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Using Intelligent Search to Improve HR Service Delivery

You’d be forgiven for assuming that self-quarantining, exhaustion, overwhelming tiredness and an intense focus on surviving the next few hours is another case of coronavirus.  But here, near Hi-tec City in Hyderabad India, are 46 Applaud employees whose minds are temporarily side-tracked from fear of global pandemic. These 46 Applauders are entirely dedicated to a very different cause: winning Applaud’s 3rd annual hackathon.

With less than 24 hours from beginning to end, time is limited.  But the ambition is not: how can we better help employees and managers get instant answers to everyday HR questions, in context, at the very moment they need them – and thus reduce frustrations, improve productivity, contribute to better employee experience and reduce service desk calls?

That long introduction has a more concise synonym: “search”

Done well, it can provide instant answers to questions that haven’t even been asked or spoken.  It can detect a poor set of results (or no results), seamlessly facilitating hand-off to live chat with HR whilst using machine learning to do a better job next time.  Done badly, our time-strapped managers may get an unapologetic “No results” or become overwhelmed with pages of irrelevant links – leading to abandonment, frustration, low adoption and, predictably, calls into HR.

Search is a critical underpinning of exceptional HR service delivery. 

Yet even the best-performing HR organizations are struggling to get it right and that’s because it’s very, very hard.  A brilliant search means brilliant knowledge, yet sources are highly fragmented, decentralized, inconsistent, out-of-date, inaccessible outside the office, and buried deep in word and PDF documents.  This is further constrained by a lack of consumer-grade search technology in the workplace designed for the new world of work. Instead, ageing enterprise search capabilities are underwhelming, costly to implement, costly to maintain, high-code (heavily dependent on IT and developers) and unfit for mobile consumption.

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Solving all these problems in 24 hours, in a no-code platform, that unites multiple knowledge sources and deploys machine learning to jump many of the above hurdles is a feat that requires the rarest of talent – and self-quarantining.


Split into 4 teams of 10-12 strong, clustered in every corner of the office, I (one of many judges) sense a real risk of hackathon disaster.  Will even 1 team hack anything to success? Worried faces prevail for the first few hours but then teams start to use their 15 minute “ideas grooming” session with the judges to poll early feedback.  “A search that learns from employee interests and then continually re-engages by sharing new hyper-personalized content.” 

This is clever stuff.

At 3.45pm I hear a cheer.  It turns out it wasn’t the survival packs containing high-energy bars and chocolates delivered just moments before, but rather a hacking milestone.  The specifics are a closely guarded secret, but it’s a relief to hear any form of success, however small.


Following the stereotypical (but necessary) pizza delivery at 7.30pm, our hackers are showing no signs of slowing.  Muted conversation is replaced with peer programming and large monitors with a dark background decorated with neon-colored code.  Team leaders have tactically deployed non-developers to focus on data, presentation and pitch. Everyone plays a role in their team’s success.


Feeling mentally exhausted by proxy, I retire to my hotel and sleep.  Many do not; early the next morning the office is heavily populated at a time when it’s normally desolate.  With only a few hours remaining, I begin to see signs of confidence emanating. Attention appears to turn to finer detail and rehearsing the pitch.


It’s time. At 10:30am we blow the whistle; “step away from your computers and put away your phones.”  There’s a 30-minute window for comfort breaks, caffeine, team re-huddles and controlled breathing before the first pitch starts at 11am.  

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The 4 teams pitch and we’re blown away by the creative mix of technologies: AI, machine learning, natural language, stuff I’ve never heard of.  All 4 teams demo’d something unique. Some teams focussed on doing one crazily innovative thing really well; some amazed us with breadth and completeness; and others impressed us with brilliant pitches, grasping the business value and describing their solution in a clear, concise and elegant delivery. 


Once the pitches were over, it’s a slow waiting game until the results announcement at 6pm (judges in various time zones watch the recordings and submit their scores).  Hackers’ desire to sleep is surpassed by excitement for results. But one thing is already clear: there is no unanimous winner.


As the scores come in, it’s even closer than anticipated.  The primary scoring method reveals a 1st place tie, so for the first time in Applaud hackathon history we reverted to our secondary scoring method to elect a winner.  At 5.55pm the last result comes in and we scramble for the 6pm announcement, which promptly starts with each judge’s live feedback and then onto announcing the results!


And here it is: a huge congratulations goes to our 2020 hackathon winner… Sumanth’s team, who win on both technicality and usability.  Congratulations Sumanth, Ajay, Anurag, Arun, Mani Kiran, Pavan, Prasad, Ranjitha, Saikiran, Shailesh, Vasudha and Vijay.  Congratulations also goes to our runner up, Ramesh’s team. And finally, our biggest applause of all goes to all 4 teams for their tremendous efforts in what turned out to be a very close call.


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The detail of each solution is, of course, a trade secret that only Applauders are privy to enjoy (though customers won’t have to wait too long!).  The impressiveness of each team’s output is indisputable. Yet even more humbling for me is the input: new teams collaborating together for the first time, the unrelenting dedication, the friendly competitiveness, the innovative use of each individual’s skills and abilities and the laughter, fun and enjoyment.


We talk about creating memorable employee experiences and hackathons is one of the ways we do that at Applaud.  After all, improved employee experience is proven to win more customers and grow the bottom line.


If you’re looking to improve HR service delivery and your own employees’ experience, request an Applaud demo and learn how we help. 


Keep up to date with the latest from Applaud in our news section and see what thought-leading outlets have to say about us on our press page.



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Published March 16, 2020 / by Applaud