FEATURE8 August 2013

For the hack of it

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Impact Technology

A growing number of firms are turning to hackathons to solve business challenges, Dunnhumby included. Brian Tarran reports.

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How do you solve an age-old problem like predicting new product sales? “It’s something we’ve been dealing with for 10 years, ” says Chris Brooks, head of analytical systems at Dunnhumby, the company best known for its work on Tesco’s Clubcard. Models are refined, algorithms are tweaked, new solutions are proffered, but still “the vast majority of new product launches fail, ” says Dave Balter, CEO of BzzAgent, Dunnhumby’s word-of-mouth marketing company.

Time for something different then – and that something was a hackathon. Hosted in Boston in partnership with the “big data hacker space” Hack/Reduce (whose mantra is “code big or go home”), the event brought together 111 teams to compete (both online and in-person) to find the most accurate model for forecasting sales for a new product 26 weeks after launch.

“We’re well-versed in the traditional approaches for predicting new product sales, ” says Piers Stobbs, Dunnhumby’s head of data science research and development. “What we were ...