Client Hack Day with Team People’s Postcode Lottery

The fourth in our series of client hack day projects...

They say all good things must come to an end, and so today, we’re bringing you the final instalment of our customer Hack Day articles. So far, we’ve seen how the team have worked with Elddis to create an app that would allow them to manage stock control around a huge site with very limited Wi-Fi connection. Team DCC worked with the Service Desk at Durham County Council to create a proof of concept for ICT TV, empowering Council employees to ‘self-serve’ and find the right solutions to their IT needs. And not forgetting PWS too – the team created an app that would allow customers of the kitchen components supplier to place orders on-the-go via an app, supporting ambitious sales targets while keeping admin requirements to a minimum.

Today it’s the turn of the People’s Postcode Lottery. For just £10 per month, people are entered in to a prize draw with guaranteed winners every single day. A minimum of 30% of the cash raised through the monthly fee is donated to charity, and players have raised over £197.5 million for good causes so far. The marketing team at People’s Postcode Lottery, or PPL, do a sterling job of raising awareness of the scheme, encouraging people to play the lottery, while communicating the good news about the charities PPL supports. So much so, we were joined by Julien Machon from PPL on our customer Hack Day with a bit of a quirky brief in mind…

Julien wanted to come up with a clever way of letting members of the public (players of the lottery and potential future players too) find out more about PPL and the work that it does. The marketing team regularly creates a ‘flash news’ on its RSS feed, and so the brief was to be able to harness this to beam PPL updates into the homes of the general public, with the aim of spreading the good news about how PPL supports charities and other causes, while encouraging customer engagement and generating new and repeat players.

Headed up by Chris Grosberg, Team PPL included Cosmin Argatu, Adam Lisik and Silvia De Rosa. Having had a number of briefing calls with the guys at PPL ahead of the Hack Day, Chris and the team decided to harness the mountains of data held by PPL on past winners and worthy recipients of charitable donations, to use in a meaningful way that would achieve the business objectives.

Writing an application for Alexa, Amazon’s virtual personal assistant, the idea was that anyone could ask the device a question about the People’s Postcode Lottery, and through voice recognition, be served up with the relevant results. So, if you asked Alexa how many winners there had been in your area, you would find the answer. If you wanted to know how many charities had benefited in your area as a result of PPL, Alexa would let you know. Pretty cool stuff indeed!

Team PPL

So, within a six-hour time frame, the team and Julien set about writing the application. They’d never worked with Alexa before but we do like a challenge at our Hack Days! Using machine learning to create an intent, it allowed the application to understand the many different ways of asking the same question. For example, if you asked Alexa ''how many winners are there in my area?'' or ''how many people have won the People’s Postcode Lottery near me?'', essentially, you’re asking the same question so Alexa would be able to understand this and provide you with the relevant information. The team then used Amazon Web Services to hold the data and Node JS to write the script, to be able to interrogate the data and serve the correct information in response to a question.

As on any Hack Day, the project met with some challenges. One of the biggest in this case was that when you ask Alexa the news, the default position is to give you the latest from the BBC. Team PPL wanted to create an application so that when you asked Alexa for the news, updates from the People’s Postcode Lottery were also included on the list of results. What’s more, getting Alexa to understand that when you asked how many winners there had been in Durham, for example, you actually were inferring the whole county, not just a City Centre postcode, also proved to be quite difficult.

Team PPL

Challenges a-plenty, but did it work? You bet it did! By the end of the day, Julien had a working proof of concept to take back to PPL’s offices in Edinburgh and pitch to the marketing team as another channel of communicating with the lottery’s players and future players too.

PPL was looking for something cool and different to engage with their players and encourage repeat monthly subscriptions. In allowing the good news of the organisation to filter into people’s homes, personalised and relevant to their geographical location or individual charitable interests, we reckon the People’s Postcode Lottery is on to a winner here!

Team PPL

Jisc | Data Matters

26 January 2021

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