform features two sets of data: unlocked data which is available to subscribers, and locked data, which requires a separate request to the administration.

HKSTP has over 10 datasets contributing to the government (www.data.gov.hk) in this ecosystem. All the data in the Data Studio results from a collaboration with partners and HKSTP. This enables them to gain more insight from their data and find new solutions to address their business challenges.

Talent is the key to creating innovative ideas. HKSTP welcomes contestants who have good solutions to join HKSTP’s incubation programmes in gaining more support for further development.

Classified Post Hackathon champions Suitup said that access to the Data Studio had proved extremely useful. “It enabled students to obtain data with a few clicks, and perform data analysis,” said team member Jacky Kwan. “As a result, we minimised our workload, and our team was able to focus on the business process.”

“When building the prototype for Tap & Go, the data gave us a clear concept about what school needs are, and what kind of cash flow or services needed to be addressed. There is abundant data inside, with a wide range of useful information about schools, universities, faculties, facilities and the sale of products,” Kwan said.

Peter Yeung, Head of Smart City Platform, ICT and Electronics Clusters, HKSTP, said, “HKSTP is regarded as a living laboratory in which innovative technologies are tested and applied, and valuable data and feedback are collected to enable future innovation to take place. Contestants can use different datasets at Data Studio. We  noticed contestants’ innovations and creative use of data to create a space which allows them to use their imagination in the project.”

Everybody Wins

The 24-hour Classified Post (CP) Hackathon enables Tap & Go, a mobile payment brand being a FinTech arm of the HKT Group, to engage young participants to tackle real-world tech and business problems every year. The spirit of the collaboration goes beyond sponsorship which reinforces HKT’s commitment to innovation and talent development. The ideas generated via the platform sparkles our product roadmap.

Twenty-two teams of young university graduates and students gathered at the Hong Kong Science and Technology Park (HKSTP) on October 18 and 19 to brainstorm ideas that could be applied to Tap & Go’s business. The teams had just 24 hours to come up with a solution. Each team was set a problem relating to Tap & Go on the Future Smart Campus, and then built a digital solution and prototype to integrate with it. Teams took turns to pitch the panel of judges an initial and final presentation.

The event proved to be fruitful and productive. An array of innovative ideas and demos were presented to the panel of judges, which had been appointed by senior leaders from HKT and HKSTP. “The company holds many internal brainstorming sessions for new ideas,” said Monita Leung, Head of Financial Services at HKT. “But these young teams can think out of the box, as they have no baggage. The clarity of their minds provides us with a good indication of what today’s young generation want.”

Everybody benefits, she said. “The Hackathon helps the teams see how the real world works. It’s also a good way for us to identify new talent. We want to stay at the forefront of technological advances, and talent plays in important part in achieving that aim.”

HKT discussed the idea of a smart school campus for the scenario of the Hackathon, as it would be easy for students to comprehend, and the scope could be extended to cover broader scenarios like smart city initiatives. “The 24-hour challenge proved to be a good experience for the students, and we felt their passion. The Hackathon is also a good platform for everyone to share ideas. I could actually feel the energy streaming out of the teams. Different teams had different strengths, for example technical knowledge, customer orientation, or strong  business sense. Ninety percent of a project’s success is down to research and execution,” Leung said.

Leung said that some teams pitched the use of trendy technologies like chatbot, which involves like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning. This can bring difficulties in such a short timescale, she noted. “These are ‘mission impossible’ topics and they are difficult to implement in a short period of time. But despite this barrier, efforts should continue in these areas,” she said.

“One team brought up gamification, which is definitely another trend,” Leung added. “But there are only 24 hours, and a concept takes much longer to bring to fruition. I prefer to see practical ideas because we can implement them very quickly. It’s tough to come to a conclusion about which ideas might work and which won’t in such a short period of time. But it’s still a very valuable experience.”

Leung praised Classified Post for the professional way it organised the platform, noting that CP is a trusted brand known for bringing passion to its initiatives. “The Challenge is a good way to bring commercial sector into contact with both academics and the young generation,” she noted. “I appreciate the collaboration between the commercial side and academic side, especially as the commercial side is always thinking somewhat ‘in the box’. We are up and running, and already have operations in place. Ninety percent of our time is spent on running the business, but academic units are not burdened by such things, and this can give them more clarity.”

“Academics are also always looking ahead to the future. A collaboration like this can make ideas a reality, and help commercial companies like us think outside the box. I appreciate the ideas we were given very much,” she said.

Judges from HKT were impressed by all the ideas they heard. They were commercially feasible and their overall direction was aligned to the development and roadmap of Tap & Go, the judges said. “Based on our experience, a campus is a closed ecosystem. You need to be very informed about that ecosystem if you want to cater to it. For instance, one innovative idea was related to the sharing- economy. It was about umbrella sharing. This may not be feasible outside the campus, but this Hackathon team believed the idealistic souls inside the university so would support it, and that it would work in the campus environment,” they said.

HKT deployed resources and support to help teams deliver their projects. A week before the competition, a briefing was held to give contestants a better understanding of the company. Amanda Lau, AVP, Marketing and Channel Management, Financial Services, walked contestants through HKT’s background and told them about its products, focusing on Tap & Go.

Wallace Yau, Senior Marketing Executive, Financial Services, talked about the requirements of the competition, and gave tips about feasibility and the practicality of ideas. On the technical front, an Analysis Path Framework was provided for students to download and integrate into their platform. A team consultation system via Telegram and a support group were set up to handle contestants’ queries.

Good ideas usually entail thinking outside of the box and staying out of comfort zones. Fintech encompasses many different aspects of technology, including business and marketing, and the Hackathon was a good opportunity for HKT to consider new topics, the Company said.

Everyone’s a Winner

The Classified Post Hackathon is a fun event which allows students and graduates to come together under one roof and spend 24 hours brainstorming creative solutions. The latest edition of the Hackathon, which took place in October, saw contestants build a digital solution for a Future Smart Campus by making use of Hong Kong Telecom’s Tap & Go mobile payment gateway. Hong Kong Telecom (HKT) were the main sponsors of the Hackathon.  

Because they took the initiative to step forward and join the contest, all the young participants were winners in the eyes of the judges. The winning teams applied a division of labour based on their personal strengths and skill sets, and this mix of talent arose because many teams were composed of students from different local universities, where they were taking a variety of disciplines.

This year’s Hackathon champion was team Suitup, a start-up headed by Ali Schamaz, a gap-year student from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST). Schamaz led a team of four which included Year Two members from the Chinese University (CUHK). A frequent Hackathon participant, Schamaz said this year’s event developed into a fierce contest, as more user interfaces were required to improve the appearance of the apps.

“Many of the teams had similar ideas, so we had to make ourselves stand out by including business plans and highlighting our experience, as well as by coding and building prototypes. I enjoyed the process, and I really liked it when we stood on stage to show the judges what we had been preparing for the past 24 hours,” Schamaz said.

“After numerous tries, we finally succeeded in using the Tap & Go payment system in our presentation and demo without any glitches,” said team member Jacky Kwan.  “No other team had both a functional demo and an improved future interface design, so our pitch catered to the preferences of different judges. Representatives of Tap & Go wanted to see how their smart payment function would interface with our ideas, while judges from other businesses were more impressed by a good presentation.”

First runner-up ABCity outperformed the competition by emphasising their product’s unique selling points. “I study philosophy at CUHK, and the other four members come from City University where they specialise in global business, information systems and biomedical engineering,” said team leader Wilfred Kwok. “I know my team-mate John Ng from another start-up competition, and the others were recommended by their professors. We didn’t know each another before the Hackathon, so teamwork was a key goal for us. We had a bit of a technical background, but it was not very strong. So when HKT offered us source codes like Java and PHP, we spent considerable time online working out what they were,” Kwok said.

“After the first-round, we realised that some of our ideas were clashing with those of the other teams. So our strategy for the final round was to stress the unique selling points of our project. That was easy to do, and it closely aligned with the theme. The Hackathon was an eye-opening experience for us because the other entrants had brilliant solutions and products. Apart from expanding our knowledge, the Hackathon also opened the door to some new friendships,” Kwok said.

Hello World, from CUHK, came in third. “There was a lot to cram into 24 hours. In order to buy time, we generated ideas collectively, and then split the team for data analysis and coding in the afternoon and at night,” said team leader Kelvin Chan. “We took notice of the marking scheme, so were able to tick all the boxes. For instance, it was important to ensure that our demo work was top quality, sustainable, and useful. I spent 20 minutes scanning unlocked datasets in the Data Studio, and ended up referencing an item related to university events,” said Chan.

“Instead of just creating a centralised platform to settle fees within the campus, we took our creativity to the next level by injecting some innovative applications like crowdfunding and resource-sharing initiatives. Since the topic was a smart campus, there were many similar ideas among 22 teams, so our breakthroughs made us stand out,” Chan said.

Team Bye World was formed by five Year One students from Hong Kong University (HKU). The first-time contestants said they found the 24-hour challenge interesting, and chose to make a website based on e-payments. Their goal was to gain some experience they could use in future contests. To make their ideas appealing, the team factored in a gamification element to encourage the use of its all-in-one applications. “We wasted a lot of time creating an events calendar that didn’t work out,” said team member Kwok Ka-yan. “This taught us to be flexible rather than stubbornly persevere with a questionable idea.”

The French Toast team from Polytechnic University (PolyU) had an edge when it came to tech matters, as its members were studying computing, electronics, and electrical engineering. Generating an idea, testing it, and then implementing it, gave French Toast some useful real-world experience, and team members said they learnt a lot from their mistakes.

“We created an Android mobile app which used the Tap & Go smart payment system to enable users to do things like split bills when dining together,” team leader Marvin Deepak said. “The idea was to replace physical cards like credit cards and student cards, as these can easily be stolen or lost. Lack of sleep was a major challenge, but we persevered and tried to understand the expectations of the contest, as the topic seemed quite broad. We spent the first six hours working out what we could do before starting the actual programming and creation,” Deepak said.

The Codesquad from the Open University of Hong Kong tried to apply what they had learnt during their four years of study. The final-year computing students said they treasured their first contest experience, and especially enjoyed the exclusive access to Data Studio, which they said was a new way for them to conduct research and data analysis.

 

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