Finding a Winning Solution

Curtis Franklin Jr., Executive Editor | 4/18/2014 | 15 comments

Curtis Franklin Jr.
When a difficult problem rears its head, modern business has a reliable response: Start a contest.

That's what the University of Louisiana Lafayette will be doing April 23-25, when it hosts CajunCodeFest 3.0, a technology festival built around a code competition designed to help find solutions on the theme of "Aging in Place." Cian Robinson, associate director for the Center for Business and Information Technologies at UL Lafayette, said in a press release that the goal is to "seek ways to maintain quality of life as patients grow older and want to live at home."

A secondary theme centers on the Internet of Things, an increasingly catchall phrase that generally means using sensors on as many objects as possible for big data techniques in building a predictive solution to difficult problems. For the biomedical world, it's one of the hottest fields of development, having taken its place next to nanotechnology and affordable care.

The festival has a number of corporate sponsors, each of which is involved in healthcare technology. "CajunCodeFest is an opportunity to pull together innovative people who will generate better health care solutions," David Callecod, president and CEO of Lafayette General Health System, said in the press release.

This is not, of course, the first time the industry has seen a contest used to try to jump-start technology fixes for a difficult set of problems. Netflix famously launched a contest to find algorithms better than the ones in use at the time for suggesting new movies to customers. That contest found a better algorithm, but reality intruded and kept the older solutions in place. Undeterred by the Netflix experience, other foundations, organizations, and corporations have continued to use festivals, competitions, and contests to try to develop products and strategies where their traditional methods have failed.

Why not just hire a contracting firm to develop a solution? Better yet, why not trust in the development group already in place to do its job and give you better solutions? Two factors are in place, and each has both a basis in fact and a number of pitfalls to accompany its use.

The first factor is that humans are, on the whole, fairly competitive creatures. Most of us enjoy games and enjoy being the best at the game we're playing. Taking advantage of that, IT executives can generate a level of enthusiasm and creative thought that's not part of everyday business. The downside is that people trying to win a game can take a very narrow view of the problem and generate, as in the Netflix case, a solution that fulfills the requirements of the context but can't be used in the real world.

The second factor is the assumption that more minds are better than fewer at finding a solution to a problem. The "wisdom of crowds" has become accepted business knowledge and in many cases can result in better information. The downside, though, is that the crowd can't know your business as intimately as your own development teams. Therefore, it can't take advantage of current business policies and practices to the same extent as the insiders.

Within all this is the fact that competitions and contests can be quite exciting and even enjoyable. Are they practical? There, you have to be more skeptical. When you have a difficult problem, or one that's even considered intractable, a competition might well be a great plan for generating new ideas and concepts. Just don't plan on coming out of a furious competition with a complete solution. That's a real recipe for a losing proposition.

Curtis Franklin, Jr.
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Executive Editor, Enterprise Efficiency

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Ariella   Finding a Winning Solution   4/24/2014 12:32:42 PM
Re: To compete, or not to compete . . .
@Susan yes, that a kid could come up with that gives me cause to hope for the future. 
Susan Fourtané   Finding a Winning Solution   4/24/2014 11:14:10 AM
Re: To compete, or not to compete . . .
Thanks, Nicky. :D Super. 

I love it that the idea came from a 10-year-old and they implemented it. It's just common sense. I love what she said: ''They just get in the way - you get stuck behind them and you can't move past them." :D Yay! Because it's true everywhere in the world. That's one reason why I hate shopping malls. 

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Nicky48   Finding a Winning Solution   4/24/2014 9:25:36 AM
Re: To compete, or not to compete . . .
Meadowhall Shopping Centre in Sheffield.

Here's the article.
Susan Fourtané   Finding a Winning Solution   4/24/2014 12:22:30 AM
Re: To compete, or not to compete . . .

"Recently in the UK a young girl wrote to a shopping mall suggesting a fast track for a shopping mall . . . "

That's a great idea. It's surprising that no one, ever, came up with it. In what mall? 

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Nicky48   Finding a Winning Solution   4/23/2014 6:49:57 PM
Re: To compete, or not to compete . . .
You will certainly need a team of people to rake through all submissions and look for the really good ideas.

Recently in the UK a young girl wrote to a shopping mall suggesting a fast track for a shopping mall - you have shoppers who want to go to a particular shop, get in and get out, and then you have shoppers who just want to stroll the entire mall. The mall took the girl up on this great idea. 
stotheco   Finding a Winning Solution   4/23/2014 9:32:08 AM
Re: Finding a Winning Solution
The power of promotion really is great. It's a big chance to increase customer numbers, fans engagement, social media followers, plus you get a chance to get viral too.
stotheco   Finding a Winning Solution   4/23/2014 9:30:39 AM
Re: Finding a Winning Solution
An idea type of competition is actually the best there is. You get people's attention, you get press and publicity, and you get submissions in the form of great ideas that you could implement--even some ideas that your team wasn't able to think of!
MDMConsult   Finding a Winning Solution   4/23/2014 4:25:10 AM
Re: Finding a Winning Solution
Yes, contests offer a proven way to increase Fan numbers and customers; this is not the only metric to think about, but it is one measure of the power of a promotion. A basic enter-to-win sweepstakes with a lower barrier to entry often provides the best option for those just starting out with developer contests or without a large base of fans in place.
nasimson   Finding a Winning Solution   4/22/2014 11:46:10 PM
Re: Finding a Winning Solution
Our company, an incumbent Telecom, recently ran an idea competition. There was a pool of dozens of ideas. Some very good, some not so. The company has started implementing some of the ideas right away.
zerox203   Finding a Winning Solution   4/22/2014 11:23:50 PM
Re: Finding a Winning Solution

"Making sure the conditions are stable is also important. There are a environments that like migration style where some questions have to be answered such as using the right data migration tools. The larger project or environment the more complexities will arise"

Right, I totally agree. There's a very real divide between something that you can concoct on your machine at home and something that can be put to use an enterprise setting. Just as you say, nevermind the initial concerns of adpaptability and scalability (which are huge from the get-go), there are also huge concerns of security, compliance, and so much more to factor in. This, to me, is the reason why crowdsourcing was never a big thing in the past, and, truthfully, those concerns have not evaporated overnight... so there are still some roadblocks to be had.

I think this point was intended as part of Curt's skepticism of crowdsourcing in this article. He mentions the Netflix case as an example of crowdsourcing done 'sort-of' right. They got some very real lessons out of the problem, it might really have helped them come up with a better algorythm, and it's worth noting that they followed through and gave the contestant due credit. However, they might have been wrong to suspect they ever would have gotten a 'real' or 'complete' solution out of the campaign, and there's a lesson learned there as well.
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