In May, the Vantiv team competed in a hackathon challenge sponsored by pymnts.com, aka the pymnts.com/Alexa challenge. The goal was to use the Amazon echo device to reimagine how customers interact with a commerce ecosystem. It is a fascinating world we live in. Technology is moving so fast, and it was amazing to work with a Voice First technology platform.
The team consisted of software developers representing many different teams within Vantiv. We were graced with a few members of our product team, and technology evangelism would never miss a chance at innovating and meeting new people. The best part about challenges like this is the process and getting to know new people. It's a team building event injected with rocket fuel.
The challenge kicked off in late April and ran through June first. I am not sure how everyone did it, but month-long hackathons are challenging from both a logistical and time commitment perspective. We are in one of the most important periods in the payments industry so our day jobs are obviously first priority, but innovation permeates our lives and we love opportunities to flex our creative minds.
What was our innovation? We did not know all of the features of the Amazon Echo when we initially started brainstorming. We thought Alexa driving auctions like a true auctioneer would be a fun use case to work with. As it turns out, it’s not possible to drive” the Echo. Instead, the Echo only responds to a user action. But we decided to keep the auction idea and tried to re-imagine how users would interact with auctions with VoiceFirst technology.
How did we do it? First, we split into two teams, the A-team (Alexa) and the W-team (Web). We thought there would be an easy line delineating the two different features: (1) How a user would sign up to participate in and manage auctions, and (2) How a user interacts with the auction via Alexa. After developing a beautiful website, we agreed to abandon implementing the plumbing that would connect the data entered via the website to the Alexa device itself, and instead decided to hard code most of the Alexa work. This allowed us to focus more on how Voice First or ZeroUI technologies function.
What were some of the fun things we learned? To make Alexa pronounce Vantiv correctly we had to add an “e” to the end of Vantiv. If you have two Amazon Echos you can make them talk to each other and answer questions. We also envisioned software deployment in the future by making Alexa build and deploy code to AWS with voice commands.
We were also able to incorporate some Vantiv technology into the challenge. The winning bidder can easily pay for their item via Vantiv's OmniToken technology which allows us to integrate to the Vantiv platform securely, capture customers’ credit card information, and make payments all without storing credit card data. Even in our innovation challenges, security is a first-class citizen.
The end result of the challenge is shown in the beautiful four-minute video above. We had a blast, we hope everyone else had a blast, and we thank everyone who helped us. We would like to offer a specific thank you to the pymnts.com and Amazon teams that accompanied our hackathon team from the very beginning.
We look forward to participating in many more innovation challenges, but at the end of the day, innovation is business as usual at Vantiv.