May 2014

TCS Tech Challenge 2014

University of East Anglia students win the first TCS Tech Challenge, part of a TCS IT Futures initiative to inspire young people with the creative possibilities of technology

A team of students from the University of East Anglia (UEA) claimed victory in the first Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) Tech Challenge. Their design for an innovative smartphone app to help people with eating disorders find their own route to recovery won over three other top quality entries from the LSE, University of Bristol and University of Edinburgh.

The Tech Challenge competition is part of the TCS ‘IT Futures’ initiative to inspire young people with the creative possibilities of technology. Working with community business agency Three Hands, TCS challenged students from an initial four top UK universities to use technology to find solutions to the real business needs of charities local to them. Student entrepreneurs with the five best proposals from each university came together to form the four teams. The challenge was open to all disciplines and, as hoped, finalists with backgrounds as varied as computer science, politics, history, business, chemistry and classics brought together a blend of expertise. The mixed groups of undergraduates and postgrads had just eight weeks to implement their IT solutions, mentored during that time by TCS professionals, and the teams presented their projects to an expert panel of judges at the London finale event on March 19. Each member of the winning team from UEA was awarded a paid one-month internship at TCS this summer and their partner organisation, the eating disorders charity Beat, received a £500 donation.

Welcome address by Shankar Narayanan, country head for TCS UK and Ireland

Introducing the presentations, Shankar Narayanan, country head for TCS UK and Ireland, stressed that the focus of IT Futures was to inspire ways in which technology and ideas can have a profound impact on society.

Impact and sustainability were certainly two criteria which were looked at by the Tech Challenge judges, alongside team work and presentation skills. Here is a snapshot of the winning entry:

University of East Anglia
Beat is the only nationwide charity supporting the UK’s estimated 4.1m people affected by eating disorders. The challenge was to help Beat extend the reach of its existing advice and support website, particularly in view of a dramatic rise in numbers of users accessing the site via mobile phone.

From left to right: Kerry Chapman, regional marketing director TCS and a judge, Puneet Vyas, Nishant Kumar and Sriraj Mishra, TCS mentors from the AVIVA account, Nina Dufeu from BEAT, our winning student team (Barry Wright, Timea Suli, Steven Ram, Bastian Altrock), Julie Feest from e-skills UK and a judge, Karl Flinders, services editor at Computer Weekly and a judge

Barry Wright (BSc computer science), Bastian Altrock (MBA), Steven Ram (PPE) and Timea Suli (BA politics) did extensive research to get to grips with their brief, interviewing staff members and sufferers, attending focus groups and national awareness events. The surge in mobile use persuaded them to go for an integrated personal solution. The team’s passion for the project is clear in the size of their ambition: one beautiful app that would be intuitive, inspiring and intimate and help users to find a healthy pathway to independent recovery. They tested out and got feedback on a range of functions dealing with a healthy lifestyle, inspiring stories, a news feed, book reviews and a help finder. Other features allowed users to access local recovery events, communicate with forums and track their personal progress.

All content was designed with advice from medical professionals.

Several funding routes were investigated to raise the estimated £30,000 development cost, including through corporate partners, NHS, crowd funding and the East of England European Partnership.The plan was to choose a developer, soft launch and review the app — then investigate a tablet version. The team believed that the potential impact could be improved recovery, help for more sufferers, increased donations and awareness. Nina Dufeu, Beat’s head of services, praised the students’ enthusiasm and receptiveness, “From day one they really listened to us. This app is very much what we want — not just a clinical tool,” she said, envisaging several hundred thousands of users. Awarding the prize, judge Julie Feestofe - Skills UK acknowledged the UEA team’s huge passion for their charity, the completeness of their proposition, slick presentation and the fact that commercial impact was well thought through.

Winner Mr Altrock said, “This is a great prize in a really tough competition. I think our strength was in being a diverse team with a single vision for the project and a genuine belief that well-designed technology can change lives.”

Yogesh Chauhan, TCS director of corporate sustainability, commented, “I was simply blown away with the exceedingly high standard of entries and learning how technology can so cleverly help charitable organisations.”

HR director Nupur Singh, in closing the event, agreed that the quality of IT solutions had exceeded expectations, “This hasn’t been an easy task for the judges. The students’ briefs were not straightforward and there have been some great testimonials from the client charities.” Having been so very impressed with the inaugural event, she committed to offer a consolation prize to all the student participants and charities.

Here is a summary of the other three entries:

University of Edinburgh
Edinburgh Cyrenians helps thousands of local people on the margins of society deal with homelessness, poverty, unemployment and addiction. The students’ brief was to investigate the charity’s existing data capture and storage system, identify gaps and recommend improvements. They evaluated whether the existing solution, a third-party alternative or a bespoke outcome management system (OMS) would be most practical and sustainable for the charity. Criteria were flexibility, scalability, cost and how user-friendly each option was. The OMS solution scored highest.

The custom-built software was relatively simple to develop, maintenance costs were minimal and the bespoke system could be updated for the future. After a planned two-month roll-out, ongoing voluntary support to back-up and archive would be supplied by Edinburgh students. The aim was for the system to grow with the charity. “They’ve given us a workable solution and shown real intuition about the challenges our frontline staff face now and in the future,” said Amy Hutton, Cyrenians’ head of services. The Tech Challenge judges viewed the Edinburgh brief as the most challenging in the competition and praised a very practical, sustainable solution to a complex problem.

University of Bristol
Emmaus Bristol provides homes and jobs for homeless people in the city, aiming to be financially independent through its second-hand retail business, which in the recession has faced increased competition. The team challenge was to help the charity use technology to double online trading revenues in less than a year. First steps included a website redesign and an online eBay flyer. Helping Emmaus to become an eBay charity eliminated transaction fees — an immediate saving of £3,000 a year — and a new training manual was designed to allow all charity staff to manage online sales. Next came a dynamic new Facebook profile for Emmaus, with a donation app to give directly from the Facebook page or go straight to the charity’s eBay store.

An imaginative social media marketing campaign around a photography competition clearly appealed to a new student market, driving 10,000 people to the Emmaus Facebook page, up from 300 in one week. Emmaus chief executive Richard Pendlebury said, “They have already saved us £3,000 a year, significantly improved our eBay offer and opened up a new student market. Now we can compete.” The team had challenged the business model, the judges said, and saved money early on, with huge impact already shining through.

London School of Economics and Political Science
Childnet International works with 3-18 year-olds, parents and teachers to make the internet a great and safe place for children and young people. The LSE students were challenged to help Childnet increase youth participation in its work, broaden awareness and reach. The team proposed an E-portal solution to connect with and motivate the target audience. Previous interaction had been chiefly through school visits.

They envisaged a network of young ambassadors, nominated by participating schools, and a system of digital badges awarded for varying levels of involvement. Peer-to-peer communication would take the form of moderated chat, with links to experts for live Q&As about technology. New online educational resources would include links to external tech competitions.

The plan was to integrate the sites that Childnet already operates with a simple design. Marketing of the new portal would exploit existing contacts with schools and partner organisations, Facebook and other social media. Importantly, for a small charity team, the solution involved minimum upkeep, but scope for new content and growth on mobile.

Childnet education officer Caroline Hurst acknowledged the impressive groundwork, with students attending school visits and government policy events, “And they really got the message on peer-to-peer learning,” she said. Tech Challenge judges noted huge potential and great market research.

Find out more about the TCS IT Futures programme here: http://www.tcs.com/about/corp_responsibility/corporate-social-responsibility/Pages/ICT-Skills-Development-UK-Initiative.aspx

For information about The TCS Tech Challenge visit: http://info.tcs.com/techchallengehome.html

Source: TCS UK & Ireland