A true NDC story: from hackathon winners to launching the first NDC-powered chatbot

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In May 2016, 4 Caravelo team members competed in the IATA NDC Hackathon, held in Berlin. After 48 hours spent coding and strategizing, the result, NINA, won 1st prize. 15 months later, our first NDC powered chatbot, Finn, was released by Finnair. A small story, but one that had a big impact on our business.

Why NDC? Why enter a hackathon?

NDC, for technology companies like ourselves, means access to airline content in a standardized way. Utilizing NDC as a gateway can enable more of the ‘what if’s’ to come to life; it allows the ideas behind potential industry disruption to come to fruition in a quicker, cleaner way.

What the hackathon provided was an opportunity to access the schemas, a deadline and some competitive spirit. Those things combined allowed our team to focus on a clear task with a clock ticking and no distractions. Seeing other projects come to life around us was extremely humbling; to see so many other talented developer teams, all focused on improving the travel industry.

Winning isn’t everything...

As IATA continue with the hackathon format (with now 6 completed and another one to come in Paris in October), it is clear that participating itself has real value. That IATA provided industry experts, all on hand to give guidance, opinion and technical assistance was worth the cost of the airfares alone. Aside from the schema access, the buzz and excitement of being around like-minded developers and aspiring travel disruptors is inspiring; seeing so many great ideas beginning to shape over a 48 hour period reiterates that so much is possible.

...but winning does help
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Pitching an idea that has come to life within 48 hours is challenging. Doing it against 24 other projects is really tough. But coming through as a winner, was one of the most rewarding moments of our company's short history.

Beyond the kudos and claps on the back though, what did winning bring us? A check for 5,000 USD bought us some celebratory beers, a company day out and some new monitors. But what really mattered was the follow up, the process that IATA opened up to us: presenting at the NDC Corporate workshop and ultimately presenting the solution at the World Passenger Symposium. Networking opportunities that money can’t buy helped to shape the NINA offering into what it is today.

One year on
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It was during those networking opportunities that we were able to pitch and then contract our first NDC based partner: Finnair. Finnair were also on a journey with NDC and chose the Caravelo solution as its second pilot program.

15 months from the Berlin Hackathon, Finn, the chatbot assistant for Finnair came to life. Able to make bookings, take payment and provide servicing all within facebook messenger: where customers are.

Why hackathons work

Hackathons work because they provide a level playing field; the same access to content, support and guidance and infrastructure. They give an opportunity for team development like nothing else. The series of hackathons that IATA have undertaken, exposing NDC verbs and associated third party APIs, demonstrate their commitment to furthering innovation within the industry. As our experience has shown, investing the time and energy to participate pays off: in the short, and potentially in the long term, too.

So if you want to grasp the opportunity to interact with NDC in a meaningful way, learn from industry experts and potentially disrupt the industry, get yourself to Paris between the 20th to 22nd October.