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WirVsVirus Hackathon: Germany’s Collaborative Digital Pandemic Response

An interview with Maximilian Poprawe, Hackathon participant and member of the #liquidebleiben team at Germany’s WirVsVirus Hackathon

All over the world, the COVID-19 crisis introduced never before seen challenges that continue to demand novel solutions. Germany, inspired by an Estonian example, launched the 48-hour #WirVsVirus Online Hackathon between 20-22 March 2020 to innovate such solutions.

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The goal of this initiative was to channel together the ideas, skills, and work of individuals in a collaborative space to help create digital solutions responding to the pandemic – “from society, for society”.

The hackathon was hugely successful: about 2,000 project ideas were submitted, and over 28,000 participants worked on them during the weekend of the hackathon. With ongoing projects, it has led to a continued effort to explore how digitalization can help cope with the Coronavirus crisis.

Intland Software was proud to be invited to support the hackathon’s goals, and we jumped at the opportunity to help the digital community with our platform. We talked to Max Poprawe, Head of Software Development - Diagnostics IT R&D for Roche Diagnostics International, a member of the hackathon-winning #liquidebleiben team who brought Intland on board!

Congratulations on delivering a winning solution! Let's start with understanding the basics of this event. How did the hackathon begin?

MP: The event gathered great interest, and over 2,000 ideas were submitted for digital solutions that would be helpful in this pandemic situation. Before kicking off the hackathon, the organizers groomed and consolidated this vast amount of projects into around 1,000 ideas. These were then split into 85 categories and shared with all the participants.

The hackathon started late Friday afternoon, with participants assigning themselves to projects, stating where we wanted to contribute. We decided to use Slack to communicate – and with all 28,000 users logging on at the same time, we promptly managed to temporarily break the platform… But thankfully, Slack’s CEO took his Friday evening to help everybody get on board!

Each idea had a patron responsible for driving the process, and a Slack channel to communicate. If you saw an idea that you found interesting, you would just drop a line saying you’d be happy to work on it.

Which initiative did you start to work on?

MP: The initiative that I took part in, named #liquidebleiben, was listed in the #liquiditätsbedarf (liquidity needs) category. Our patron was gathering a team to work on a solution that would make it easier for companies in need to find the emergency grants, loans, and other financial instruments that could help them survive the crisis.

On Friday night, there were already 15 of us on the call throwing around ideas. We reached out to KfW, the German state bank that manages short-term financial programs to help companies in the crisis. We were lucky enough to be able to reach someone from the bank in the middle of the night, and he explained to us what the problem was, what they needed as a solution.

On Saturday morning, with some more people on board, we really got off. The 20 people in our group started designing, coding, and with quite a bit of work, we eventually created https://wir-bleiben-liqui.de/. The platform lets companies provide some basic data about their organization and needs, and returns the programs available to them that fit their requirements.

Tell us more about the challenge your team was facing!

MP: There are already over 160 funding programs available for small and medium enterprises (SME’s) and self-employed individuals. They need a good way to sort through these programs, and find the financial instruments that best suit their needs. From a developer’s perspective, that alone means a huge database.

But because the pandemic crisis is a fast-evolving situation, there are new programs being added every day, so the database needs to be continuously updated. Data accuracy is crucial here, since companies in dire need are making long-term financial decisions based on our solution.

We needed a database with a nice user interface, something that was easy to access for the non-technical team that would be keeping all that information up to date. On the other hand, we had a pretty complex field structure with something like 40 fields on each program. And we also needed to have good control over the data to make sure you couldn’t accidentally delete or overwrite something, corrupting the information our end users see on the platform.

How did you come up with the idea of using codeBeamer ALM?

MP: We started off using spreadsheets as our database, but at the rate this project was growing, I soon understood we needed a more professional tool. I took on the task of designing the database and researching possible tools we could use. Soon enough, I realized workflows would be really useful to build in data quality checks and to automate processes.

Because of my experience with codeBeamer ALM, I had the idea of using it for this project. codeBeamer is really not meant to be a database, it’s actually completely out of context. But due to its flexibility, workflows, and with the API being so great, I knew it would suit our needs perfectly. So I reached out to Intland, secured their help, and we had a codeBeamer instance up and running in two days.

The team’s feedback on codeBeamer ALM has been absolutely positive. Relying on the Swagger API documentation, a member of the team has been able to write the integration within 2 hours. And I have recently received a comment from one of the non-technical guys on my team claiming that “codeBeamer is a great piece of software :)”. It’s really easy to work with the tool, and for users, it’s also very simple.

What does the future look like for the #liquidebleiben platform?

MP: On the weekend of creating the platform, we already had 3,000 visitors, which has doubled over the first week, and it continued growing ever since. For now, our goals were short-term and focused on the Corona crisis: we just wanted to provide a solution for all these companies in need as fast as we could.

Now that we have the solution up and running, there’s already interest in the project from the German government. They are considering expanding the platform and running it long-term. For now, all team members work pro bono, and there has been zero money involved in the creation of the project. For longer-term operation, we’d need to find a way to finance a core team. That would enable the project to live on and continue to deliver value to companies in financial need.