This spring, something exciting has been going on behind the scenes at Bilot. Can you really build a business-relevant AI solution in two months – while doing your regular day job? Our teams stepped up and rose to the challenge.
Hackathons usually involve several teams working on one business-related challenge for a single company for a short period of time, such as one weekend. At Bilot, we decided to approach the traditional hackathon in a different way: why not invite several companies with several challenges and give the teams enough time to actually produce impactful, fully functioning solutions? Enter the BilotGo.ai reverse mega-hackathon.
“With so much high-flying AI hype and hot air out there, it was crucial for us to stay practical in this hackathon. We wanted to demonstrate how machine learning can be applied to achieve practical, tangible solutions in a short time frame. At the same time, we wanted both our teams and our customers to deepen their understanding of artificial intelligence, which now is becoming a natural part of the modern full stack”, says CEO Mika Tanner.
The reverse hackathon began in February with a call for challenges, with selected customers invited to participate. Business/AI workshops were organized individually for each participating customer in co-operation with Louhia Analytics in order to identify and scope a suitable business problem. In the end, four customers and four challenges were identified:
The challenges were pitched to hack contestants in March, and teams were formed around each challenge. To help the teams deepen their AI skills, we partnered with Louhia Analytics, whose seasoned data scientists helped the teams go above and beyond what they already knew.
”An innovative, active team with hunger for victory paved the road to success. Our strong ambition is to take this to production.” – feedback from customer
The teams worked on their challenges over the course of 8 weeks, with the customers participating with data and domain expertise. Finally, on June 5th, the BilotGo.ai teams pitched their business solutions to an eager crowd and a five-person invited jury.
”Ideas to action – can-do attitude with great speed & collaboration!” – feedback from customer
The esteemed jury consisted of Gitte Winther Bruhn (SAP), Taneli Leppä (Google), Denis Cepun (Microsoft), Janne Liuttu (Ramboll) and Antti Apunen (Ediste) as chairman. Teams were judged on criteria such as resolution, the difficulty of the problem, the business relevance and scalability of the solution, completeness and style, the technical savviness and overall hackmanship of the team.
”The team was active and eager, learned quickly, and demonstrated great communication” – feedback from customer
After intensive deliberation, the jury came back with its verdict, announcing Team Raisioagro as the winner of the first BilotGo.ai challenge. The team’s take on data-driven farming received praise for its practical approach to applying machine learning for objectives such as improving cow health, optimizing feeding plans, and increasing milk yield.
Congratulations to the winners, who will be embarking on an intense excursion to the Silicon Valley and San Francisco to draw inspiration from the heart of tech innovation!
”Creating business value through technology requires more than data and algorithms. It also requires understanding the end user’s needs and change management. The hackathon gave us a technical solution to the challenge, with additional features supporting the user’s activities and decision-making.” – feedback from customer
Want to hear more about what went on this spring? We will be presenting the BilotGo.ai hackathon at the Digital X event on August 29th, as well as our BilotGo event in September. Can’t wait that long? Get in touch and let’s talk.
When the rest of the Finland is waiting for a heat wave, health wave has approached Bilot City. During the year we have reported mysterious activation among Bilots. First we had just floorball every Tuesday, Autumn Cooper test, running contests and occasional who lose more weight competitions but since it has spread tremendously.
It might have started with planking competition on the halls of Bilot City. Our own Office Coordinator/Personal trainer Heini Karjala started to organize wellbeing mornings every now and then giving tips to the fellow colleagues.
First brave ones took part for Firstbeat measurement to check their health status and getting valuable & personal information from our occupational health psychologist. More and more people have been seen taken stairs all the way up to 8th floor instead of elevator. Additionally, May-June Bilots have directed their nose to Hietsu to do some heavy outdoor training – not once but every week. Cycling and Mountain biking have raised as one of the most popular topics on coffee table discussions.
Not even talking about activities people have on their free time schedules: sailing, canoeing, rowing, swimming, climbing, running, gym, acrobatics, dancing just to name a few.
Mr Ice cream keeps us sweet and cool
The healthy habits isn’t ending for sports activities. Consumption of cookies has decreased and Nutly delivery every two weeks has taken space over the cookie jars. (According to unofficial survey, the Organic Mango is definitely one of the favorites) Though not to go too extreme, we luckily we have our own ice cream delivery guy, Vesa “ice cream” Niininen, who keeps the citizens sweet and cool.
For us in HR this is music to ears that people are more and more aware of their health and healthy habits also spread around the organization. Regular daily physical activity has many benefits: It lowers risk of heart diseases (WHO.int: Physical Activity and Adults), diabetes, high blood pressure, controls stress and even improves creativity (Frontiersin.org: The impact of physical exercise on convergent and divergent thinking) and sleep. Our job as an employer is to enable healthy choices to be permanent and easy part of work-life balance for each.
We encourage that with standing tables, multi-space office, lunch vouchers and breaks, flexible working hours and remote work opportunity to name a few. Our next project is “meeting room Gym” to encourage people to exercise during the day too. Let’s see how creative we get then!
Heat wave is very temporary (even very random), health wave is here to stay!
There is a kinship with purpose and intrinsic motivation which merits looking into if you haven’t already. You might want to check out what e.g. Frank Martela has to say about it: “Intrinsic motivation is needed to genuinely excite the employee of his/her job and to his/her utmost”
Intoxicating intrinsic motivation
Often a night, a fellow bilot is wide awake making sure that a customer’s system go-live runs smoothly. This is common practice in IT, and just recently again, a colleague stepped up and spent an unplanned ‘nuit-blanche’ because the customer’s ‘trusted advisor’ choked. It is not the occupational heroism that turns me on, it is the attitude and professionalism and intrinsic motivation which is so intoxicating.
A perfectly justified modus operando could have been just to let it be and have the accountable party walk into the fan. That would have meant leaving the joint customer out to dry and perhaps waiting for the mayday call and then rescuing the situation and finally getting praised. That would been the demeanor of someone who is extrinsically motivated.
“Motivation is about how to move oneself and others to act”
Intrinsic motivation is not a rare driver in people, quite the opposite. Intrinsic motivation is also rewarding but the reward is on an internal positive emotional level. As a very elementary and primal reward, any activity which generates a sensation of joy and fulfillment means intrinsic motivation is involved. In a professional context, such rewards are often sense of purpose and meaning, sense of progress and sense of competence.
Intrinsic motivation is nuclear energy
It is important to understand the differences of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and their association with purpose. Based on years of employee satisfaction survey data, we know that working on the latest technologies, cracking the toughest nuts and learning in the coolest projects is what drives our experts’. Being recognized and praised builds into the overall satisfaction, but the intrinsic motivation is the nuclear energy that helps get through the less rewarding patches.
At the helm of a growing expert organization, I often find myself in awe with these demonstrations of intrinsically motivated people. They are the essence of standing for more. There is a lot of bending backwards to getting things done, burning the midnight oil learning new stuff or safeguarding the customer or putting aside ones’ own work to help a fellow bilot out of the rut.
Much like Bilbo Baggins at the start of his rather colourful journey to a certain socially-limited landmass in The Hobbit (featured picture a screenshot of the movie), I jumped onboard the Bilot ship at the start of April full of enthusiasm and excitement. I had just graduated from Tampere University of Technology with a fresh Master’s Degree in information technology three days prior, so the transition to “officially being an adult” couldn’t have come at a better time. I had already moved to Helsinki a year before for a job, so I was already (sort of) accustomed to living here, although even today I still sometimes feel like a tourist. Just like mister Baggins, though, I still felt like a new journey was starting for me, one that I would be on for quite some time.
I’m a certified professional and I don’t know jack
Before joining Bilot I already had some prior experience when it came to designing user experiences and building user interfaces so I wasn’t completely turning over a new leaf in my life. User experience, or UX, had been my major subject during my studies and my Master’s thesis was about video game user interfaces, so I felt confident in starting my job as a Junior UX Designer trainee (quite the mouthful, I know). I didn’t have all too much time to wallow in my possible insecurities, however, as my very second day of work consisted of waking up almost at the crack of dawn, commuting to familiar Tampere of all places and doing user research and interviews there all day. You could say I hit the ground running and I rather enjoyed it. To quote a certain video game icon, “I came here to kick ass and chew bubblegum, and I was all out of gum.”
It also immediately gave me an excellent impression of Bilot as a company. I was promised UX work and that promise was definitely kept. It felt good to get to do in practice what I had studied and strived for. These interviews evolved, over time, into data analysis, empathy mapping, persona building and wireframing, all wonderful UX tools that are very underused in many IT companies and with which I had previous experience as well, so it all felt very cozy and comfy to me.
After my rather speedy start things have both settled down and branched out exponentially. I’ve had a variety of tasks assigned to me over the course of these couple of months with an emphasis being on UI and graphic design as well as testing. I spend most of my days at the office trying to divide my attention between some half a dozen projects and tasks, with the occasional day working from home when I just can’t be bothered to be stuck in traffic for 2 hours. Overall, to continue referencing video games, I feel like I’m leveling up nicely and haven’t encountered any game-ending raid bosses yet, just other friendly player characters and a few quest-givers. The beginning of the level is always the hardest, but I’m confident the morning wakeups will become easier over time! Until then there are always condensed packages of liquid boosting agents, also known as energy drinks (or coffee for most people).
Being the new guy at any office or workplace can be intimidating, especially to a more introverted and socially-awkwardish person such as myself. You don’t know anything about anything and have to constantly wonder how things work in this particular company. Fortunately for me, I haven’t been only one around. Three other trainees started at the same time as I did and while I’ve mostly been working on different projects than them, it’s always been easy to go up to them and curse how nothing works in the particular task I’m doing at the time. They’re developers-to-be, they know that feeling and can empathize.
By far one of the best things about working at Bilot has been that at no point in time have I been left alone with a problem or that I’ve had an issue with nowhere or no one to go to. Be it the ever-helpful HR department ladies, my fellow UX designers or just anybody within earshot, I’ve been able to ask for and get assistance with anything and everything when I’ve required it. Despite what people say, there are some dumb questions in the world and I’m pretty sure I’m pretty far on the list of asking them all and still nobody has yet to facepalm themselves unconscious. Despite pretty much everyone here being just as weird as at my previous workplace (Lunch at 11? Absurd!), everyone has also been extremely helpful and friendly so far (and eager to give me more work, which can be translated any way you want).
Pushing everyone’s buttons, including your own, and claim to be helping
One of the bigger things I’ve realized during these two months is that all the people here at Bilot really seem to know what they are doing. I’m not going to lie, it has been a bit daunting to see everybody’s efficiency whilst I’m doing my best trying to catch up and learn a variety of things in a relatively short amount of time to be able to contribute. People only have so much patience to correct your mistakes. More importantly, you yourself only have so much patience for making those mistakes. At least I do. A cornerstone of agile processes is to fail fast and fail often, but at some point enough is enough. I mean, all of these sticks are all fine and dandy, but I wouldn’t mind the occasional carrot in the mix. Fortunately patience and perseverance can get you far in life and a job in the IT industry is no different.
Another notion that I have realized as a UX professional is that actual UX work keeps getting underutilized or misunderstood. Despite getting to work with actual end users in terms of conducting interviews and creating personas from them right off the bat here, similar case have not yet risen nor have I participated in the design phases of all too many projects. UX also tends to be way too often used and understood as a synonym to just “building wireframes”, even though that phase is actually quite late in the actual UX process. This is a shame, as investing in UX can return your money multiple times over and understanding your users is key to making a successful product. But that is a topic for another time and a misconception a few of us here are eventually hoping to correct.
All in all, my first few months here have been very educational and I’m starting to get the hang of things. Just in time for everyone to leave for their summer holidays while I stay behind to “enjoy” the summer at the office. Alas, greatness generally has humble beginnings. I realize I’ve rambled on for quite some time, so I’m going to cap this tirade off with one last quote that I feel describes working life, and many other things, quite well…
In November 2016, we were looking for an anarchist, heterodox, HR Manager to coach our strong professionals to become a team of diamonds.
“Never mind the bollocks … You have a rebellious and original perspective on HR and leadership,” challenged the job ad.
Sini Sittnikow loved the challenge and started her career as a bilot in March 2017.
Why did you choose Bilot as your new employer?
– The image of a technological pioneer combined with hard-core expertise and high quality execution convinced me. The brisk & brave picture of Bilot as an employer transmitted through the Facebook wall of an ex colleague – posts from the FirmaRock Finnish Championships. Of course, the visible logo, stage center at a rock club, assured the firm’s ability to rock’n’rule.
“You are a Hooligan when it comes to introducing new ways to energize people,” described the ad. Why did you apply to be a pro hooligan?
– The Punk Rock HR role, the rebellious title and the areas the role covered, sounded so fresh and brilliantly different that I felt this is a mission for me. Before my decision, I checked carefully how the company looks online. It was a particularly important to see Bilot’s own employees in the spotlight and in all materials available.
What kind of change you are planning to lead to make sure bilots can better serve their customers and customer’s customers in the future?
– The motivation and well-being of the employees has direct impact to how well we can cater to our customers’ needs. Bilot moved from a traditional organizational model to a self-organized one 1.5 years ago. I have noticed that the model is excellent, but the excellence and creativity of the individuals – the preconditions of our success – do not actually work alone. I want to be involved in leading a change that results in individuals being able to act through their own strengths, creating teams that run independently – not alone and individually.
I want to help everyone to see his or her role in the company’s development.
What good thoughts and insights did you bring with you from your previous jobs?
– My most important guideline is very simple: the key is to make individuals become aware and realize their own potential. It is important that everyone understands the purpose of the company and his or her own role in the big picture. The goal as a company should always be how we can make one plus one equal three.
How do you recover from workdays?
– Family life and furry pets (cat personality) restores balance. This summer our daughter’s BMX hobby will take us to Spain, the Czech Republic, Estonia, France and Norway. It is an intense sport. Have not found myself from the starting line yet, but I really like cycling just for fun. Doing “manuals” (balancing on the back wheel) is still work in progress.
How will Bilot look like in three years?
– Bilot will be company that is even more international. It will be a well-known pioneer, where top experts can work in the most interesting projects in the field. We Stand for More!
“If you are the candidate we are looking for, we can provide an environment where every gig is special”,
We promised in our ad. The first 90 days and the legendary Spring Day are now behind. Has Bilot kept its promise?
– A regular workday is fulfilling. The incredible Spring Trip™ and the SAP Innovation Forum event with Steam Punk theme confirmed my expectation: when there is special moment available, we always over perform. We are indeed strong stage divers and straightforward people. I like this. “You can’t do that,” is clearly not a sentence you hear here.
Professional, efficient, competent, proactive, innovative, nice, and reliable. These are just some of the adjectives we’ve seen in the feedback we’ve received. And the list goes on: Good communication skills, helpful, and resolution-oriented. Quantitative studies tell the same story.
Feedback is not collected only by an annual survey but also project closing surveys, customer’s internal surveys and from operative meeting feedback reports.
How is this possible? Let’s find out by interviewing Customer Lead Katariina Mäkelä.
Feedback from customer: You have nice consultants. Anyone can become professional, but how to become NICE?
– We have regular face to face meetings. In emails, words can sometimes be misinterpreted, even seen as blunt, Katariina says and continues: …even if the humour in our dialogue with the customer can sometimes be quite rough, it’s always polite and respectful. This is how both sides behave.
– It’s all about great dialogue but also about trust which has grown during the years.
Service feedback says: “We speak the same language” How did you learn this? What are your tips for learning the customers’ language?
– We’ve built great working pairs and we know each other’s working methods. You can’t learn to communicate alone. It is learnt through working together and it takes years instead of months.
Project feedback from Poland: “Good communication skills, technical & efficient” How can all these 3 describe one company? How did you make this happen?
– Ha ha, she laughs, this is very extraordinary indeed! We are lucky to have these very special individuals. With this customer we’ve had projects both in Finland and Poland. We’ve learned how important it is that we can provide native speakers for both countries.
The service survey scorecard was quite yellow in the beginning but now it is all green. What was changed to make this improvement?
Although we are positively rebels and punk as company, we work in a disciplined way. We follow processes and methods are clear. If you are in services business you have to follow the process.
When we start a new project we don’t waste time thinking how we work. Processes are clear to everyone and we can focus on delivery, Katariina says.
“Gonna find out who’s naughty or nice…”
We want to know if we’ve been bad or good. All year round. Getting all kind of feedback from our customers is the best gift we can get.
First snowstorm is about to hit the southern parts of Finland. It is perfect time to talk about cycling! This summer Bilot’s bikers participated Kilometrikisa for the 5th time. The idea of Kilometrikisa is to collect all kilometres spent on cycling to personal page and have a playful contest against other companies, other bilots, and especially: ourselves. The contest time was 1.5- 22.9.2016.
Some historical statistics:
Year 2012 Bilots cycled 14 515 km and saved 1 016 litres of gas! These kilometres would have taken us all the way from Helsinki to Brisbane Year 2013 We cycled 19 559 kilometres which meant that we cycled across Europe and around Africa. Did not even think the gas – just enoyed the ride! Year 2014 25 bilots cycled altogether 18 444,6 km Year 2015 9 996,1 km on a bike. And some memorable moments waiting that the endless rain would move away and let the real summer hit us. Summer 2016 Bilots worker hard, had serious holiday bliss but it seems that all other moments were spent biking. We broke all our records and biked together 30 734,3 kilometres.
All TOP10 cyclist biked over 1000 kilometres. 29 cyclists recorded their kilometres.
Among all the cheerful bikers there was one clear winner bilot: Juha Leppänen. His bike had well-earned peaceful moment while Bilot News interviewed this tireless biker.
During the summer months you biked amazing 5285 kilometres in only 99 days – average 53 km per biking day. How was this possible? Are the kilometres collected mostly by commuting to the office or did you skip all free time activities just to spend quality time with your bike? Juha: “In reality I biked almost every day, 20-30 km per day. The additional kilometres came from training rides and from my “Tour de France”, when I biked almost all the way from Spain to Switzerland to Germany (some train as well).”
Days are getting darker. Are you a bike commuter 365 days in a year or just a summer cruiser? Juha: “Last winter I took a small break from cycling for January-February. I tend to have an obsession of coming to work by bike, so it’s just good to give yourself a break at some point.” What are your top 3 tips for the people who are still not sure if they could be bike commuters? Juha: “Probably some are afraid of cycling inside the city with all the traffic. In this case, maybe you can try some of the group trainings organized by e.g. Helsingin Polkupyöräilijät to learn rules and practices. There are very easy-going rides with normal bikes so you don’t need to be a pro.” Our slogan is We stand for more. What does this mean for you? Juha: “Being honest towards our customers.”
From Monday to Friday you spend a number of hours sitting in the office and then spend some more time in the same position. Do you still think biking is a good balance for office worker? Juha: “I think mentally it is. Physically, well… currently by right elbow is very sore and I think it’s partly for biking and partly for using mouse. So at least you need to remember to stretch afterwards.” Top things to keep in mind in bike commuting? Juha: “Don’t rush, consider other people (pedestrians, cyclists, even cars)” Tell something non-bikers doesn’t know about bike-commuting: Juha: “Twice a year (spring and autumn) there is free breakfast in Helsinki for cyclists, organized by Helsingin Polkupyöräilijät.”