Jul 2, 2017

IDEAthons – connecting IoT ideas, execution and funding

As new technologies become commonplace, there is a case for exploring new value creation opportunities in the realm of application ideas. Put differently, should the ever-popular hackathon give way to a new type of event – the ideathon? This notion cropped up when I attended my first ever ideathon to explore innovative service and business model opportunities in the IoT and intelligent
transport solutions markets.

The intent of an ideathon is to bring together individuals from different organizations to form small teams that work through new ideas. Teams don’t just focus on technology; they consider factors such as drivers of demand, the value proposition, the service delivery business model and its economics.

The event I attended included a mix of entrepreneurs, public-sector representatives and technologists who were exploring new ideas, building on the oneTRANSPORT regional intelligent transport system trial [1] and the Transport Data Initiative [2].

As the context for the event centered on access to multiple sources of transport sector data, several of the ideas involved journey planning and safety-related services. What was more interesting was the way that some teams focused on services that re-purposed transportation data. One idea, for example, combined highly localized transportation data with weather information to report on traffic-related pollution. To avoid the expense of costly environmental sensors and the lengthy period to achieve widespread geographical coverage, this idea relied on analytic techniques to model environmental conditions. The model would be calibrated and regularly validated using granular data from locations with reliable environmental sensor networks. I also learned that present day environmental sensors need careful calibration and regular maintenance if they are not to turn into random number generators.

Towards the end of the event, feedback from the judging panel shed some insightful light on how the IoT market is likely to develop. The winning idea – Get me There for My Social Care – was an application to help manage the day to day case load of social workers. While there tends to be a top-down work plan for groups of social workers, this often changes on the fly. It causes stress as care workers have to find time to reorganize their schedules in addition to their main job of counselling the patients they are visiting at home. As one judge put it, it can’t make for a good patient visit is the social worker is worrying about their next appointment when they show up at the first patient’s doorstep. It also turns out that social workers are not supposed to use the toilet facilities of the patients they are visiting. The need to schedule rest-room breaks as well as stops for meals and to refuel their cars further exacerbates the scheduling challenge.

The judges at this ideathon concluded that the scheduling and journey planning application behind this idea had the potential to make a meaningful difference to local-authority social care teams. Their second observation is that the journey planning solution would make use of local authority transport data in addition to data from other sources. This would expose the currently hidden value of local authority data assets and create a link between social care and transportation units. More importantly, it would open the possibility to leverage cross-organizational funding mechanisms to support creative ways of investing in IoT solutions.

A final observation from this idea and the efforts of other teams at the ideathon is the notion that the task of connecting devices and sensors and managing data streams should not be the barrier to adoption. Horizontal IoT platforms and data marketplaces will be important enablers that allow problem owners, most of whom lack technical expertise, to focus on applications that solve their problems and the business models necessary for commercial viability.

As the nature of work evolves, the technology sector’s focus on hackathons for the app-developer community could well shift to ideathons with problem owners, solution providers (including technologists) and business entrepreneurs.

[1] oneTRANSPORT – an open, standards based approach to Smart Cities http://onetransport.uk.net/

[2] The Transport Data Initiative is led by local authorities who believe that improving the way we collect, store, and use data will help us deliver improved transport services while reducing costs of delivery http://transportdatainitiative.com/


  1. 29 January 2019 update

    Additional context about social care visits and the importance of travel time.


  2. 28 August 2020 update

    What Happens to All These Hackathon Projects? – Identifying Factors to Promote Hackathon Project Continuation

    Time-based events, such as hackathons and codefests, have become a global phenomenon attracting thousands of participants to hundreds of events every year. While research on hackathons has grown considerably, there is still limited insight into what happens to hackathon projects after the event itself has ended. While case studies have provided rich descriptions of hackathons and their aftermath, we add to this literature a large-scale quantitative study of continuation across hackathons in a variety of domains. Our findings indicate that a considerable number of projects get continued after a hackathon has ended. Our results also suggest that short- and long-term continuation are different phenomena. While short-term continuation is associated with technical preparation, number of technologies used in a project and winning a hackathon, long-term continuation is predicated on skill diversity among team members, their technical capabilities in relationship to the technologies and their intention to expand the reach of a project. Moreover, we found intensive short-term activity to be associated with a lower likelihood of long term project continuation.


  3. 21 May 2021 update (cross-silo strategy in operation)

    Many public services have developed a problem, Wallace says. They are serving individuals with complex needs, who are likely to need support from many different parts of the system, but this support is being delivered in predetermined packages.

    “It’s routinised and compartmentalised,” he says. “If you meet criteria A, you get care package A, and if you don’t meet it, you don’t get it. That’s quite disempowering for our public-facing staff, who are highly trained, highly professional people. They are almost reduced to an algorithmic checklist.”

    The result of a checklist-based service, Wallace says, is a lot of people who slip through the cracks. It means that people who have several different problems receive support from many different agencies, which may struggle to communicate. People are bounced between agencies, miss the thresholds to get the right support at the right point, and end up receiving emergency care, which is much more expensive, more time-consuming for public servants, and bad for the people who need help.

    Nine years ago, in 2012, Plymouth City Council started to think about how they could do things differently. The council, along with other public bodies in the area, implemented a number of changes designed to empower staff, reduce organisational silos, and give citizens more control over the services they received.