If the 2020 pandemic has taught us anything, it is that keeping up with technology is essential for a successful supply chain. Many organizations are implementing hackathons to do just that, as quick solutions are the way to go.

But what are the best hackathon ideas for supply chains? To help you get started, we’ve taken a look at the various ways you can implement a hackathon. 


What is a supply chain hackathon?


A hackathon is not just a new and trendy word floating around the tech wizard world. It is a productive and fun way to solve problems within any given company. Usually completed over 24 hours or the weekend, it is often a competition-style event.

How does a hackathon work within a supply chain? A hackathon is a new and innovative way to quickly solve problems your supply chain is having with regard to fulfillment, manufacturing, inventory, and more. 

Not only does it resolve issues that have been persistent in supply chains for years, but it also creates solutions to brand new problems.

The recent pandemic, for example, created a lot of issues for distribution as many countries across the globe shut down. Speed in these circumstances is crucial, but many suppliers are not equipped to make changes quickly.

A hackathon allows you to fix the problem with record speed. Typically, it can take months to correct problems such as delayed shipments

Gathering a like-minded group of individuals from the tech sphere and different parts of your company speeds things up from a couple of months to a couple of weeks.


10 cool hackathon ideas for supply chain


To have a successful hackathon, you want to invite perspectives from the different departments of your supply chain. You also want to have experienced and innovative coding professionals to put the plans into action.

To get everyone engaged, you can present the hackathon as a contest. Prizes are a great way to boost morale, especially if your competition will last 24 hours and you want to encourage participation throughout. 

You also want to have a specific focus for your hackathon. What are some cool hackathon ideas for your supply chain? You can concentrate on distribution disruption, inventory control, data analysis, or any other problem you need to solve sooner rather than later.


1. Optimal and alternative distribution


As we mentioned, distribution has been a challenge across the board in the last couple of years. Optimizing your distribution plan, along with creating alternative strategies, ensures your supply chain is effective. Plus, it allows you to deliver goods on time when others are not.

This hackathon can be done over a weekend as a contest. It will also give members of several departments a chance to collaborate without any bureaucracy interfering in the process. 


2. Controlling inventory


Inventory control is essential for a supply chain. Maintaining a computerized system not only keeps track of merchandise and materials but also provides other vital data like inventory data analysis, ordering accuracy, and fulfillment times.

A 24-hour hackathon with coding specialists experienced in this field can create a system that will give you the data, analytics, and numbers at your fingertips in seconds. 

Again, this is an excellent opportunity to involve several departments in your supply chain besides the in-house or external IT professionals. Creating teams can encourage innovative and practical solutions, as well.


3. E-Logistics 


Logistics for a supply chain is essential to ensure your products are being sold at the right price to the buyer who needs them the most. It also encompasses getting the merchandise to them on time when it is most needed.

A hackathon to improve logistics or implement e-logistics is a great way to enhance productivity, overhead costs, product quality, and more. It is also a great opportunity to involve outside specialists to educate your team.

An e-logistics hackathon can have guest speakers, in-house tech support, and outside coding specialists to arrive at the most effective chain supply solution. 


4. WMS hackathon


A popular hackathon for chain supply organizations is the optimization of Warehouse Management Systems (WMS). WMS is important for two reasons. The first is controlling and tracking the movement of your products.

The second is keeping your thumb on warehouse procedures. Optimizing both can save money, time, and even your total cost of ownership. Many supply chains, however, use more than one software application making data more difficult to obtain.

Keep in mind, this can be a longer and more involved process, but a hackathon to improve or consolidate your WMS is a great way to streamline procedures. 


5. Implementing AI


Using AI to improve manufacturing, order fulfillment, shipping, inventory, etc., is widely used in many businesses. Chain supply operations also benefit significantly from artificial intelligence. That said, it is not commonly used in this industry.

Hosting a hackathon to implement or improve AI and machine learning within your supply chain will turn out coding professionals in droves. A contest in 24 hours is a great and fun way to go.

One fantastic benefit of this particular hackathon is getting ideas from different perspectives. Since you are likely involved in your companies day to day, you may be missing opportunities that an outside pair of eyes will see.


6. Workflow hackathon


Another excellent opportunity to team up with different sectors of your business is to find a valuable solution to workflow and productivity. 

You can consider the opinions of those working on the ground floor, the supervisors who enforce the current system, and the coders who create applications to simplify the new process.

A weekend codefest contest with these individuals will not only improve workflow but add morale to your entire business. That in itself will boost productivity.


7. Supply chain risk analysis


Risk analysis and assessment are of the utmost importance for any organization, including supply chains. Spotting problems before they appear gives you the ability to have alternative plans set in place.

If you don’t have data available or are out of date, you risk serious setbacks. Hosting a hackathon to strengthen “in-case of” planning can benefit your company greatly. A group of tech experts from intermediate to experienced will help you navigate this area.

Whether you choose an all-nighter, 24-hour mission, or a weekend hackathon, it is another great opportunity to have specialists, and guest speakers provide valuable insights.


8. Customer demand projections


The need for various products can come and go, increase and decrease. Being able to anticipate the needs of your customers is crucial to a successful supply chain. Like risk management, it is better to have this data at your fingertips.

Hackathons in this area are done by looking at many different pieces of data from years past and statistics for the future economy. 

Planning a contest where participants build a prototype of possible projections will be a great motivator. You can also invite other managers, supervisors, and outside sources.


9. Cloud-backed data hackathon


System malfunctions, extended losses of power, and other unfortunate incidents result in the loss (or lack) of data. It can cripple your supply chain if the damage is big enough. 

Nowadays, cloud-based data and backups are common within many industries. It lets you store information off-site and be retrieved even if you have a complete software crash.

With cloud-based systems being so in demand, a hackathon is a great way to accomplish your goal while checking out upcoming talent in the coding world. Often enough, one great hackathon session leads to more problem-solving codefests.


10. Supply chain as a service


New on the scene in supply chain businesses is SCAAS, otherwise known as supply chain as a service. Those who want to break into this field often benefit from a hackathon to see how your current business adapts to the new role.

SCAAS businesses connect with other supply chain companies to take care of part or all of their needs. Transitioning to this business model can increase profits up to four to five times their original amounts. 

A hackathon can give you many models to choose from (contest idea), and it represents a fun and new challenge for coding professionals.


Goals of running a supply chain hackathon


Regardless of the hackathon idea you decide to go with, there are a few goals you want to hit to maximize the experience. The goals of a supply chain hackathon include gaining knowledge from various departments, optimizing operations, streamlining data, and creating a better working environment.

While not every situation will have the same goals, we wanted to give a rundown of the overall objectives of a supply chain hackathon.


Reduce risks


One of the main objectives of a hackathon is to reduce risks. It is important to be ready for distribution upsets, economic changes, or demand spikes and declines.

Most areas of supply chain management have some risk factors involved. The risks need to be clearly outlined in a hackathon so that they can be part of the solutions your IT experts are devising.


Optimize data


Another goal you should be aiming for is the optimization of data. In this day and age, the fewer applications you use to find the needed info, the better. It saves time, overhead costs, and it can reduce the number of oversights.

Consolidating and optimizing statistics can be done in almost every aspect of your organization. There is any number of areas in your system that can be improved through a hackathon. 


Reduce costs


Most supply chain owners don’t realize how many areas where they can save money. It could be overhead costs, supply costs, employee salaries, etc. Even time wasted on unnecessary tasks can affect your bottom line. 

When you host a hackathon, saving on business expenses should be part of the overall goal. While it may not be the main point, cost-efficient business practices should be part of the codefest.


Increase safety


If you decide to upgrade your software and data systems, safety should be your primary concern. Hosting a hackathon for your supply chain company should have encryption, firewall, and other safety measures announced.

Coding experts will be able to create safe applications. They problem-solve issues while still keeping your sensitive information secure. To be safe, however, make sure this is part of your hosting package.


Improve collaboration


Last but not least, a hackathon goal you want to keep at the forefront is collaboration. With many positions being done remotely and different departments not coming into contact as often, bringing these like-minded people together is essential.

Working together and discussing the various difficulties throughout the organization can result in new and innovative solutions. What’s more, bringing in outside IT professionals to work with in-house employees has the same effect.

This is also important to increase morale and create a fun “work together” atmosphere for the hackathon.


Benefits of hosting a supply chain hackathon for your company


The benefits of hosting a supply chain hackathon are improved procedures, policies, and overall workflow. Most importantly, however, hackathons are designed to solve any current problems your organization is facing quickly.

Take a closer look at the various benefits below.


Increased productivity


Improving and increasing your productivity is a benefit in itself. Areas such as shipping, inventory, and data collecting can be improved when productivity is high. Hackathons can look at your current levels and determine where there is room for improvement.


Optimized distribution


As a supply chain, distribution is a crucial part of your business model. Any setbacks or issues should be dealt with quickly. As we talked about above, new challenges in this area have created a lot of problems.

Taking steps to have alternative plans in place can set your business a step above the competition. Additionally, it allows you to capitalize on changes in customer demand, which brings us to our next point.


Customer demand forecasting


Trends change quickly, and with it, the customer demand for certain products. If you can forecast the changes by utilizing a hackathon, you can improve your ordering systems, shipping, and buying costs.


Data analysis


Data from every aspect of your supply chain is important. From fulfillment to warehouse workflow, you need to have the statistical information simple to make informed decisions.

This is a massive benefit of a hackathon. Incorrect data can be a plague to your enterprise. On the other hand, having quick access to these figures allows you to make changes where necessary to keep your supply chain running smoothly.


Final points


A hackathon for your supply chain is a great way to optimize your policies and procedures. It lets many different points of view merge together to create fast solutions to all kinds of problems. 

Beyond that, inviting different departments to collaborate creates good energy in the company, while bringing in outside help strengthens your workforce. 


Best of all, a hackathon is not only fun but beneficial if done correctly.