Innovation Team at Work

Not customer relationships, but partnerships

15 August 2023
How a hackathon led to stronger ties and a world of ideas

Strong collaboration

For nearly a hundred years, the raw materials company Cefetra has been a loyal customer of Peterson. In such a long-standing relationship, monotony can creep in, much like in any good marriage. How do you prevent that? By continuously renewing the relationship, for instance, through a hackathon.

The term ‘hackathon’ , a combination of ‘hack’ and ‘marathon,’ was first used in the 1990s by an American IT company to rapidly develop a new computer system. Hackathons are now used in various industries, from universities to real estate sites. The goal remains the same: to devise innovative solutions for complex challenges that both parties want to address together.

This led to sharp minds from the long-time partners Cefetra and Peterson spending two days together in a ‘bubble’ at a hotel for a hackathon. The result? A wealth of innovative ideas and a common approach to the future. And, perhaps even more importantly, a stronger bond between the two partners.

Finding a common thread

Once together offsite, teams were formed, with an equal number of participants from Cefetra, Control Union, and Peterson. They tackled complex themes that go beyond daily challenges, such as sustainability and energy transition. The task was to identify challenges that impact both companies for each theme. A common thread had to be found, along with an innovative solution. This didn’t necessarily have to be a technological feat or software. Process improvements or new services also qualify as innovation.

“The outcome of the Hackathon was so innovative, creative and solution driven. It clearly underlines the strong collaboration between Peterson and Cefetra. Big thank you to all the participants for their drive, energy and enthusiasm.’
Jean-Louis Maertens, Managing Director at Cefetra

Love your problem

Was the Dutch hackathon a sophisticated brainstorming session? Not. In brainstorming, ideas are thrown out randomly; in a hackathon, a structured approach is taken. The combined hackathon followed the Design Thinking method. This method was created by American engineer Larry John Leifer to design and test technical innovations. The thought process involves five steps, including mapping out the problems faced by the customer and you, following the motto: love the problem, not your solution. Brainstorming tends to focus on finding solutions that often end up forgotten. During a hackathon, thorough problem analysis leads to concrete plans that can be tested immediately.

It appears that three or four projects will emerge from the hackathon – a fruitful outcome, exactly as intended. After all, locking yourselves away for two days isn’t about putting opportunities for innovation on hold.

Working on your relationship

But the intensity didn’t last for two full days. On the last day of the hackathon, a ‘Haka’ workshop was organized, led by an enthusiastic trainer. Both groups gathered on the Dutch beach at nine in the morning, shouting and dancing. Everyone participated with equal enthusiasm as if they were all part of the same company. This is crucial. Control Union and Peterson might be the service provider and Cefetra the customer, but that’s not necessarily how you want to see each other. You want to be partners, making the relationship sustainable. A good marriage requires work, just like a relationship at home. After all, you’re working together through thick and thin, striving for the same future.

Koen Backer

Time to get to know us (better)?

Interested in getting to know us or deepening our relationship? Let’s have a cup of coffee with your Peterson partner. No contact person yet? Make initial contact through the Innovation HUB via Koen Backer van Ommeren.