SPR Newsletter – Looped In – Q1 2016
By Brian Chorba
SPR Rooms… with a View
What’s the technical premise for building a sleek, intuitive, anywhere/anytime room scheduling application? The Internet of Things, of course. Wait. What? That seems irrational. After all, IoT is a concept of behemoth proportions. How could it fundamentally relate to a simple scheduling app?
And the story goes.
Everyone who has ever worked in an office has felt this pain. You need to book a conference room for an upcoming meeting. Stat! That means, right now. Even if you don’t need the room immediately, you want to schedule it. Pronto. Because these days, companies run lean and comfy, well-appointed conference rooms are in high demand and low supply.
Here’s why it’s sticky. You’re in your car and the room scheduling system is a clunky, prehistoric app tethered to the backend of a decades-old facility ops system. The app (using the word loosely) is accessible only from the company intranet, and it’s more than a few clicks in. Like, a lot more. Basically, it’s an ancient spreadsheet.
At SPR, we’re fortunate to have an awesome, modern office space perched high in the Willis Tower. It’s bright and open, and the views are great! But…well, you know. Perhaps you don’t consider conference room scheduling a huge problem. That’s fair. In truth though, it can be super irritating and downright inefficient. Around here, we don’t appreciate inefficient. And we don’t simply let problems stand. We tackle them, collectively.
We took on this issue during SPR Solution Days. Solution Days is a grassroots internal event that brings together Individuals from across practice areas (mobile, cloud, data, app dev and so on.) For an entire day, colleagues are encouraged to join forces and dig deep into a particular idea or problem. This time, more than 15 talented and engaged practitioners gathered to figure out how to take the sting out of scheduling conference rooms.
At the top of every solution day, we work to define and confirm the requirements. In this case; simplicity, accessibility, immediacy and accuracy were top of mind. That meant we needed to craft a solution that provided the following:
- Anywhere/anytime access
- Availability on any device (laptop, tablet, phone)
- Flexibility, schedule for right now or in the future
- Simple, elegant, efficient User Interface
- Determine if the room is occupied
- Immediate and accurate confirmation
The team rolled up its sleeves, divvying up the objectives and white-boarding potential solutions. As the day wore on, the dynamics associated with achieving the key goals rose to clarity and the overarching complexities presented themselves.
Arguably, the biggest snag? How to know if the room was actually occupied. We began with the idea that if the room was showing as booked, then folks would know the room was occupied. In short order, this notion was communally dismissed as inadequate. Because we weren’t satisfied with accepting what’s documented about who was using the room. We wanted to KNOW if anyone was actually in the room. Real time. And we needed the room to tell us. This single requirement demanded that we incorporate principles of IoT into our solution. IoT (as we all know) is the concept of basically connecting any device with an on and off switch to the Internet, and/or to another device.
So the team contrived a deceptively simple and elegant solution. We designed a 5”x 4” miniature plaque sheathed in our trademark blue SPR logo, and on the inside, housing a highly perceptive motion sensor. These sensors transmit information to the cloud triggering color changes on tiny people icons in the app. When there is motion in the room, the icon is lit, indicating in real time that the room is occupied.
By no means, did this application come together over the course of a single solution day. Once we’d settled on the necessity of an IoT implementation, we knew we needed more time. Yet over the course of several full days, with a bit of nighttime thrown in, we created something we’re pretty proud of: a highly efficient, easy to use, real time room scheduling system that works seamlessly.
Here’s the technology breakdown. The application runs on Windows 10 Core and is hosted in Microsoft Azure. Raspberry Pi sensors transmit information to the cloud, via event hubs, and the backend takes it from there. Since the app authenticates to O365, the need to create new accounts is avoided. True anywhere/anytime access is achieved via iOS, Android and responsive web on the Windows mobile platform. Of course, laptop or tablet access is browser-based.
Get this. Enhancements are already on the drawing board. The idea of providing hipchat_bot integration to support auto-reservations is now in play and currently being architected. What’s more, there are six additional apps planned as well.
SPR Solution Days are now a cultural mainstay. What began as a grassroots movement to foster collaboration has become much more. This wonderful circle of learning and invention has helped up our collective game. We get to know each other better, learn through the process and are inspired to achieve greatly. The outcomes have not only supported originality and efficiencies internally, but the spirit of inventiveness has carried over to our clients as well. We’ve shared our simple, elegant app with a handful of key clients, and consequently are launching targeted IoT projects with several of them. When we become more, individually and as a collective, we gain the capacity to give more to others.
Interested in becoming more? Check out our careers page and create a connection. We’d really like to hear from you.