Enabling fast-paced innovation: lessons from the SAS hackathon


Change is one of the few constants in our fast-moving world. Organisations must respond rapidly and effectively to changes in their environment, including among their customers. Being able to address new problems and issues, especially at speed, means that innovation is now essential for companies to survive and thrive.

However, it can also be uncomfortable because it involves pushing the boundaries and challenging the status quo. Change can be challenging, especially in established businesses. The recent SAS Global Hackathon provides some lessons for enabling and supporting innovation on an ongoing basis.

The hackathon is about data, technology and people

A critical aspect of the hackathon is that it brings together people, technology and data. Teams worldwide get their use cases, problems, and all the data at their disposal. They also bring their curiosity and desire to find answers. Teams have access to analytics platforms and a wide range of tools. With the technological challenges out of the way, it’s easier for teams to find the most crucial ingredient: dedicated time to work together with expert advice.

Exciting things start when you bring together people who don’t usually work together, removing the barriers to getting started. This is especially true if they are diverse with different backgrounds and expertise. They begin to spark off each other and learn from each other’s experiences, generating new ideas. With mentoring from analytical and business experts to facilitate the development of answers, you can start to get some beneficial results.

Democratising analytics is important

I said that giving people access to technology was crucial—but that’s not the whole story. It has to be technology that is useful and usable. One of the most significant difficulties for many organisations in tapping into analytics and data is the shortage of data science expertise. Most organisations, however, have plenty of people in business units who understand their data and are reasonably numerate.

Many organisations are democratizing analytics to address this shortage in data science expertise. Instead of looking to new people, they are looking to new technology. The hackathon showed that low-code/no-code platforms could be a way into analytics for business users. Yes, it would help if you were savvy about your data. No, you don’t need to be an expert in coding, provided you have some support. It is an easy way to broaden access to technology that facilitates innovation and expands collaboration around analytics.

There is another advantage to democratising analytics. Data scientists are experts in analytics and data science. However, they often need to become business experts. They don’t necessarily know what questions to ask—and asking the right questions is essential to get the correct answers. Instead, business users have the advantage of knowing what questions to ask—and with access to easy-to-use analytics platforms, they can now find the answers.

This combination of business expertise and analytical capacity can be a significant driver of innovation. If coupled with time to experiment and explore, you can see sparks flying.

The value of curiosity and time

Curiosity is undoubtedly at the heart of innovation. Without curious people asking interesting and specific questions that start with ‘What if…?’, you don’t get innovation.

The problem in many organisations is the need for more time. We are so busy doing our ‘day jobs’ that we don’t have time to look back and ask, ‘What if…?’. Not to mention the burden of setting up an environment and putting together the right tools, before you can start testing your initial idea. 

I think the combination of curiosity and time—coupled with data and analytics made available and accessible to all—is key to change, progress, and innovation. New ideas can become a catalyst for change and a positive force for good in our world. What problems do you need to solve—and how could you harness this combination?

In summary, innovation is not just the result of a happy, unplanned, fortunate moment of serendipity. It is a mindset that should permeate the way of thinking, and be built inside structured processes that allow the right people to have the right tools at the right time.

If you want to hear first-hand how and why companies should apply innovation to continue growth amidst disruption, join us for a live webinar on December 6 -  Enabling fast-paced innovation: Lessons learned from a hackathon.


About Author

Federica Citterio

Data Scientist

Federica is a Data Scientist at SAS, working across EMEA on the latest SAS technologies involving Artificial Intelligence. She is excited about combining business and data science to help companies make better decisions, grounded in trusted data and assisted by analytics. Federica holds a master’s degree in applied mathematics from University of Milan, majoring in Statistics, Probability and Numerical Analysis.

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