sharepoinTony

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“Conference” Room Manager for SharePoint

Posted by sharepoinTony on June 26, 2009

Review and Implementation Notes on ACAR Room Manager for SharePoint

We had a need for a SharePoint calendar that would allow us to manage some conference rooms.  After searching around, and evaluating some other options, I decided to do a deeper evaluation of ACAR’s Room Manager for SharePoint.   This is my summary of findings and notes on the specific ways we wanted to implement this tool.

Review Notes

ACAR describes the product this way:

“Room Manager Suite for SharePoint is an easy to use room scheduling software solution for SharePoint. It is simple and powerful. Consists of a set of web parts which makes room reservation simple for end users.” (ACAR Room Manager)

It is a Room Scheduling Software for Office SharePoint Server 2007 and Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 which provides a nice interface that allows the user to see both a calendar and thumbnail photos of the rooms.  The rooms are color-coded so it is easier to identify what meeting is in which room, this is a nice feature and can be controlled within the “Room Details” screen.

Room Manager default page

Room Manager default page

The installation is simple and automatically creates a sub-site for you within SharePoint for the Room Manager.  Basic setup steps include uploading your photos of your conference rooms and entering the basic information about them.  ACAR provides a list with setup and administration guidance as well as FAQ and Information  lists.

Room Details screen

Room Details screen

Adding the Capacity and Description to your rooms helps users choose the right room for them.  If you add keywords and have Search enabled your users can find specific rooms quickly by searching.

The Sort Order is used to control the display of the rooms on the home page, next to the calendar.

The “Title” fields seem a little  irrelevant to me, they only control the label/link that is displayed next to the thumbnail.  I felt that anyone implementing this would want those to be consistent; and although you may want to modify them for your implementation they should be managed in a more central location.  (Side note: while testing this product, I had one person changing those and it really confused other users when they saw one room with varying text in the display.  Some thought there were problems with the product.)

The Picture Size field also seems unnecessary, and we would replace that colum in the display with  “Room Dimensions” to provide more useful information to the users of this tool.  That column would have to be added to the Room picture library.

This raises a good point, one of the great features of this product is the flexibility that they allow.  They hide a few lists, but otherwise if you are relatively careful you can modify the lists and libraries to fit your needs.  More on how we did some of this later.

ACAR Quick Launch - default for Room Manager home page

ACAR Quick Launch - default for Room Manager home page

The Quick Launch has been modified by ACAR for the Room Manager sub-site.  As you can see it provides for ease of navigation and a custom feel for your users.  Your users only see what they need to effectively schedule a room or manage the Room Manager.  Breadcrumbs are provided for access back to the host site in the normal SharePoint fashion.

You may want to “hide” the links to the settings or Information lists because of the information they contain.  This can be accomplished by setting permissions on those lists or by adding audiences to the Navigation item on the site.

One additional thing to watch out for is the selection of colors in the Room Details.  On our system, some of the colors selected did not display correctly when selected for a room.  As an example, I selected “Bright Green” from the ACAR provided list for one room.  After saving and going back to the Room Manager home page, I see that the room color displayed is a purple.  That rooms events are now the same color as another room with the selection “Violet”.  I had to go through and test everyone of the 27 pre-defined colors and try each one to determine what would work on our system.

Colors I found that displayed oddly:

Light Yellow (displays white, which is used for “waiting list”)
Bright Green (displays purple)
Violet (displays purple same as bright green)
Acqua (displays bright blue same as Turquoise)
Dark Teal (displays purple same as violet)

Colors that worked fine but caused the Events in the Calendar to be difficult to read:

Blue
Dark Red
Indigo
Dark Blue
Dark Green

That left us with 17 colors to use for our rooms.  We could actually also use Violet as long as we didn’t use the conflicting colors, and it was our choice not to use the darker colors.

When contacted, ACAR support was surprised by this but agreed with my assessment to simply remove some of the options from the drop-down list.  If you need that many rooms you may want to consider either multiple implementations of this tool or plan to resolve this issue.  Also please note that this is only what happened on ONE test server implementation, results may vary. Also, the difficulty reading events when using the darker colors could potentially be mitigated through the use of CSS to alter the text color of the events for those specific rooms using those colors.

Overall, I really like this product. It allows you to quickly and easily implement a solution for room management while making use of mostly Out Of the Box SharePoint features.  Room management can be delegated down to appropriate levels and the Administrator shouldn’t have any major tasks after the initial setup.  We ran this test over several weeks, and never ran into anything beyond what was mentioned earlier.  It is very intuitive and simple to use.

ACAR offers a Standard Edition and an Enterprise Edition with single server licenses and discounted licenses for additional servers.  The difference between the Standard and Enterprise Editions is unlimited locations and rooms with Enterprise.  Enterprise also appears to allow for Invoicing or chargebacks of rooms, but this seems to be something you implement using InfoPath not something built-in.  We had no need for that so we did not look into that concept.

Implementation Notes

One of the “customizations” that I tested had to do with a specific need we had for this tool.  Several of the conference rooms are “owned” by a specific department, who has priority over all others when scheduling their specific rooms for meetings.  They had a person who approved all scheduled meetings in their rooms and wanted to keep that “chain of command” in place.  So, for our testing I wanted to intercept the auto-generated email notifying the user the room was scheduled and tell them it was pending approval.  Then I have to send a message to the appropriate approver so they can check conflicts, etc. and approve or reject the requested scheduling.

I was able to add columns to the Events list, turn off auto-emails, modify selections in the provided “choice” columns, and create a workflow in SharePoint Designer to accomplish this conference room scheduling process.  This also displays the flexibility with this product over some that really lock you out of “their application”.

Details on this customization may be in a follow-up article, if any interest is expressed…or I have time and less pressing topics to cover. 😉

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12 Responses to ““Conference” Room Manager for SharePoint”

  1. SharePoint Development Weekly Roundup (14Jul)…

    Ok, so I’ve managed to start breathing again over the excite ……

  2. Tim Holt said

    You mentioned in your Implementation notes- “I was able to add columns to the Events list, turn off auto-emails, modify selections in the provided “choice” columns, and create a workflow in SharePoint Designer to accomplish this conference room scheduling process.”
    Can you tell me how you did these customizations? I have the same type “chain of command” constraints and would like to emulate your customization

    • trockwell said

      Tim,
      I added columns to act as “flags” for the workflow to know what state the process was in, depending on your exact workflow this may vary considerably. I followed the directions within Room Manager to disable their “Confirmation email” and in my case I added selections to the Status choice list column. I wanted “Approved”, “Rejected”, along with the default options provided. I added a Department column to the Rooms list because each specific room would be ‘owned’ by a department. Then I created a custom list with Department, Approver and ApproverEmail columns. This way I could associate someone as the approver for each department and do a lookup on the room based on the department to get that approver and their email address.
      In the workflow, I do that lookup, change the status of the reservation in the Events list to “Waiting List” (it always defaults to Reserved) and send an email to the Requestor (item CreatedBy) telling them that their reservation is pending approval. Then I send an email to the Approver asking them to go to the Events list and change the status of the ‘reservation’ appropriately. I also added an ApproverComments column so they could send a message to the requester if appropriate. The workflow WAITS for the Comments field to change, or you could have it wait for the status to change…but be careful that you don’t trigger this when you update the status from Reserved to Waiting List. After the Comments field changes, the workflow checks the Status field and sends an email based on the status that the Approver selected (the email includes the ApproverComments column). If it is Approved then the workflow also changes the Status field to Reserved so the event displays correctly on the calendar. If the reservation/event is Rejected I delete it so it won’t appear on the calendar at all. That is just how we wanted it to work in our environment, you could treat it differently.
      If you think through the process you need in your environment, and map it out as a flow chart or stick drawing, it should be pretty easy to build. Assuming you are familiar with SP Designer and its Workflow Designer. Try them out if you are not, they are not that tough to learn to use.

  3. Tim Holt said

    Thanks for the Quick reply. I am having the Room applciation installed on the “test/development” Sharepoint server and folowing your advice on learning Sharepoint Designer and Workflow Designer. I appreciate the help and will keep you posted on the progress.

    Tim

  4. Chad Jorstad said

    I have been looking at the product also, and really appreciate your review. I have been thinking about just building it myself, but the more I read about this Room Manager and their Car Manager, I wonder how much customization I can do, because they have done 85% of my work. But I also have other resources that I want to manage. Like Aircraft Scheduling, and Training simulators. The business process for reserving a training simulator is the same as a conference room, I just don’t know how much I can customize the room manager. Do you think we could install multiple iterations of the room manager and use it for Projectors, Training Simulators, and other resources? Did you have to buy a copy for each subsite(iteration), or do you just buy the template and then you can create as many subsites as you need? I have about 100 Conference rooms, 200 vehicles, and 4000 buildings and a bunch of training simulators that I would like to standardize with this product.

    • Hi Chad,
      That is a tough call, I suggest that you contact ACAR regarding how much customization they will allow – specifically in the areas you require. From my perspective it looks like you can do a lot with your own workflows, if that will cover your needs.

      Regarding multiple instances, I am also not sure as I haven’t tried setting up multiple instances. You may need a different site for each instance, but I know the licensing is per server so the cost shouldn’t increase as you add “room manager’s” for your different purposes. (check my full review on SharePointReviews.com ). It might be worth trying the demo of the product, and test setting up a couple of instances to see how that works first hand. You could also get a feel for how much customization you can do for your environment.

      Hope that helps,
      tony

    • We have been trying to set up Room Manager for the last year (fairly modest implementation of 35 Rooms). I was having problems first of all adding more than 19 Rooms to each sub-site and now users are constantly being given the ‘acess denied’ response. The system is now unusable with 1,500 bookings! I have been getting very limited help response from the supplier and am quickly loosing confidence in this product. We use Exchange 2003, Windows 2003 server, MOSS 2007 (Standard). Does this sound familiar? Any advice?

      • Hi Roberto,
        Our implementation was small, we only needed to manage less than 10 conference rooms, so we never ran into a problem with the number of rooms. Sorry I can’t provide much insight into your situation with the product.
        One note regarding the access denied response from the Room Manager – if your sub-sites do not inherit permissions then you will have to manually update the Room Manager lists with the appropriate permissions. Hope that helps and I hope the supplier comes around to assist you.
        tony

  5. Bil Simser said

    This looks like a really nice implementation to a common problem. I think one thing missing is integration into Outlook. Most corporations have their meeting rooms inside Outlook as resources. Most people when booking a meeting want to do it in one step, inside the meeting invite. I can’t say I would use this solution because I don’t want to two-step an invite first to the participants (who might not be all avaialble) then another to fire up the browser to find a room and hope the two work for the time. Still, if you haven’t put your rooms into Outlook and want to book them separately this would be a great solution.

  6. Faheem said

    Interesting, we have been using the product for about 18 months and are now getting the access denied messages, we have 15 room… very little response from the chaps in the Swiss countryside on this, they were very keen when we paid on the cc though.

    I hope that they do follow through as they have a good base – we need to find a solution for our SP2010 farm that is springing to life – no word from the supplier as far as i can see as to upgarde… but I do need to look a little closer.

  7. […] “Conference” Room Manager for SharePoint June 2009 10 comments 3 […]

  8. Hi,

    Thank you for nice article

    Thanks

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