May 2015

TCS Tech Challenge final – a close-run race

Four became five in the second TCS Tech Challenge final, as the competition expanded to include an additional university, and the University of Bristol returned to claim the 2015 title

In a hotly contested final, a mixed-discipline team from the University of Bristol won this year’s Tech Challenge with an IT formula to rebrand and refocus a drugs charity’s support service to young people.

Winners of the TCS Tech Challenge final
Their winning presentation on April 1 at TCS’ Grosvenor Place office was pitted against a range of impressive pitches from teams from University College, London (UCL), Warwick, Liverpool and the University of Edinburgh. Mentored by volunteer TCS professionals, all teams had devised IT solutions to contrasting problems facing local charity partners.

The TCS Tech Challenge is now an annual highlight of the IT Futures programme, designed to inspire young people with the creative possibilities of technology. This year too, TCS worked with community business agency Three Hands to task students from five top UK universities to find real world IT business solutions for charities.

The student entrepreneurs had 10 weeks to plan, test and implement their solutions. The four judges (Will Akerman from MyKindaCrowd, technology journalist Sam Shead, TCS’s strategic partnerships head Julie Feest and Julie Lowndes, programme manager at Barclays) revealed a 50 / 50 split vote, but in the end decided that the Bristol entry and presentation had the edge.

Each member of the winning team was awarded a paid one-month internship at TCS and their partner charity, a £1000 donation. A list of the 2015 entries:

University of Bristol
The winning team’s charity partner was the Bristol Drugs Project (BDP), which offers advice, information and recovery support for people wanting to kick, or just control, their use of drugs and alcohol. The challenge was to create an IT solution that specifically targeted ‘recreational’ drug users and included a messaging interface and a better way of collecting data.

Bristol’s proposed solution was a prototype app that combined a questionnaire, users’ stories and personal diaries in a “clean, intuitive and engaging interface”. They even added an element of gamification to incentivise regular use of the software.

For the students, it had been a “transformative experience”, according to team leader Rachit Bangar. “It made us think hard about the technology but also about the power of people,” said the third year civil engineering under-grad.

University College London (UCL)
The London team partnered Missing People, the UK’s only charity helpline which specialises in reuniting missing children and adults with their families. More than 100,000 young people go missing each year in the UK and the charity wanted to use technology to increase their reach and visibility to this vulnerable group.

The team researched key search terms and used search engine optimisation (SEO) to help drive website traffic, markedly improving click-through rates over a two week study. Both the charity and its clients would benefit from the students’ professional and targeted approach, said senior services manager Helen Alves.

University of Warwick
Warwick’s challenge was to create an improved data management function for Coventry and Warwickshire YMCA, so that the organisation could share key workers’ notes on young people and services much more quickly and easily. The charity currently houses 75 homeless people in the region across a range of residences, making good communication vital.

The team’s goals were to come up with an app that allowed the charity’s key workers to read and write notes in real time, in a secure environment, on mobile and tablet.

The team developed the app using open source software that would be sustainable and compatible with YMCA’s existing technology. The charity’s regional chief executive Andy Winter said, “It felt like we were working with a team of consultants.”

University of Liverpool
Liverpool’s partner Merseyside Refugee & Asylum Seekers Pre & Post Natal Support Group (MRANG) was the smallest of all the charities, with just three full time workers and 24 volunteers. It works to support around 300 women and their children in the local area. And with virtually no in-house IT expertise, the charity badly needed its creaking Microsoft database overhauling.

The team set about researching five or six bespoke and off-the-shelf solutions, opting for the one that ticked most customer boxes. Lamplight offered cost-effective software, a user-friendly interface and good customer feedback, the students decided.

The charity’s programme support officer Ellen Keily was delighted with their choice. “We were at the point of almost using paper records, which was impacting on our work, but we didn’t know what the solution would look like,” she said.

University of Edinburgh
A different database challenge was tackled by the Edinburgh team in partnership with Firsthand Lothian, a local charity that works with families in their homes, providing respite care for the parents of disabled children and other support and advice for families with few networks of their own.

What they needed was a means to turn feedback from the families they helped into more useful data to present to funders. The team’s chosen solution was a web app that would absorb families’ feedback and enter robust figures and information directly onto a database.

For charity director Beverley Read, the need to collate better records for multiple funders and streamline volunteers’ workload had become critical. She said, “From the start, they were patient with the amount of paperwork we presented and gave us confidence that they could go ahead independently.”

Congratulating all the finalists, corporate sustainability director Yogesh Chauhan, said “It was “refreshing  to see students from so many academic backgrounds – from economics and management studies to chemical engineering and computer science – bringing their talents to the table to create real tech solutions.”