Monday, 21 July 2014

Small things can make a big difference

In most universities I’ve seen there’s a problem with using space efficiently, and one of the issues is the small meeting room which each department has “because it’s never possible to book a centrally controlled one when you need it.”

I saw technology in use today which, in its small way, knocked my socks off.  The blurry photo below (sorry for picture quality) is one of the room controllers outside every meeting room at the Life Sciences Hub Wales.

It’s got a touch sensitive screen like a tablet device.  It shows the bookings for the room; allows a user to book the room there and then for a quick meeting; and updates automatically (its connected to the central scheduling system). So you can see if a room is free; make a booking there and then (or online, automatically).  And when a room is in use the border glows red not green, so you can see from a distance whether the room is busy or free; even better, you can use the screen to find an empty room instead. And book it there and then.

Fantastic. It would take investment for the network infrastructure and the timetabling/scheduling system. But it removes the uncertainty about a room’s usage, and also the need for the printed weekly/termly timetables which are pinned to the door of many university classrooms.

Technology in itself doesn’t solve problems, but it can create possibilities for people. And I bet that once users are confident that they will be able to find a room, the pressing need to ‘keep control’ of the departmental meeting room will fade.  Technology here really could help with efficiency.

So should every university go out and install these? Not necessarily – the business case would depend on the specific rooms, usage, space costs, and a host of other things. But they might help change the language, from “centrally controlled room” to “easily bookable room”.  And once that’s believed, change can really happen.

And they do feel very Star Trek. I’ve seen the future. In Cardiff Bay. And it looks like it might work.

[For the record - I've got no connection with the company that makes these. Other similar ones might well be available.]

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