The right way to get ‘hacked’, according to Volvo

Staying ahead of technology is the key to any enterprise’s survival in today’s business landscape— Volvo took that one step further.
1 July 2019

Whitehat hacking helped to optimize a process for image recognition. Source: Shutterstock

Technological advancements place positive-pressures on enterprises to stay ahead of the digital curve. When Volvo Construction Engineering (Volvo CE) was presented with a problem, the company turned to a unique and groundbreaking solution— it invited hackers into its system. 

To help shake up the skills and approaches of its digital team, a three-day event called Hack Sprint saw Volvo CE invite digital experts, or ‘hackers’, from all around the world to their headquarters. 

Tasked with optimizing the time-consuming process of manual undercarriage wear inspection, the result was a simplified imaging process reducing the time spent on manual inspection from one hour to just a few minutes with nothing but a smartphone app.

A different perspective

When faced with an ongoing challenge, it’s all too easy for businesses to attempt to optimize existing approaches rather than try something entirely new. But for Volvo CE’s Mya Instabouly, Global Manager of Business Intelligence & Analytics, the time had come to be disruptive.

“A lot of us have been in the industry for 10, 20, even 30 years and we are all looking at this problem in a specific paradigm,” said Instabouly. The manual undercarriage wear inspection process for equipment, she explained, was taking far too long.

“We thought, what if we have other people look at this problem for us, a completely new generation of thinkers and developers. People who might have completely different ideas of how we could do these wear inspections.”

Volvo selected its hackers from a wide variety of backgrounds and skillsets. This diversity happened to be the key element behind the team’s success as many different thoughts and ideas were shared and discussed in that three days which brought the app to life.

Unexpected results

The problem faced by Volvo was specific and required a fresh solution. By hiring an unusual team of experts with diverse experiences to solve the conundrum, Volvo found a comprehensive, accurate and sustainable answer for the lowest cost. 

While Volvo had previously limited itself in terms of image processing applications, the app created by the winning team uses only the phone’s camera without additional equipment to take accurate measurements of the undercarriage— better than the human eye.

“Historically, we’ve focused on what’s going on around the machine, but we need to focus on what is happening to the machine as well. Image processing is one way of knowing how much a machine is wearing down

“No electronics are going to pick up on that, we need eyes on it, even if those eyes aren’t human,” Instabouly said. 

While the goal of Hack Sprint was to tap into ideas produced by different demographics, it led the company to an unexpected ‘Eureka’ moment. The app is now in its development stage, being fine-tuned into software that Volvo CE could release in a few more months.

Beyond the ordinary

The thought of bringing hackers in to solve the issue initially met with many objections. Instabouly said the idea was met by a few skeptics within the company, including one employee that had worked at Volvo CE for over 30 years. 

He was so adamant that it wasn’t going to work that he insisted on being at the event. He wanted to make sure that the candidates really understood the complexity of the problem. But after 72 hours, he was just as stunned as the rest of us.”

Technology has held the answer to many issues present in the modern business world. From improving machinery performance to simplifying procurement processes, great solutions can be found by embracing the unknown— and Volvo CE’s Hack Sprint proved just that.