How a Hackathon Led to Real-World Solutions for Found Animals Foundation
Hackathons have become a popular pro bono volunteer event model– bringing together a group of people to use their creative skills and technology know-how to solve problems in a short amount of time. Participants make new connections, learn new skills, feel like they make a difference, and typically vie for a prize and bragging rights for the winning idea (which doesn’t hurt!).
Unfortunately, models based on a short time commitment, volunteers, and a good marketing hook tend not to lead to long-term, sustainable outcomes. A group of people who are willing to give a day or a weekend to a project may not actually be interested in, or have the ability to, spend the time to actually bring their idea to life after the event is over, and creating new technology solutions is not necessarily a fast or easy process.
NetSuite’s Hackathon 4Good model is designed not to lose sight of our core mission – we transform how organizations operate so they can achieve their organizational vision. We designed a shorter event with the aim of creating a think tank atmosphere for our charity partners. We bring a wide range of experts together to give the charity exposure to a broad range of ideas that can be implemented in a variety of ways from relying on internal staff to pro bono services to paid consulting services.
As the years progress we continually seek to find ways for our grantees to benefit from the ideas created at the hackathon. This past year with charity partner Found Animals Foundation and hackathon participant Yantra, the pieces fell into place. The result was an innovative solution that enables Found Animals to scale and streamline their work to save pets’ lives.
Found Animals Foundation is Saving Pets’ Lives
More than 3 million animals are euthanized each year in the United States. Found Animals Foundation (FAF), a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization and grantee of NetSuite.org’s software donation program, is on a mission to reverse the outcome for these animals through its microchip program, automated registry databases, responsible adoption initiatives, and low-cost spay/neuter services.
FAF turned to NetSuite to help it scale its microchip program and enable it to put 2 million microchips into the hands of shelters, rescues and other organizations annually. The organization was one of two charity partners selected to participate in NetSuite.org’s 2nd annual Hackathon 4Good, an event that brought together NetSuite employees, partners and customers who were tasked with creating an innovative solution to help FAF scale their program using the NetSuite platform.
FAF was used to processing approximately 1 million microchips per year using a variety of external and internal documentation tools, including Gmail and Google Docs, and knew it needed to automate its complex fulfillment process to place less of the burden on staff and volunteers, thereby reducing delays in processing leads, duplicate orders, and having unqualified leads end up in the system.
For the 2015 Hackathon 4Good, held at SuiteWorld, NetSuite’s annual customer conference, FAF presented Hackathon participants with its challenge -- how could the NetSuite system be customized to address its three main pain points:
● Ordering and validation. How could FAF more rapidly receive, process and fulfill orders given their unique requirements – Customer validation, order validation & microchip registration?
● Shipping. As a small organization with limited space and resources, how could they get microchips accurately and efficiently into the hands of eligible organizations?
● Microchip registration. How could FAF automate the transmission of information to their external registration system?
Hackathon 4Good – A Think Tank Style Opportunity To Solve These Challenges
As far as hackathon’s go, the Hackathon 4Good is actually a shorter event, due in part to the fact that it’s part of a very busy week of SuiteWorld Conference events. Start to finish, the event only runs 12 hours, which means that the applications being designed by the teams are really prototypes. This style of event, in which the charity spends the day answering questions, and spending time with each team provides the opportunity for the team to understand the challenge, enabling them to produce a winning solution for the charity partner, plus an entire series of ideas for potential solutions the charity can use as it builds out its technology capabilities.
The Hackathon 4Good started with pitches from the two charity partners (in this case, FAF and Good360), then participants split up into teams based on skill and ideas and spent the rest of the day strategizing, planning, coding and developing solutions. Another unique feature about the Hackathon 4Good is that all of the participants have experience using NetSuite and are therefore tasked with leveraging the SuiteCloud Development Platform to prototype their NetSuite based technology solutions.
After ten caffeine fueled hours of white boards, post-it notes and fast and furious customizations, the teams each presented their solution to a panel of judges, which included NetSuite Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer Evan Goldberg, NetSuite EVP of Product Management Gary Wiessinger, NetSuite.org Senior Director of Nonprofit David Geilhufe and representatives from each charity partner.
It was a hard decision as each team presented a really interesting set of solutions, but in the end it was SuiteAvengers, a team made up of Daniel Weinstein, NetSuite developer, Jeff Gordon, of Staybright Electric, and Vikram Bhandari and Geetanjli Dhanjal of NetSuite Partner Yantra, a Management and Information Technology consulting company that specializes in business consulting, enterprise applications, and technology consulting services, who won the hackathon for the solution they recommended to address the needs of FAF.
Yantra Goes Above and Beyond Post-Hackathon
While hackathons are a great way to produce a host of innovative ideas in a short time frame, the main criticism of this style of event is that they often fall short in delivering real world solutions. The problem isn’t with the quality of ideas produced at hackathons, since these events bring together incredibly talented and passionate technologists, the real issue is that developing software solutions to address complex problems takes time and a commitment beyond a day-long or weekend-long hackathon.
The NetSuite.org team works with our charity partners to explore all the different options for making hackathon projects a reality, including brokering relationships between volunteers and charities after the event. It was this introduction that April Harris, Program Officer for FAF, says was key to getting the project started. Even so, it’s not always a sure thing to be able to see the prototyped solution go-live due to a myriad of challenges.
This time however, the stars aligned. After being selected as part of the winning team at the Hackathon 4Good, the team at Yantra, led by Bhandari and Dhanjal, decided they wanted to commit to seeing their prototype come to life. It was the first time the team had participated in a hackathon and they felt committed to customizing a solution to help FAF scale its microchip program and see that more pets are returned to their owners instead of ending up in overcrowded and under-resourced shelters.
Understanding Processes to Develop a Winning Solution
Post-hackathon, the first step for Yantra, prior to building out a solution for FAF, was to better understand the organization’s processes. Through in-depth conversations with Harris and Corporate Controller Dominic Juneau, Bhandari, VP of Yantra, was able to better understand FAF’s entire microchip fulfillment process, from how leads were handled to how orders were ultimately shipped and received by customers.
It was through these conversations that Bhandari and Dhanjal, Director of Global Engineering Practice at Yantra, along with Taher Vohra, NetSuite Solution Architect at Yantra, realized how much of FAF’s microchip fulfillment process was done manually.
One of the most important ways Found Animals saves lives is through a robust and growing partner network of animal rescue organizations and shelters that purchase and use microchips. Manual work, human intervention, and a long cycle of engagement provided FAF partners with a poor experience, putting that robust and growing network at risk and resulting in missed leads, inconsistent data, and incorrectly classified leads. Harris, Bhandari and Dhanjal realized that if they could automate the lead process when a partner first engaged with FAF, it would improve the experience for partners and FAF staff.
The team built out custom questionnaires that allowed NetSuite to automatically determine eligibility and provide the partner with the right written agreement. Now partners have a seamless experience with FAF. Harris says this automation has enabled them to reduce the microchip fulfillment process from 30 days to 5 days. The automation has also meant that the team hasn’t received a single complaint from their supplier about an unqualified lead ending up in its system.
The Yantra team also automated the renewal process to help organizations stay on top of their microchip supply and easily reorder from FAF. The result is that staff time can be diverted from sending reminder emails to growing and developing their partner network and distributing more microchips.
The process took about 4 months and 160 hours of pro bono service, but at the end of the project the FAF team now has a working solution that Harris says has helped them to be “more productive”, and helped her to be a “better leader.”
“Participation in the Hackathon was an amazing experience and the efficiencies that were created far offset any work that we put into it,” said Harris.
Expanding our Impact
As a corporate social responsibility department within a B2B company, one of our challenges and opportunities is to not only engage our own employees in our efforts, but to exponentially expand our impact by educating, inspiring and engaging our customers and partners in our social impact work. The hackathon is a perfect example of this model -- in one 12 hour event we’re able to provide the chance for partners to see the value and benefit of using their skills for good, donating their time and expertise to help a charity improve their capacity through technology solutions. We hope that this will inspire them to go back to their company and build similar programs to donate their skills pro bono to the sector. We’re so pleased this is just what happened with Team Yantra!