Selecting Room Scheduling Software

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When evaluating the right scheduling solution for your organization, it's important to understand the potential benefits and your own organization's needs

Software-based scheduling systems increase the efficiency of meeting room and resource management. They are designed to increase the productivity of administrative teams, catering, information systems, AV, and facilities, as well as the employees using the rooms and resources. By better understanding the key benefits of a scheduling system and the varying ways it can help your organization, you will be better able to realize the potential return on your investment.

Here are some of the characteristics you should look for when selecting a room scheduling system for your organization.

Unified System: To eliminate double bookings, scheduling conflicts and other related problems, organizations should consider a unified system, where all scheduling information is consolidated into a single database. This allows conflicting reservation requests to be immediately detected and avoids double-booking. A unified system can also keep all the constituent elements of a reservation - rooms, attendees, and services - in sync.

Universal Access: To accommodate all potential users, the scheduling system must allow employees to access the central system, view the meeting rooms and resources and their availability, and then submit requests to the people responsible for scheduling When evaluating the right scheduling solution for your organization, it's important to understand the potential benefits and your own organization's needs. SELECTING ROOM SCHEDULING SOFTWARE those resources. This means the system may need to be accessible to a wide range of users at numerous locations. Robust scheduling systems meet these needs by providing a range of interfaces - enabling access via PC desktop, web, and even LCD touchscreen panels and handheld PCs.

Powerful Searches: To help increase the efficiency of staff, you will need to reduce the amount of time they spend in finding and processing the meeting room and resource requests. A scheduling system with effective search capabilities will do this. For example, a scheduling solution should provide the ability for its users to search for a room based on its size, capacity, location, required equipment, and other parameters.

Rapid Reservations:,

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A scheduling system should provide the tools for users to quickly and easily:

  • Pick the needed meeting room and/or resource and then choose the time and date.
  • Choose desired attendees and send invitations through integrated email capabilities.
  • Submit request for food and beverages, computer equipment, audio and video equipment, room setup such as additional tables and chairs, and so on.

For larger organizations with a centralized process, it's also helpful if there are tools that allow general users to submit reservation requests to an administrator.

Automated Notifications: E-mail notifications allow you to send meeting invitations, notifications of changes to meetings, and cancellations. These tools speed up the processing of requests and help improve staff productivity by streamlining the communication process.

Reporting Capabilities: Reporting capabilities in a scheduling system enable you to better manage your resources. You want the tools to:

  • Quickly identify what resources are being used most often or not at all, allowing you to make informed decisions about space utilization and the potential, need for more space.
  • Create reports that show the usage of rooms for client meetings to assist with client billing.
  • Create reports that show the usage of equipment to allow you to take any necessary actions regarding equipment inventory and/or depreciation.
  • Have the supporting data needed for additional resource purchase requests.

Consider Implementation Time: The speed with which software systems can be up and running quickly and smoothly can directly impact the bottom line of an organization. The benefits of a highly sophisticated and complex scheduling system can easily be offset by the additional time and money it takes to customize and implement the system.

Look for a system that is easily deployed "out-of-the-box" and that does not require significant customization. These systems allow your organization to start experiencing the benefits almost immediately.

MAKE, BUY, OR OUTSOURCE?
With today's advanced scheduling systems, you have the ability to choose from a number of different deployment options, from software that installs on a central server and desktops to web-based systems to fully "hosted" solutions that are actually a service. You will need to define not only your scheduling system needs but also what financial resources you are prepared to spend. However, prior to this, you will need to answer a fundamental question: do you build it, buy it, or outsource the system?

Build It. If you are in a large organization, you may have access to an internal software development or information technology group that may be able to build the system for your organization. The disadvantages to this option are that it will likely take, depending upon your IT resources, many months to develop, and it could be very expensive from a "people resource" perspective.

Buy It. Many o5rganizations do not require extensive customization and integration to have their feature requirements met. Many systems provide extensive feature capabilities along with built-in customization tools that allow you to configure the system to meet the unique needs of your organization. If you and your budget can do without the bells and whistles, you may be better off looking for an offering that provides "out-of-the-box" customization tools and a low cost. These types of systems are typically easy to install and require little-to-no work from outside consultants. The implementation period for this type of option is typically much shorter, and gives you the significant benefit of lower cost.

Outsource It. ,

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This option is known as a "hosted" service. Typically, a scheduling software vendor will make their software available as a service (SaaS). SaaS vendors either have their own data center or work with a third-party company whose core business is providing hardware infrastructure. The SaaS vendors manage the application with their own support and maintenance staff. Your staff simply accesses the system through a web browser. There is no installation of software on your system. However, this also means the data you input into the software does not reside on your computers. You simply pay a subscription fee, usually on a per-user, per-month basis. This option requires less upfront costs in the short term, as it eliminates the need to acquire inhouse hardware, meaning you don't have a large capital outlay. The benefit is that you can switch from a capital cost to a monthly business expense, allowing you to save valuable capital nds for other company needs. Another benefit of the hosted service is that it minimizes the drain on IT department resources. Also - you never have to worry about upgrades, since you will always have the latest versions of the software vendor's product. However, over the long haul (3-5 year period), hosted solutions may cost more than in-house deployments because of recurring fees.

An important consideration regarding hosted solutions is the degree of flexibility to adapt to an organization's unique scheduling processes: make sure the customization capabilities your organization needs are not lost when considering software provided as a service.

You'll also want to evaluate the vendor's hosting infrastructure to ensure it provides adequate security and availability guarantees at the physical, network, server, application, and data levels. Look for a professionally managed data center with 24x7 monitoring and a proven track record of providing secure, high-availability service. One of the few drawbacks of a hosted solution can be limitations in functionality of the software. Make sure the SaaS product you are considering has a reporting feature, which is often a collection of built-in, templated reports.

TOP FEATURES TO CONSIDER

While each organization is unique, the following features are almost always common to room and resource scheduling needs:

1. Simple, easy-to-navigate user interface: A central interface where users can view, search, schedule, or submit requests for meeting rooms and resources. This saves users' time in finding the room and resources they need.

2. Built-in customization tools to fully configure the interface, screens, workflows and processes: Tools that do not require deep technical knowledge to use. This allows you to customize the different screens and features to adapt to your unique business processes.

3. Security levels that allow an administrator to grant varying levels of user capability to different levels of staff: For example, certain people should be able to directly book available rooms while others would only able to view availability and submit room requests. This improves the management of the rooms and resources.

4. Integrated automated email notification capabilities to expedite meeting room and resource request processing: This saves time for users and eliminates the potential for errors.

5. Ability to scale to multiple locations: This is critical for organizations with meeting rooms and resources in many locations.

6. Ability to access - from anywhere, anytime - a web-based system: You don't want to be limited from requesting a meeting room or resource because you are out of the office or do not have a piece of software installed on your PC.

7. Flexible reporting: Have access to built-in reports as well as capability to use third-party report writing tools to create your own reports. This enables you to better track the usage of your resources.

8. Real-time data: The information goes into a central database, which provides data that is always current for all users. This means that what one user sees is consistent with another user's view, preventing errors and scheduling conflicts.

9. Resource inventory tracking: The ability to track and monitor the quantities of the meeting room related equipment. This feature ensures staff always has the equipment they need in their meetings.

10. Speed and ease of installation: A short, simple implementation will reduce your costs, allow your organization to start experiencing the benefits almost immediately, and minimize the impact on your business operations.

SELECT THE SYSTEM THAT'S RIGHT FOR YOU

Choose three systems that you believe best suit your needs, then ask each vendor to provide the following information:

  • Estimated upfront and recurring license and maintenance costs for your implementation or hosted service.
  • Estimated build-out costs to adapt the system to your requirements.
  • Recommended hardware and prerequisite software (for in-house , deployments) from which you can estimate acquisition costs.
  • Requirements and estimated effort for inhouse IT deployment support.
  • Timeframe for implementation.
  • Training methodology and training costs.

TRY BEFORE BUYING

When evaluating commercial software products or hosted solutions, most vendors will allow you to try the product for a limited period of time. By engaging actual end-users in trials of the prospective scheduling solutions, you can ensure that the solution you pick can be easily adopted by your organization. 

John Stockton is vice president of product management for NetSimplicity Software.

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