Hack written on laptop

Hack days and Hackathons are gaining popularity amongst business leaders. Hacking, no longer a term tied to breaking into an organisation's systems for nefarious reasons, today's hack days are about breaking the system and processes of an organisation for a positive outcome. [See also: Hackathons - A great way for CIOs to drive innovation]

Trevor Attridge, Global Director of Data and Technology at media agency firm MEC is one of the latest converts to the benefits of a hack day and invited CIO UK along to see the business being broken, for all the right reasons.

As one of the top five media agency organisations, MEC is reported to be bringing in global billings of over $20 billion per year. MEC has 5,000 employees across all aspects of media buying and planning. The organisation came into being in 2002 following the merger of newly acquired agency CIA and The Media Edge by communications giant WPP, formed by Sir Martin Sorrell.

"We work on behalf of our clients communicate across all channels including, online, mobile," Attridge said at last month's CIO Summit. As head of data Attridge has a strong focus on information and what it can do for his organisation and clients he told attendees to the CIO Summit.

"We leverage data to help our understanding in finding the audience that meets their [clients] objectives in the most cost effective way possible," he said.. We need to understand how those campaigns are performing to help course correct to ensure maximum value and return for our clients."

Attridge brought together key members of the MEC product and technology teams from across Europe to the hack day in the summer of 2015.

"We have product led sessions that look at how we evolve those and how to improve our capabilities," he says of how a hack tears down existing models and puts them back together in a more efficient manner.

"It's really to get a feel for new technology. Unless you can touch it; it is difficult to ascertain how it is relevant and it gives us a chance to remove the hype," Attridge says. Analyst and advisory providers Leading Edge Forum were partnering with MEC to supply virtual reality devices and the latest mobile technology to hack day attendees.

"As we move to more addressable media the pace is moving so fast," Attridge says of the need to ensure the organisation understand the disruption that technology and increasing abilities to target advertising is bringing to the media.

"It's a challenge for all. The immediacy of our market increases the speed you have to react to. So we have to be nimble and take advantage of change. The latest consumer technology and how it will impact the media and create touch points means a hands-on practical lesson means we can talk authentically on it for our clients," Attridge says.

On the first day of the three-day hackathon MEC focused on experiences and the adoption of change with a media outlook.

Attridge explained data from digital is "fundamental and the expectation on our people is to be more savvy in the data and technology space, but not at the expense of operational excellence."

A range of markets and how they were being disrupted was considered by attendees, which the CIO says was a great exercise for sharing knowledge. The hack also included talent swaps to get teams made up from different parts of the business, which Attridge said was a powerful reminder of how important it is to bring people together. Especially he says, as organisations like MEC need to be creative yet also strong users of data.

I witnessed a wearable session where MEC staff from across Europe were using the Oculus Rift virtualisation device to imagine how exhibition stands would look. Attridge and the Leading Edge Forum workshop with staff members how to take this technology on as a marketing and process tool, taking concepts of exhibition stands to the client and allowing the client to virtually walk around and "experience" what their purchase would look like.

"Hackathons are about people having to think, having the time to think. So it helps people improve on the disruptors in our market," the CIO says. "And it is a great launch pad for us to do further discussions as the conversations will carry on through virtual technology and then bring people together."