2018 ASEAN-Australia Codeathon
AUSTRAC is the first known government law enforcement or intelligence agency to run a global Codeathon forum. AUSTRAC leveraged innovation, collaboration and exploited technology to improve its business operations, develop efficient new solutions in consultation with government partners, industry, academia and the private sector.
Australia’s financial system is vast, complex and vibrant. Organised criminal syndicates are sophisticated and dynamic and constantly develop new ways to exploit any vulnerability they can find to launder the proceeds of their illegal activities.
Those motivated to support terrorist ventures mimic legitimate activity in financing those who wish to cause harm.
How can an agency of 300 people possibly detect and disrupt terrorism financing and criminal abuse of Australia’s financial system? Simple… Have the courage to ask for help!
One the eve of the historic ASEAN-Australia Special Summit in Sydney in March 2018, the Australian Transaction Reports & Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) hosted Australia’s first ever Codeathon – dedicated to generating novel approaches to solving Australia’s most complex law enforcement and intelligence problems.
Thirteen teams made up of highly experienced specialists from government agencies, industry, the finance and banking sector, FinTechs, RegTechs, consultancy firms and a range of academia across Australia and all of our ASEAN partner countries collaborated and competed to discover and develop new solutions in a gruelling 32 hour challenge. We also had AUSTRAC intelligence and compliance analyst expertise as ‘mentors’ on the ground throughout the event to fuse skillsets collectively in an attempt to best solve the money laundering, terrorism-financing and cyber threats we face on a daily basis.
Our participants pitched their solutions to our eminent panel of experts and following the judging, awards and bounties for the most innovative and pioneering solutions for the following categories were awarded:
• the use of big data to combat terrorism financing
• the disruption of money launderers across the ASEAN
• exploiting financial data to gain insights
• applying AI to improve compliance
• the use of blockchain
• collaboration and knowledge sharing.
The very best ideas from the ASEAN-Australia Codeathon will continue to be incubated and prototyped in AUSTRAC’s Innovation Hub, which provides a safe space for us to co-design potential solutions with partners.
The Codeathon achieved a global success with television, radio and print coverage estimated to have reached an audience of 700,000 people.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
Codeathons and hackathons have been common practice for the university and technology sectors for decades and has more recently become common for the public sector as a way to engage other sectors in public sector innovation. These events are generally specialised and involve participants with similar skillsets from similar locations.
A codeathon of this type was incredibly unique and required a strong commitment from our agency to ensure a successful event. An innovative approach to solving serious and organised transnational crime issues in such a transparent manner has certainly broken new ground for AUSTRAC and the government landscape and confirmed our appetite for engaging with risk by sharing financial intelligence processes, techniques and methodologies.
The success of this event has confirmed AUSTRAC’s standing as one of the most innovative government agencies and an exemplar in experimenting with novel and unusual methods to solve existing and long-standing problems.
What is the current status of your innovation?
Our Agency, through its Innovation Hub has been working with the ‘Cyber Six’ team, which was overall runner-up with their ‘Cryptocollect’ prototype at the Codeathon. The team’s solution involved applying artificial intelligence toimprove AML/CTF compliance and suspicious matter reporting.
The Cyber Six team consisted of university students, all of whom have a passion for intelligence and countering terrorism and a thirst to learn more. The working prototype developed by the Cyber Six resonated with the judges and displayed applied learning from the many amazing AUSTRAC mentors who were on hand throughout the event.
AUSTRAC has also arranged for the team to receive a series of mentoring and development session from our Codeathon sponsor Accenture. The team’s goal over the next three-to-four months is to further develop their prototype for FIUs and the banking industry to detect ML/TF risk from financial data.
Collaborations & Partnerships
To ensure success, we arranged high-level attendance, including the Minister for Law Enforcement and Cyber Security, Angus Taylor, and Adam Spencer as the Codeathon’s Master of Ceremonies. AUSTRAC staff worked side by side (as mentors) with participants to share knowledge and expertise. We also had the full support and backing of the Austrac leadership team allowing us to run and deliver the event in an innovative way. Importantly, we also relied on private sector expertise in the space.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
We are continuing to work with many of our participating teams to iterate, prototype and potentially commercialise these unique concepts. The event has also provided us with an opportunity to develop work experience and graduate programs with many of the university students that participated. We are also working with partner agencies within Government to promote the value of embracing innovation and helping them build their innovation capabilities using the Codethon as a successful example.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
More than 10 potential solutions were provided by our participants following the conclusion of the Codeathon. Many of the prototypes developed at our event have the potential for full and complete commercialisation. The level of quality for all of the concepts submitted at the Codeathon was extremely high and could not have been achieved using traditional business problem solving techniques in such a short amount of time. These innovations could potentially have a strong impact on the way AUSTRAC undertakes it future work, as well as our industry partners.
One the most exciting impacts for us as a group was feedback from participants and AUSTRAC staff, stating that using codeathons within their teams and agencies had the potential to develop faster and more innovative ways of solving common issues.
Challenges and Failures
AUSTRAC had hundreds of people (including Ministers and dignitaries) attending the historic event, including the lead-in to kick off, throughout the 32 hour event itself, and for the awards ceremony. Participants were from all corners of the globe, some had no idea what a ‘codeathon’ was, so our messaging could not be consistent at all times depending on the audience. This created many challenges for our organisers. From a very early stage in the event planning, we learned that differing languages, backgrounds and cultural barriers needed to be considered at all times. We were also mindful of creating an atmosphere where we were asking participants with no background in hacking or coding to team up and collaborate with those that had extensive experience for these types of events. Organic communication and event planning became the norm for the coordination team and it quickly evolved after the concept of our Codeathon was announced in 2017.
Conditions for Success
An event of this nature and magnitude relied heavily on the basic principles of innovation – including collaboration, co-design, continual iteration, continuous building and improvement and being open and sharing experiences throughout the event. As a team, we embraced the challenge of venturing into the great unknown and learning as we went!
The support of AUSTRAC's leadership meant that AUSRTAC was able to break down traditional barriers surrounding the perception of government by coordinating this event. We have shown that our commitment to co-designing with traditional and non-traditional partners can work and work very effectively. It has also been a critical tool to highlight how important collaboration and culture is as an effective component in innovation.
A ‘Codeathon’ of this nature has not been undertaken by another Government Agency, however AUSTRAC has been contacted directly by a range of not-for-profit organisations and international agencies seeking our assistance in helping them plan and develop their own codeathons and to share our insights on the intricacies of running an event of this type. This collaboration is tremendously exciting and also provides further and more tangible opportunities for us to engage with a broader sector of potential partners to continue expanding our skills and knowledge base.
These sorts of approaches to problem solving dramatically increase workforce productivity, efficiency and effectiveness, as opposed to the traditional project management approach generally utilised by government. These new methods of delivery also provide the potential for a more immediate and positive impact on local and international government.
AUSTRAC was able to break down traditional barriers surrounding the perception of government by coordinating this event. We have shown that our commitment to co-designing with traditional and non-traditional partners can work and work very effectively. It has also been a critical tool to highlight how important collaboration and culture is as an effective component in innovation.
The Codeathon has provided introductions to brand new connections that we will continue to leverage into the future and vice versa. Codeathons are tremendously rewarding experiences and are pure innovation in action. The benefits are multi-faceted, including the forging of new partnerships, new aspects of knowledge sharing, real-time collaboration and accelerated design and prototyping. Everyone at AUSTRAC, and many of our government partners, both locally and internationally, believe it will become an effective and ongoing mechanism for project success into the future.
The feedback in relation to the success of this event has personally shown us that our gamble has paid off and further emphasised how our investment in innovation continues to reap benefits for the agency.
In the current environment, ‘innovation’ is a term that is often used. AUSTRAC is passionate and committed to showing how it can deliver tangible outcomes in solving traditional and long-standing problems. We are creating ‘innovation as a culture’ at the agency, rather then one standalone Innovation Team. Delivering an event such as this was an irrefutable example that new approaches and ‘left field’ thinking can deliver incredible results for everyone involved. This event provided the opportunity for our entire agency to work as one, with an incredible sense of shared purpose, fun, audacity, solidarity and excitement bubbling throughout the 32 hours and beyond. The sentiment in the room reinforced that an event of this nature showcases that these sorts of innovative approaches to solving problems can be one of the most effective levers in tackling challenges in our work for everyone at AUSTRAC. In recognition of this innovation, AUSTRAC was awarded a Public Sector Innovation Award.