Hack4Helpers 2020

The Community Summit North America is an annual conference for Microsoft Dynamics and Power Platform users and partners that is organised by Dynamics Communities.  The event has been running for 15 years, and due to the COVID pandemic, this year it was a virtual event.

The summit ran from 5th – 9th October and was preceded on 3rd October by a virtual Hackathon called the Hack4Helpers.  As the number of volunteers available to organisations has significantly dropped since the start of the pandemic, organisations are struggling to manage their volunteer availability as well as attract new volunteers. The goal of the Hack4Helpers was to design and build solutions that could be used to help organisations with their volunteer management processes, helping them to attract and retain new volunteers, leveraging the awesomeness of the ‘low code, no code’ Power Platform!

Although the hackathon was organised by Dynamics Communities in North America, it was massively supported by the UK based TDG team, and it was through TDG that I first heard about the hack.

I had previously taken part in a couple of Hackathons and they’d been really good fun, so having spotted a shout out from Chris Huntingford on LinkedIn, asking for volunteers, I signed up immediately!

Feeling somewhat brave, I ticked the box indicating that I ‘might’ be up for leading a team, never actually expecting to be asked … but guess what!?

Chris got back to me almost immediately and before I knew it I was the captain of the Blue Team … or as I like to refer to us, the ‘Whoohooo Blues’!

One of the best things about virtual events is meeting people from all over the world, and more than any other event, Hackathons give you the opportunity to really get to know your team mates.  I think that is one of the reasons I love them so much!

The ‘Whoohooos’ was made up from people across North America and Europe, my other awesome team mates being;

I was really very lucky to be part of such a super talented team!  All that was left for me to do as the team leader, was  to provision a tenant, and help organise the team on the day … crikey if I’d known how easy it would be, I would definitely have done it before!

The day of the Hack began with a few intros, some information about Dynamics Communities and some helpful tips from the guys at TDG about what a successful hack looks like.

We were then talked through the various problem statements for which we could design and build our solution, which were based around;

  • Tracking Assets
  • Volunteer Management
  • Training Volunteers

Having discussed the skills we had available in the team, and the areas we felt we’d like to explore, we decided to opt for Use Case 02 – Volunteer Management.  Our goal was to create a solution comprising of 2 key parts; a back-end system to assist with Volunteer Work Management, and a front end that could be used to allow Volunteers to Self Serve to provide and receive information relating to volunteering.

We started by drawing out the processes we were going to try to encapsulate within our design.  The Remo environment we were using for the hack and provided by one of the sponsors, cloudThing, included a whiteboard where we were able to work on this collaboratively in real-time, which was quite funky and very useful.

So that our solution would not be prohibitive in terms of licence fees, we opted for a Power App Portal front end.  New volunteers would be able to find relevant information and register via the portal, while existing volunteers would be able to log in and access information relating to activities, training and other volunteer initiatives.

To keep things simple in the back-end and so that we used as much out of the box functionality as possible, we opted for Dynamics 365 Field Service as a means to managing volunteers.  Utilising characteristic and scheduling features would enable the organisation to manage different types of volunteers in many locations and assign the most appropriate volunteers to activities.

When the allocated hacking time was over, each team presented their solution back to the judges; Bobby Small, Rachel Profitt and Malcolm McAuley who selected their winner.

On this occasion it was the Red team who won, with their Asset Tracking app, a great win for a team who’d lost a team member part way through the hack!  Well done to Meghan McMullen, Asiya Frolova and Nimisha Vyas for producing something really special!

While our solution was unfortunately not selected, we were all really pleased with what we had achieved as a team.  We had all learned a lot, laughed a lot, and generally had a totally awesome day participating in the hack.

A great time seemed to be had by all, a huge thanks was given to everyone who took part, and especially to Robert Meehan and Jason Gardner from the sponsors cloudThing, who provided support for all participants during the event.

I think it’s safe to say … given the opportunity we will all be back next year!