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GSA Hackathons With a Big Return on Investment

Last week, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) hosted a fall 2015 Digital Innovation Hackathon at its headquarters in Washington, D.C. It was the second time Forum One attended the event where web developers, UX designers, SMEs, data scientists, and project/product managers came together to work with GSA open data in solving agency business challenges. The first GSA hackathon this past summer had 60 attendees from the private sector; however, the fall event opened up to include government employees. With over 120 people registered, there was a total of 17 teams in attendance.

For the fall hackathon, GSA gave away $12,000 in prize money and – as mentioned excitedly by GSA’s acting CIO, David Shive – got a pretty good return on its investment with $125,000 in cost savings as the Agency was able to nix a planned procurement process in favor of a hackathon product. 

Where Did the U.S. Government Need Help?

Attendees teamed up to offer solutions to the following challenges:

  • Green House Gas (GHG) Reduction Visualization: This project focuses on enhancing the current GHG data reduction visualizations to include other variables such as diesel, hybrid, and electric vehicles. Skills needed include data scientists, web developers, and UX designers.
  • Data Center Consolidation Mashup and Tool: The purpose of this challenge is mashup different data sets/sources into visualization and application for the White House, GAO, GSA, and other agencies to utilize. Skills needed include web and application developers, UX designers, data scientists, and data center SMEs.
  • Travel Challenge 2.0 Data Analysis and Mashup: As a continuation of a challenge in 2014, GSA is looking for data analysts to take the Travel App to the next level. Skills needed include web developers, UX designers, data scientists, and travel SMEs.

Learn more about the projects here.

What Did We Do?

We were pumped to team up with Javed Mondal and Asia Hege to create a new tool that pulls in existing travel data that visualizes expenditures for federal employee travel so that travel managers, CFOs, and other agency officials are able to understand their performance and make data-informed recommendations to reduce costs.

Over the course of six hours, we created personas and a prototype to allow each agency to track its travel performance and compare against other agencies, building in business rules to call out areas where performance could be improved. In addition, we built the tool to allow for comparisons with private-sector data, including Hotwire and Sabre travel APIs. The key was scalability (and to an extent, gamification), to allow agencies to get a real sense of their performance.

So What’s Next?

We saw some pretty awesome submissions during the fall 2015 hackathon, with an interesting blend of open-source and off-the-shelf options to solve some very real challenges facing the federal government. The return on investment for this hackathon is yet to be determined, but if it’s anything like the last one, we’re looking at a pretty worthwhile endeavor.

GSA has scheduled the next hackathon for April 22nd, 2016.