Less is more: Platforms vs Apps

This article first appeared on Linkedin Pulse

Right now, I bet you’ve got at least 30 apps on your phone. Most of my connections are busy professionals, so my guess is you’ve got a mix of transport apps (Google maps, Uber, Trip View for public transport), banking/savings apps, browsers and a mix of social/entertainment apps depending on how much you like to procrastinate or zone out.

I think we’ve all gotten used to clunky workflows that involve opening and closing lots of apps to get the job done right, and we just accept this bad experience. We post content to our instagram and LinkedIn. To get the best photo, we use three different apps to select, enhance and edit the content before uploading, and then tracking the engagement via a fourth app. 

This sounds like a convoluted process, because it is a convoluted process. 

I bet you do the same thing with your building or workplace.

This creates a bad experience for users because the apps don’t talk to each other, and none of the apps are good enough to do the whole process from start to finish.

Platforms aren't apps. ACAEngine might have an app interface but it provides automation, control, analytics and all your features in one place.

Each app in this convoluted process is like a chain link. If one breaks or is too slow to respond, it affects the whole process. Each app in the chain also takes up memory space - both in your phone and your mind. Swapping between these apps gives you opportunities to get sidetracked or distracted or forget what you’re doing. 

These points are bad enough if you’re only posting to Instagram, but if you have to go through this process at any point in your workday, clunky workflows become a huge issue. 

For example, if I have meetings in other parts of Sydney, I will use google to find out if it’s best to drive there and park or catch public transport, and I’ll use Waze to look at traffic flow and accidents along my route to work out timing, and I will use an independent parking website or app to work out costs and availability. Here, I need at least 3 apps to work out how to use my time in the most productive way. Aside from the time suck here, each time I swap between apps in this process is another opportunity to get sidetracked or lost. And more points of data on my mental load because I’m still having to ingest the data and decide on the best solution.

What if we simplified this convoluted process? Like a lot of things in life, this comes down to communication. A platform like ACAEngine joins all these points of data and does the querying for you, which creates a streamlined user experience and saves time. Instead of controlling the technology in a built environment separately, ACA can provide a harmonious single point of contact for many digital experiences including room and resource booking, AV control, visitor management, space management, environmental control, secure access, parking management and finding resources and people.

The beauty of a modular platform like ACAEngine is that it can integrate with everything and automate anything. This means that besides providing a great user interface for a variety of technology, it can also set up automated smart triggers to control the technology within your building. 

Aside from the time savings from automation, integrating all the technology within a physical space to create a unified digital experience for that space provides huge interstitial time savings because you and your teams are no longer clicking between apps to complete your tasks. 

This has a snowball effect over time, so don’t ignore the benefits.

Digital Transformation is nothing without a Digital Workplace: 6 insights from new research

This article first appeared on Linkedin Pulse

A recent Gartner Report shows that your digital transformation journey will be a dead end unless your employees are on the road with you, and this means your team needs to be fully empowered to engage in the digital adventure ahead. Make the most of workplace technology that enhances employee experience. 

You need to ask important questions like “What’s the point of coming to work if everything is digital?” and answer these questions as an organisation. Like any change in a company, if it is just a decision coming from the top, it’s unlikely to gain traction with all teams. 

New problems lead to new solutions, which in this case means new ways of working. Work with, and not against, your teams, technology and space to create a solution that is effective and efficient for everyone.  

As a leader, it’s your job to guide your organisation through these changes, and set everyone up for success. This is especially important for something like digital transformation which has too many answers that seem correct, and too many products, services and vendors to choose from?

So what does it look like to 'walk the walk' of digital workplace and digital transformation? How can you make the most of the opportunities and stay on track?

Awareness:

Awareness of the benefits Digital Transformation doesn’t mean that only the C-Suite is aware - this means the whole team is aware. Allow the employees to take the organisation on a journey and not the other way around. 

Making sure everyone is on the road to success means making sure everyone is aware the road exists - encourage your team to share new ways of working with each other, and get buy-in early on when educating your team about small digital workflow changes making big output changes. This will also make sure you’ve got a balance of support for both well-established workplace tech and emerging technologies like AI, modern meeting applications and collaborative work management. 

Alignment:

A key piece of any digital transformation strategy is to align the strategy and technology with the core business objectives - this is more important than ever. 

There’s a key difference between running to something and running from something - when you run to something you’re running in a clear direction. 

Approach workplace technology as something that helps you run faster towards your goal. Any movement should be forward momentum, and not turbulence. There will always be irrelevant technology vendors, solutions and products on the market that might just be superfluous or, in a worst case scenario, make you run off course - just treat this as background noise. Actually using new technology in your digital workplace will help to keep everyone aligned to your strategies and values, and ignore the distractions. 

Acceleration: 

Just as emerging technologies within the workplace are accelerating collaboration capabilities, efficiency and employee experience, they can also be accelerating confusion and digital disorientation.

A digital workplace alongside digital transformation will make sure you’ve got momentum as an organisation, and make sure this momentum is accelerating you towards the digital transformation goals you’ve set as a team. This is much easier if you’re not distracted by ‘side missions’ - which is another reason that organisation-wide awareness of your goals and vision is so important. 

Application:

Just start. It’s not enough to know of this change that is growing and extending around you - the true value comes into play when you combine both awareness and acceleration through application. This is where the magic happens. 

Often, we don’t know what we don’t know, and bugs aren’t found until people get started and put new technology through its paces. Decide and start walking the walk, and the path ahead will become more clear for you and your team. 

Don’t just develop new technologies that reshape work and the workplace - deploy them too. 

Analysis:

One of the key benefits of digital transformation is the workplace and ROI data that becomes available - make the most of it! Your room booking data might show that your staff prefer huddle spaces over traditional meeting rooms - run with this information and allow it to inform your space allocation decisions. Your meeting attendance data might show that lots of meetings are being booked in, but aren’t being attended - use this insight as a doorway to learn more about why this is happening, and what’s happening in place of these traditional meetings. There are lots of answers available - the data that lies in the intersection of digital workplace and digital transformation is always a great place to start. 

Amplification:

If you want to amplify your digital transformation strategy, enable and empower your team through a digital workplace. Changing surroundings can change your point of view, and this is very applicable to smart workplaces. 

Don’t yell into the void by just talking about changes that will be happening behind the scenes, get started, keep going and keep optimising and your message will be heard loud and clear. 

Make the most of this amplification, and seize the opportunity to shape your organisation’s critical digital journey. 

Wrap up:

Time and time again, research from respected firms is saying that digitally enabled and empowered workplaces are vital to the success of present and future digital strategies. 

However, having a digitally enabled and empowered workplace doesn’t just mean that the C-Suite all get VR goggles. True Digital Transformation towards a Digital Workplace means everyone is on board, and running towards a brighter future, whatever that means for their role. 

If you’d like to learn more about the journey ahead, or the journey you’re already on, feel free to reach out or ask for an intro.

ACA Tech Talks: Integrating ACAEngine with Office 365

In this ACA Tech Talk, Cameron Reeves (Lead Custom Developer at ACAEngine) discusses how to integrate ACAEngine with Microsoft Office 365. Click below to watch the video, or keep on scrolling for a full transcript

Transcript - ACA Tech Talks: Integrating ACAEngine with Office 365

Hi I'm Cam and I head up the integration team here at ACA.

Today I want to cover the third party user and resource management system we integrate with most - Office 365. I'm going to run through how ACA connects to your Office 365 instance, the data we require access to, and how that data is used. ACA integrates with Office 365 and other similar user management systems primarily for the purpose of listing users either to locate in an office or add to a meeting, to book room resources after showing their availability, and to manage staff's calendars.

For example, when using ACA to book a room an end-to-end flow may look something like this:
A staff member accesses the web based front end to select the time, length, and attendees for a booking and is shown the available rooms for selection. An http post request to create a booking is made from the front end to ACAEngine using a generic structure that is unaware of what management system is used on the back end. Using our open source libraries, ACAEngine makes requests to Microsoft's Graph API to create a booking inside the authenticated users calendar. This may utilise Microsoft's open extensions to save extra metadata related to the booking such as a catering order, attendee related information to assist the front of house, or other information.

So how does ACA connect to Office 365 to access this data, and what's required on your side to enable this access?

ACA is providing access through an application associated with the Office 365 instance. This application is similar to a service account, though it uses an application I.D. and secret rather than a username and password, and can only access data to which permissions have been granted. The process for creating an application is very simple - hit the Azure portal at portal.azure.com and log in with an admin account. In the Azure Active Directory section under app registrations, click new registration and give it a name. Under the API permission section, click add a permission, then click Microsoft Graph and add the following permissions: The calendar dot read right permission, the user dot read dot all permission, and they contact dot read write. permission. Click the grant admin consent button and confirm. Lastly, in the certificates and secret section create a new client secret, note it down, and send ACA the client I.D. and accompanying secret.

Lastly, I just wanted to briefly discuss how ACA deals with visitor management.

All meeting attendees who are external to a host organisation are considered visitors. As the Office 365 integration provides their meeting time, the room their meeting is in, and the host details, no secondary visitor list or database is required. Upon arrival of the visitor, a request from a self serve chaos or concierge UI is made, and an email or SMS notification is sent to the hosts of the meeting. The host is then able to come down to meet the visitor or have them sent up to the appropriate room. 


Want to learn more about how you can make the most of your existing workplace technology stack using ACAEngine? Click here to get in touch.

User Location Services and Desk Utilisation Monitoring Without Sensors: In Conversation with Landell and Steve

Watch Landell Archer, Regional Solutions Director for Australia and New Zealand at ACAEngine chat with Stephen Von Takach, CTO/Lead Tech and Co-Founder of ACAEngine, talk about how ACAEngine monitors user location and desk utilisation without physical sensors.

Landell: Most of our existing solutions, we're doing desk utilization and desk finding, but those solutions often don't have desk sensors so can you talk us through how we do desk utilization and finding?
Steve:
So ACA tracking integrates with existing I.T. infrastructure. This is advantageous over sensors because they require additional maintenance and management. When you look at critical infrastructure, any issues with that hardware is going to be resolved reasonably quickly, whereas sensors are definitely a second class citizen in terms of the I.T. maintenance.

Landell: So I guess what you're saying is it's just, if you're using existing critical infrastructure it's going to be maintained as a priority. Therefore we can actually leverage that network instead of providing a whole new layer of things that are just going to fail potentially and not get seen too quickly. 
Steve:
Yeah exactly. And that doesn't even take into account the fact that when you leave your desk to go to the toilet your desk will be marked as free even though you've probably left your laptop and your bags and whatnot there. 

Landell: Yeah that's a good point. So the desk sensors don't really relate to how people are working at a desk - we sort of come and go.
Steve:
 Yeah exactly. And when you look at modern workplaces, leveraging technologies such as USB C which allow people to quickly set down their laptop, plug in, and have access to multiple displays. 

Landell: OK so that sort of talks to these modern workplaces are giving their employees a bit of an incentive to dock at a desk essentially. So, parking at a desk, plugging in, that gives them access to the monitors, power even and we can use that behaviour to actually track desk utilization. 
Steve: Yes yes exactly. And it doesn't preclude using sensors at all. So many workplaces have breakout areas and collaboration spaces which are a bit more flexible working. And we often use cameras which. Where the image stays on the device but it can count heads in areas and this can also integrate with the lighting system and things like that. So you can replace traditional lighting sensors with a single camera sensor that performs multiple roles

Landell: So this came up at a conference recently where they were talking about like cameras, sensors and I think that was kind of to put people at ease in the room about this isn't a camera. It's not just facial recognition. It's it's used as part of a sensor it's just picking up a face not identifying that face just picking it up as a count. And they were talking about that using it in the context of most workplaces want to try and understand how many people are in a meeting room versus what the capacity of that meeting room is. So we're not having these 12 person boardrooms only used by two or three people for each of the meetings like as a workplace we want to know how to utilize our space better, so we need that count. You mentioned that those sensors are only putting the images on the actual camera, not I'm assuming uploading them to a cloud? 
Steve:
Yeah exactly. So it's edge processing - it effectively just detects faces and then outputs a count which we can query. 

Landell: Great. OK. So the advantage of that is that there's no I guess privacy is a concern of most people obviously, but with this the images are staying on the camera so we're not having to query anything across the Internet. It's just straight to the device that we're querying. 
Steve:
Yes exactly- in meeting rooms we can often leverage other hardware in there as well such as the video conference system. 

Landell: So this was a really interesting project that we did across in Perth where cameras in the meeting rooms used for video conferencing could be leveraged for people counting. So talk us through that sort of solution. 
Steve:
Effectively what we're trying to do is reduce double handling- keep everything as simple as possible and integrate with existing solutions. So video conference systems now have features where they zoom in on the faces that are talking, but to do that they're already analyzing the images and we can use that data that they're collecting automatically and feed that back into analytics systems. 

Landell: And workplaces aren't going to be used to this. They're probably used to being told you want that? Well you have to buy this, this, this, this, this, this and this at a huge expense. So how does our solution save them costs? 

Steve: Well you're not buying any extra hardware. In fact we're encouraging people to use less hardware- so use more intelligent sensors that play multiple roles and that way you're managing less, your electricity costs are lower, your maintenance costs are lower, and that hardware is typically more critical infrastructure which means it's going to get priority maintenance.

Change the Subject to Scenarios

This article first appeared on Linkedin Pulse

Imagine the perfect workplace for your organisation. What does it feel like to walk through the space? How are your employees choosing to work from the space? How are your employees interacting with each other within the space? Does it seem different to your current workplace?


You probably imagined your team happily concentrating, collaborating, and achieving great outcomes. Perhaps you imagined some indoor plants and colourful walls. But did you think at all about the specific technology hardware within the space? Did you wistfully imagine the specific touch screen monitor you almost bought for your meeting rooms? Did you visualise the specific video conferencing camera you just got a quote for? Probably not.

Individual bits and pieces of hardware aren’t what will make your new workplace or building seem perfect. It will seem special when your employees can use the space effectively for the tasks they’re working on. It comes down to your end users and how they’ll interact with the space and technology. 

Think about the scenarios that will bring life to your new workplace, and change the subject to scenarios.  

Maybe you’d like to have large presentations in your auditorium from time to time, but you want the experience for your team to be seamless. Instead of moving between booking systems, AV control systems, HVAC systems and location services, you can automate this process to focus on what is important - your team. 

As Landell mentioned in a recent podcast episode, ACAEngine can integrate with all of your building management systems to create a single unified solution that uses smart triggers to prioritise user experience. This means the air conditioning system can turn on half an hour before the presentation will begin, to cool the room down without using excess energy, the AV systems can be automated for the scheduled presentation time, including any video conferencing, and ACAEngine can even integrate with the building’s elevators to make sure that there aren’t too many people on a given floor at a time. 

ACA can integrate with everything and automate anything. This means we’re not limited by hardware, and we use software to create and develop solutions that put end users first. We have a very consultative sales process to make sure we’re aligned with the problems our clients are looking to solve, and we’re optimising technology for the scenarios they’ve decided on. The context that’s built from these scenarios is key to the holistic success of the platform. 

We care about this context because we care about the experience that end users will have when they interact with the technology and the space. 

A complete understanding of how your team’s work will allow us to create a solution for your organisation - not a patch product. 

The consultation process with our clients allows us to solve, and then extend the solution for the scenarios we’ve spoken about, and this means we can move beyond feature lists and tables, and move towards a holistic solution that can grow with them.


If you'd like to learn more about ACAEngine or Smart Workplaces, get in contact or ask for an introduction to the team.

Gamification of Smart Workplaces

This article first appeared on Linkedin Pulse

Does gamification of the workplace mean installing PlayStations in every meeting room with a display or projector? Does it mean that your agile hot desks will be replaced by arcade machines? No - it just means bringing the best parts of games to the workplace to create a better employee experience. 

An International Team of Researchers describe Gamification as an “informal umbrella term for the use of video game elements in non-gaming systems to improve user experience (UX) and user engagement.” in their 2011 conference paper on the subject. 

When you think of games, and especially video games, it’s easy to think of someone locked in a basement who hasn’t left their house in weeks. Although this may be the case for some people, the reality is that the global esports industry valuation is set to top US$1 Billion in 2019 (source) and Millennials will make up the largest percentage of the global workforce by 2025. (source)

Additionally, in a recent article PwC notes that “By adapting corporate culture to accommodate the Millennial mindset, businesses can attract new talent and gain a competitive edge.”

So what does all this mean for ACA?

Our clients don’t choose to work with ACAEngine to roll out a Smart Workplace Solution just because it helps them to attract and retain millennial talent in the workplace, but it is something that we’re hearing consistently in consultative meetings with our clients. However, one of the biggest reasons for implementing Smart Workplace technology is to improve the employee experience for all employees, and to empower employees to focus on doing what they do best, by allowing the technology within the built environment to work with, not against, employees. 

gamification-scoreboard.jpg

At its core, gamification increases user engagement and in the workplace this can be used to foster employee co-creation and get buy-in from end users. Gamification takes the ethos of games - things like competition, playfulness and transparent rewards, and applying these positive attributes of gamification in the workplace allows organisations to make the most of the “fun” that other organisations try to manufacture with a token ping pong table in the corner. 

Many of our key clients are acting on the positive research into gamification and investigating aspects of their smart workplace which would benefit from some game elements. We’ve been working with our partners and clients to make sure that they’re not just adding token elements without the proper planning or strategy - we’re working to make sure that its a genuine part of the organisation and user experience within the platform. 

For example- one of our clients wanted to familiarise their end users with ACAEngine’s People Finding features within their organisation’s app. One strategy for this is to just send out an email telling their staff about the feature, but the better strategy is to weave this education into a gamified experience. We worked with them to create an Easter Egg Hunt within their smart workplace solution, that used their wifi-enabled user location tracking. Instead of the user interface just showing a person’s name on the map - random people throughout the day were ‘Easter Bunnies’ and there were prizes awarded for employees who won the Easter Egg Hunt. This was really successful in communicating a key feature of the client's new Smart Workplace App using ACAEngine, and it encouraged end users to get their hands dirty and really engage with this feature, rather than just reading about it in a company memo.

A different example of gamification comes from another one of our international clients who wanted a way to add game-like tokens within their platform to reward good behaviour at scale. Managers and coworkers can reward each other with in-app-tokens which can be redeemed within the precinct, and the token rewards are also posted within the platform to recognise and publicise great work within the company, instead of keeping praise confined to direct conversations or emails.  

gamification-dice.jpg

However, like any new concepts in organisational behaviour or technology, rolling out gamification in the workplace has the ability to go pear shaped. A big reason for this occurring is if organisations aren’t acting in the best interests of their employees, or within their own strategic goals or frameworks. Once again, this comes back to setting smart goals and making informed decisions that take into account your organisation, its people and its culture. 

Have you ever been to a presentation or seminar that has some really disingenuous or forced audience engagement activity that just doesn’t hit the mark with anyone in the room, and instead of listening to anyone in the room the leader just steamrolls again and ends up tanking the activity and presentation completely? This is what poorly executed gamification is like, except everyone is now surrounded by it all the time in their workplace and not for a 2 hour seminar. 

So how can we get past the limitations and make the most of the opportunities?

After conducting a thorough literature review, Perryer, Celestine, Scott-Ladd and Leighton concluded that “Gamification is not suited to every context and situation, but does have tremendous potential where it can be implemented in a strategically aligned way that engages employee motivation. Thus, taking a more holistic and long-term view to understand the motivations underpinning gameplay offers the potential for productivity and job satisfaction”

gamification-controller.jpg

So how do you press play?

Overall, the research is telling us that for gamification to work at all, let alone in a workplace, the game elements need to be novel and appealing, but also genuinely related to the task at hand. Without this, things will get very stale very quickly and your employees probably won't enjoy playing along.

That being said, this is a great opportunity to express and amplify your company culture in a genuine way, while enhancing the employee experience.


If you’d like to learn more about how to roll out smart workplace solutions, or gamification within your smart workplace, get in touch with me here on LinkedIn or via the ACA website

Smart Policies for Smart Workplaces

This article first appeared on Linkedin Pulse

The key to success for smart workplace projects, or any large-scale enterprise projects for that matter, is to have smart policies to guide you and your organisation towards success. Keep reading to learn the 6 policy pillars that will light the way and keep you on track towards a smart workplace solution that is enticing for your employees, efficient for your IT team to manage, and effective for your business as a whole. If you're looking to be better, faster and stronger, success comes down to harnessing this movement and turning it into momentum for your project.

diagrams.jpg

1. Make People Your Priority

There’s lots of ways digital transformation can go wrong, and most of them stem from organisations and leadership teams not keeping the employee experience at the forefront of discussions and decision making. 

Make people your priority by prioritising the user experience every step of the way. This is a core value at ACA, and this is the reason that we’re successful at winning large jobs and contracts with great clients, often beating much larger companies who have been operating for decades longer than us. By prioritising user experience, you can make sure that you are creating a solution that doesn’t just replace what you’re currently using, but improves and optimises this. 

Prioritising user experience for your team means getting to the root of problems, and solving them properly instead of using a band aid solution. Does your current workplace tech stack work together well? Is everything integrated correctly? If not, you’re not getting the most out of the hardware and software investments you’ve already made, because you’re not solving the whole problem for your team. 

2. You Are What You Measure

A quote I like to borrow from one of our Partners at ACA is “Yes you can do that, but should you?” and this ethos is really relevant to the way we consult with our customers. ACAEngine gives management some really great analytics opportunities, but it’s always important to keep in mind that you are what you measure when it comes to these workplace analytics choices. 

Analytics and data in the workplace have revolutionised the way we work, and the way we manage. They give lots of opportunities for us to improve, but there’s a downside to bad metric choices. It’s important to appreciate the power but also understand how corrosive (to your culture, employee experience and productivity) selecting the wrong metric can be.  

Humans will always try to find the shortest or simplest path to success- always keep this in mind when choosing what you’re going to track and measure. Make sure what you’re choosing to measure is in line with your company values, and don’t make it enticing for employees to do sidestep what their actual goals or objectives should be, in order to fulfil an imposed metric. 

Leadership teams spend large amounts of time planning business goals and strategies, but it’s also really important to dedicate time to think critically about what your organisation is choosing to measure and how you’re choosing to measure those metrics. 

By setting measurements and metrics to track you’re setting goals for your team, but more importantly, you’re specifically communicating what you value as an organisation. Regardless of how many company values you’ve got printed on the walls of your office space, what you choose to measure is the real way your company values are communicated to your employees. 

3. Don’t Settle

Spend time with the end users who will be working with your smart workplace solution in different ways and make sure that you’re not settling for second best when it comes to employee experience. For example- if the catering, scheduling and room booking systems aren’t properly integrated with ACAEngine it might end up taking quite a considerable amount of employee time to make sure bookings are live across several platforms at once, make sure nothing is getting left behind, and make sure nothing is double booked. Every minute your customer service team spends doing tasks like this that can be easily automated is a minute less they can spend creating a fabulous experience for your employees and guests.

Your concierge team are no doubt great at customer service- this is why you hired them in the first place so let them do this!

Also, don’t settle for meeting room hardware that is unreliable or doesn’t get the job done just because it’s what you’ve always done. Listen to your employees (by looking at the data that’s available or actually talking to them) and look at how they like to work and what they need in order to work well. You might have loads of meeting rooms filled with great hardware but this won’t get used to the best of its potential if your calendar and room booking systems aren’t integrated, or your employees don’t use meeting rooms in the first place. 

‘Don’t Settle’ means to take a step back and look at where you are and where you want to be as an organisation, and work out the best way to get between these points.

4. Lead By Example

Like any change within an organisation, digital transformation or digital workplaces fundamentally won’t work if leaders aren’t leading by example when it comes to embracing the new technology or ways of working. 

If you’re looking to switch to a hot-desking model, make sure your C-Suite and Management teams are all leading by example and actually using the hot desks. Additionally, if you’re trying to reduce ghost meetings (meetings that are booked but not attended) within your organisation, make sure there’s top-down support and action on this topic. 

Genuine, sustained and evolving organisational change means everyone is on board and no one is left behind. 

5. Iterate

As Landell and Liam Timms discuss in an ACA Podcast Episode, a Smart Workplace Project, or any other large-scale technology project within a business, isn’t a one-and-done project that gets locked away as soon as it’s rolled out. The magic happens when you workshop end user feedback and weave this into updates for your solution. If your employees are letting you know ways they could be working more efficiently, effectively or happily listen to them and continue to iterate!

Your business is constantly growing and evolving, so your workplace technology should be evolving too.

6. Start Somewhere

This was also discussed in Landell and Liam’s Podcast Episode, but don’t allow yourself to get stuck in analysis paralysis- just start somewhere and iterate from there. Decide on a Proof of Concept, and build from there. Technology moves too quickly to wait for everything to feel perfect before you pull the trigger and go ahead- by the time you’re ready to go there’s probably new updates or improvements available that will change the way you want to proceed. Set benchmarks, goals and checkpoints and stick to them. This will keep you moving, and keep you focused. 

Just Start. 


If you’d like to learn more about how to roll out smart workplace solutions, get in touch with me here on LinkedIn or via the ACA website.

ACAPodcast - Brooke Interviews Jeremy - Meet The Team

Click below to listen to Brooke Jamieson (Digital Strategist at ACAEngine) interview Jeremy West (Customer Success Manager at ACAEngine) for a Meet the Team episode of the ACA Podcast.

Brooke: So what does your new job title mean?
Jeremy: Basically it means I'm here to ensure our customers have success with ACAEngine and our offerings once they're deployed into their environment. So basically picking up things from once the project is completed and delivered. I sort of step in and look after the customer or the end user moving forward. 

Brooke: What's the most common problem you help solve for your clients? 

Jeremy: A lot of my work is largely around service delivery. 

So where our customers might have either an issue or a problem because basically getting them access to the help that they require to resolve that problem whether it's something that the ACA team internally can resolve on the solution or whether we need to involve other vendors or other parties to come in and help them get things back on track. 

That's probably one of the highest questions. And then after that is is working with our existing customer base in terms of feature requests and what they might like to see in future releases of ACAEngine or modifications to their existing deployment that might make things easier for their business. 

Brooke: Are there any feature requests from customers that have been incorporated into the ACAEngine platform? 

Jeremy: Probably the most recent is working on stronger authentication with Google services which has come from one of our larger customers. And that's all fully integrated now into the ACA solution. That's probably the most notable one recently. But we do have customers quite frequently bringing us sort of new products that they've found or things that they might be interested in and then the development team spin that up and we develop the modules and things like that for those products and see how that might work in the real world. 

Brooke: What are some specific roadblocks to watch out for? 

Jeremy: I think the biggest thing is trying to get all parties involved at an early stage of the project. Obviously because the ACAEngine platform covers so many disciplines, where we're involving network engineering and infrastructure and systems engineers and all of those kinds of parties. In addition to workplace specialists and people management and those kind of softer roles getting all of those people onboard very early in the project will always ensure its success because there's so many moving parts and so many different fields that we need to integrate to get a very holistic solution. So having everyone around the table in the early days openly discussing how things work. Initially, how the platform works how the platform deploys into an environment and then off the back of that what the key deliverables are for that end user. So what they expect to see and their interaction with the platform on a daily basis and everyone understanding that from from a very early stage will in my mind deliver success because there's that open and transparent conversation and there's also people involved in these kind of deliveries that have not seen anything like this before. They used to be isolated tools that do parts of what the ACA platform can do but they've never seen something come together where it encompasses so much of the organization to deliver a really rounded solution. So that would probably be something that stands out to me. And understanding all of those different roles and how they play together is is critical. 

Brooke: It sounds like it's important to have everyone on board and on the same page. What are some ideas that unite everyone? If you've got such a big group of people fighting for what they want, what about united by?

Jeremy: I think understanding what the core problems are that they're trying to solve. And once you actually dig down into that we find that a lot of people have the same problems just worded in a different way. So you know HR people might see the same issue that that other people in the organization are seeing they may just say it in a different way and when we actually sit down and discuss those issues that they're talking about the real estate people are talking about you know access to space and these kind of things and then the HR people are concerned about where people are going to sit and when we strip that down and look at the core issue that they're actually the same issue and how do we look at overcoming that. Ensuring that people have the right facilities, spaces and desks and whatnot in their workplace while being mindful of the real estate real estate constraints that may be on a physical premise. So both of those two kind of align in a very interesting way when we start to strip the problem down. 

Brooke: You mentioned having a really rounded solution. Can you think of any clients that have achieved that? And then also maybe what made them likely to achieve that? 

Jeremy: Yeah one that springs to mind quite often is the Australian Road Research Board in Port Melbourne. They're maybe a smaller deployment of the ACAEngine but they really their key focus was preparing their business for the future. And obviously their core business is innovation in the road transport and traffic spaces. So they really wanted to do something that that would fit their overall key values and future direction for the business. So they selected the ACA solution. 

Even though it's a smaller scale they're actually using every element of the ACAEngine platform in their environment that includes a staff app that allows them to book parking spaces before they come to the office in Port Melbourne right through to room booking visitor management hot-desking and staff locations. So in terms of a grounded solution they've integrated some interesting aspects like parking and the vehicle identification that they've got on site right through to room booking and into the network for people finding and all of those kinds of things. So that's a very well rounded solution on a smaller scale leveraging every aspect of the ACA platform. 

Brooke: You mentioned how you help customers to get in touch with our support teams off to a job it has been rolled out. Can you tell me a little bit more about that process and what it looks like? 
Jeremy: Yeah absolutely. So we're being very actively building out both a service desk and extensive documentation regarding the platform. So obviously got support.acaprojects.com which is our help desk so you can basically raise a ticket through the help desk and one of our team members will jump on that and help you. Otherwise we've got slowly building out a knowledge base to ensure self-service so a lot of the frequently asked questions and common things that come up we're now actively documenting. So if you go to the support portal and start typing in a query it will start actually producing results that may be able to help you self-resolve your problem without having to engage us which is obviously a quicker path to resolution if it's something simple. And we're also building out our documentation suite that we have which includes documentation around the API core of of ACAEngine as well as developer documentation so we can better enable people to write modules and drivers and actually understand how the platform itself works and how they can work with that themselves. So all of that is is in progress it's in a really good position but we encourage people if they need to know if they've got a problem or they have to get in touch with us to write a ticket through that support portal and we'll jump straight on it. 

Want to learn more about Jeremy’s Role? Click here to send him an email

How does ACAEngine make buildings more sustainable?

When technology within a workplace is integrated with ACAEngine, the automation, connection and analytics features of the platform can be leveraged to ensure all technology in the building is operating as efficiently and effectively as possible.

This innovation allows our clients to achieve industry-leading sustainability practices and energy efficiency results.

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Automated Power Controls for the Built Environment

This is where ACAEngine shines - once something is integrated, it can be controlled and automated.

For example, automatically start Video Conferencing equipment just before a meeting, or control lights in work spaces.

Manage Building Capacity

If you’re using ACAEngine’s people counting features, you can also use this to Manage Building Capacity. This means you can be sure of how many people are on a floor at a time, and act in accordance with evacuation protocols for your building or tenancy.

HVAC Systems

Operate Integrated HVAC Systems as efficiently and sustainably as possible by turning them on and off based on foot traffic in that room, calendar schedules and organisational protocols to save money and the planet.

Smart Lighting

After integrating lighting systems with ACAEngine, clients can enjoy the benefits of automated lighting that is responsive to employee location, calendar schedules and business rules to optimise employee experience and energy efficiency.

What does this look like in practice?

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Once you have activated zone-based capacity management within your building using ACAEngine, you can clearly see which areas of your workplace are nearing capacity, but also which areas of the space are below the nominated levels.

This means that employees can choose to work in a space that suits their needs for a given task during their day, and allows the Building Management System to manage and analyse capacity and trends.

Additionally, HVAC and lighting systems can use data to inform their settings, so they can work as efficiently and effectively as possible to create a comfortable employee experience that is also focused on optimising energy efficiency for sustainability practices and certifications within the building and its tenants.


If you’d like to learn more about sustainability and smart buliding design, contact out team via email here

Mental Health and Wellness in the Workplace with Landell Archer

This month, the ACAEngine Team will be completing The Push-Up Challenge to support Headpsace, the national youth mental health organisation.

Landell Archer, ACAEngine’s Regional Solutions Director for Australia and New Zealand who also studied Exercise Physiology, joins the ACA Blog for a guest post this week:


At ACAEngine, we’re working with clients who are keen to revolutionise the way they work.

The motivation behind the change is often the recognition that in order to attract and retain top talent, you have to invest in their health, wellness and overall experience in the workplace. It’s not just about offering them a gym membership or a fruit basket. Companies are offering modern spaces that aim to optimise employee wellness with biophilic design, circadian lighting, automated control and customised user experience so that interacting with the spaces is seamless and free from frustration.

I started my career as an Exercise Physiologist in corporate health. I’m excited to see the trend towards supporting health and wellness and workplace and I’d love to see workplaces doing even more!

Research shows that regular exercise improves your mental state, even in the absence of any physical adaptations. With the rise in mental health issues in Australia, exercise is in the spotlight as the single most important strategy for the prevention and treatment of mental health issues. Still, most people in Australia are not getting their recommended minimal dose of daily exercise.

I’m imagining a world where technology lets you gain efficiencies in your work day- not so you can add more work but so that you can have carve out the time to exercise and invest in your own health and wellness.

If you’d like to learn more about using workplace technology to enhance employee wellness, feel free to contact me via LinkedIn or Email.

Mini Podcast Episode with Landell Archer

Landell Archer, ACAEngine’s Regional Solutions Director, Australia and New Zealand, recorded a mini podcast episode this week discussing two key applications of ACAEngine from our clients. 

Listen below, or visit the ACA Podcast page for our regular episodes. (Keep an eye out - there are some great interviews coming soon!)

The first request came from an existing client who has all the basic features of ACAEngine. They've got room booking, AV control, way-finding and visitor management, and their new problem relates to the air conditioning in their auditorium space. They have a large auditorium that's normally reserved for large events so it's not booked every day. The space can get really hot really quickly, so it needs to be air conditioned. 

But they reached out to me because it's expensive and wasteful to keep the air conditioner running all day, so bad management of this could be detrimental to the green star rating for the building. So it's really important that they don't keep the air conditioner running constantly. 

The air conditioning system has now been connected to ACAEngine, so the controls, including starting and stopping the system, can be easily managed by ACAEngine. Additionally, the system isn’t managed with physical controls or buttons, instead it makes the most of ACAEngine’s smart triggers and integrations. The platform is already connected to the bookings of the space, so it was a matter of adding a command to reflect their business rule. The client wanted to turn on the system half an hour before the auditorium booking to pre-cool the space, and then automatically shut off the system half an hour after the event has finished. This is really easily achieved for ACA.

We've also had conversations with other clients who'd like their air conditioning dialled up or down depending on how many people are working in that space at a particular time. Once again, because ACAEngine was already connected with people counting, by using the wireless network to count devices, it can trigger events, and control systems, based on the data it's receiving from the services it is integrated with. This means that if a floor is empty, the air conditioning can be turned off, and if a section of the building is particularly busy the air conditioning can be dialled up and all of that can happen automatically. This means the Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems can use data from ACAEngine to operate more efficiently, making them cheaper and more environmentally friendly, while also making sure employees are comfortable in their workplace.

One of the more complex questions that were sent through this week came from our new staff members in China, and is around user experience and sort of extending workplace into a smart building or a smart precinct. In Shanghai, shopping centres are really large multi use precincts that also have eateries and office spaces. As a result, Building Managers are constantly looking for ideas to improve user experience in the shopping centre, as well as draw in high quality tenants for the office space. 

So you can imagine that Building Managers are always aiming to have a full tenancy of retailers, office workers and restaurants. Traditionally, retail or restaurant tenants are enticed by data on the likely foot traffic from the office spaces or the demographic of the workers. However, the technology behind ACAEngine can we can do a lot better than just showing them potential foot traffic or demographic data - we give them real data. 

By extending ACAEngine to include those retailers and restaurants, We could bring those retailers and restaurants onto the platform and provide a portal or an app that enables the office workers to do a range of things and make the most of the precinct.  

So they might have existing room booking for their offices or shared spaces, and we could extend that out. They might even have in-house catering within their office spaces, but we can extend that out to the precincts in the shopping centre. 

For example, if a worker wanted to order lunch and have it delivered to them in the breakout space of their office, this is possible with ACAEngine. It would be similar to Uber Eats, but inside the precinct, and you wouldn't need to type in an address or a room number because that platform is already integrated in with location services. As a result,  the person that can deliver the food to you can find the user’s location. 

ACAEngine can even provide caterers with limited building or room access if they need to deliver food to a room or a floor that requires a swipe card. This is made possible through the platform’s integration with security and access systems, so it’s simple to manage these controls.

Another might want to book a table at a restaurant in the shopping centre - this is another example of extra value created for both tenants and building managers by ACAEngine. The precinct’s app could show them a map of the available restaurant tables at a time that they'd like to book, so the worker can reserve exactly what table they want. 


In both of these cases, the workers could be building up loyalty points automatically that they can redeem as discounts in the future within the precinct. Correspondingly, Building Managers and Tenants are able to receive data on exactly who is spending the most with each service and even data on how to improve their services, staffing or operational efficiency. 

These examples all improve experiences for staff, tenants and management, and they’re all made possible because they’re working with ACAEngine, a web standard platform, so analytics from the platform can be pushed into any web standard analytics service. 

All of this is possible with ACAEngine, and it was great to hear some of these ideas from our customers internationally. In essence, because ACAEngine can identify who someone is, where they are, and the system is already integrated into the services that they want, the team at ACAEngine can map out the user experience that the customer is trying to achieve and tackle the problem to provide a great experience for end users. 

Do you have a great example of ACA in action? We’d love to hear from you! 

Feel free to reach out to us via sales@acaprojects.com

ACAEngine on stage at Splunk Live 2019

ACAEngine’s new integration with Splunk was featured on stage during the keynote at Splunk Live! In both Sydney and Melbourne last week. It was great to see such a large audience at the event, and this presentation by Simon O’Brien showcases the work of Hugh Rayner and ACAEngine’s Global Customer Success Manager, Jeremy West - great work team!

Splunk is a leading platform for collecting, exploring and analysing any machine data generated by technology. ACAEngine is excited to have worked with Splunk for this solution, as we share a common goal in empowering organisations to drive business outcomes and efficiency with data.

The solution explained in this video opens many doors for Splunk users - this allows Operation Centres, Help Desk and Support Teams to use a single monitoring platform to ensure health across their entire environment. This includes data centres, networks and applications, and using ACAEngine, this can be extended to include technology in physical workspaces.

Now, if faults occur anywhere on the connected network, they can identify them quickly via their native Splunk Interface and triage accordingly. As a result, Help Desk and Support Teams don’t need to learn to use ACA Back Office or change their existing workflows when they are using ACAEngine - they can continue to use Splunk.

If you’d like to learn more about integrating Splunk and ACAEngine, click here to contact Jeremy.

ACAPodcast - Landell Interviews Liam - Fast Facts

Earlier this year, Landell Archer (Regional Solutions Director, ACAEngine) interviewed Liam Timms (Fund Manager, International Towers in Barangaroo) for the ACA Podcast, and this was one of our most popular episodes to date.

If you didn’t catch the full episode (which you can listen to in full here), or you’re in a hurry, you’re in luck! We’ve put together our favourite fast facts from the episode, which you can listen to here:

How do you curate a community instead of creating ‘just a building’ where people come to work?


”I need to understand what you want to achieve before I give you a solution. I don't want to give you an out of the box thing. That's not what we do.”

Can you give us any advice for the people who might be doing this for the first time ? How do you go about making those decisions realise your vision and keep it going long term?

Want to learn more about ACA or how to make sure your smart building project is a success?

Contact Landell via landell@acaprojects.com or listen to the full podcast episode here.



Designing your own ‘WeWork’

This article first appeared on Linkedin Pulse

Commercial building owners and operators are catching up to the idea of shared workspace and multi-tenancy offerings. Indeed, it is better to turn your vacant floors into a shared workspace than have them sitting empty - and you don’t need WeWork for this; You need good design, good technology and great customer service.

There is also a trend for vacant retail space to be turned into a shared workspace, and this makes a lot of sense. A shopping centre has good transport, lots of food options and most importantly (for me anyway) good coffee!

Let’s look at how you can enable your own ‘WeWork’ type of space, without having to engage WeWork.

Design

Most studies have concluded that open offices are not good for productivity, health or even collaboration. However, when you think of WeWork, you think of big open plan spaces. So my first tip is to not replicate this design- but improve on it.

Many confuse Activity Based Working (ABW) with open-plan offices or hot-desking. ABW is simply having the right space for the activity. The starting point of good design is defining your needs.

What type of activities will take place in your shared workplace and what space is needed to compliment these activities?

Most activities can be broken down into three areas:

1. Productivity work

These are the tasks you need to focus on and this is usually a solo activity. Some people find that focus requires background noise- and so they do their productivity work at a cafe. Others need dead quiet. So even in this one area we have identified two different personas and space requirements.

2. Thinking work

Thinking requires mental space. Good ideas rarely pop up when you are focusing on a single task. Thinking happens when you are walking, taking a shower, or commuting. Just because this doesn’t require a desk doesn’t mean it's not important- this segment often holds the most value creation. How do you create a space good for thinking?

3. Process work

The difference between process work and productivity work is that the former is mindless. It is the sort of activity that a robot is likely to take over. This can include crunching numbers, entering data, delegating emails, answering phones- etc etc. Process work simply requires the right tools for the job. Think about how these tools integrate with the space.

4. Collaboration

All three areas above will need input from someone else at some point. Collaboration is the hardest thing to get right- particularly today when technology plays such a big part. Some research shows that people who work from home engage more with their colleagues. This is with remote tools and channel based chat (eg Slack).

When it comes to physical space we need to think of different types of collaboration. In a shared work environment, a big factor in collaboration design is privacy. You do not always know the people around you. In a shared workplace you can presume your client's will have access to their own collaboration platforms so your investment should be in the physical space and privacy around it.

Space Switching

Do you need to change space constantly? Well maybe, but that isn’t practical. However, do not expect to design one space that can meet all the requirements of how we work throughout the day.

This is the power of the hot desk. It's not just about saving money on space, with a hot-desk environment you can move to the space that works for you at any given moment. Doing your tax return? Work from the noisy internal cafe to help you focus. Trying to reach inbox zero? Do an hour of emailing from the open standing desk. Need to rethink your marketing strategy? Do 10 mins meditation in a private nook, and stay there with a pen and paper to map out some ideas.

With a design focus on these different ways of working, you can start to map out your catalogue of spaces. But you don’t need to start from scratch - there are many companies that have put a lot of thought and research into this. There are many types of spaces you can include in your shared workspace - Amicus has some great resources on this subject which are worth checking out including this podcast episode. The furniture company Haworth also has some good resources on different types of spaces for your workplace.

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Services

I have used WeWork many times. What they have above their competitors is great service. But customer service is not new to most large building operators. Many have replaced the lobby security desk with lobby concierge. You need to apply concierge style customer service to the shared workspace and extend it to a new area: community.

Many customers of a shared workspace are attracted to the space for a sense of community. Particularly the one to three person team. Starting a company or running a sole trader business can be lonely, and working from the garage in isolation doesn’t do it for everyone anymore. They would rather be around others in the same position, sharing ideas or even chatting about what accounting and CRM they are using when they bump into each other at the kitchen. But you cannot just expect this stuff to happen by accident- promote it with communications and the physical space design. If you are serious about starting a shared workspace you should have at least one resource focusing on tenant services and community engagement.

Think about what large corporates offer their staff in the form of HR services- and see if you can pool that for all your members. Most small businesses do not get access to all the employee benefits of a large corporate, but you can leverage your size and brand to enable HR as one of your core services.

And if you own the building and the precinct, you are in a unique position to offer VIP services. You have good ins with all the neighbouring restaurants, gyms, bars and retailers. Just walk around- hand out your business card with the logo of the company that invoices them for their rent- and tell them that you have a shared workspace and would like to promote their business to all your members in exchange for discounts. It’s a win/win for you - your customer (the retailer) is happy as you are promoting them and they will continue to pay rent to you. Your members of the shared space are happy as you are giving them discounts with your leverage. WeWork will not have the same leverage in your precinct.

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Technology

All the services you provide should be seamless, low friction and transparent. Aim for user interactions that happen automatically. This might require a bit of people tracking and building integration but if your members are there every day, they shouldn't need to use an app - just walk into a space and most experiences should be automated. Also, focus on the easy to automate processes so your concierge staff are not stuck processing visitors or something like that. The concierge staff should be truly focused on customer experience. Transacting visitors or doing data entry that the user could have done is not the best use of their time or the best outcome.

Automate what can be automated. For everything else, have the appropriate interface and have all services included under one single-sign on solution. This way, payments can be seamless and the retail & hospitality benefits you are providing can be included as a transactional experience.

Some of the common UX you need to focus on:

Finding the right space for the activity

All your spaces should be listed- and you should be able to filter based on key features and desired activity. The user should be able to save favourites and presets for easy selection in the future.

Access

This should be seamless, which is not easy to achieve. How do our customers and their visitors seamlessly access the building, floor, space and/or locker with low touch interaction? That question should lead the design goal. The solution will be a combination of technology that integrates into a single platform.

The icing on the cake features are more important than you think

In my mind, these are your points of difference. Every organisation has a way to book resources, but what can you come up with that will make people thinking “that’s pretty cool!” Is it integrating smart lockers with retail collection points? Is it having the best cafe in the area deliver a coffee all the way to the desk- taking the 'beat the queue' functionality further than any publicly available app. What experience can you provide that your customer cannot get working from home?

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Bringing it all together

If you have some vacant space consider turning it into your own shared workplace. Fit it out for the new ways of working and provide great customer service, novel user experiences and technology to wrap it all up. If you make it your own- you have something stronger than WeWork.

If you are a real estate company- you know more about workplace user experiences than anyone. Do not outsource this to an over valued company that are working it out as they go along.

When it comes to smart buildings- UI is not UX.

This article first appeared on Linkedin Pulse

If you think about the user journey of a commercial building- from commuting, arriving in the lobby, signing in, navigating, accessing the required floor, finding your host or colleagues, finding the right space for the right activity, putting your stuff in a locker and maybe ordering a coffee…. there is a whole bunch of user interfaces along the way. And this is the problem- UI overload.

I wrote earlier about how the native App is pretty much dead as this problem extends into all areas of life- too many apps creating too many user interfaces or even worse- notifications annoying us throughout the day. And in a building, not only does every system have it’s own app- there are also light switches, swipe readers, kiosks, touch panels and biometrics as additional user interfaces.

The missing part of all of this is User Experience design. A big part of the problem is all these various areas are isolated from each other- not just with technology but with process and ownership. Therefore, these problems can be solved by making small tweaks to the project management and roles and responsibilities. Let’s look at a few examples.

Tenants want more than what the building managers are offering

I recently had a meeting with one of the biggest tech companies in the world. I mention that not to boast but to point out how backwards building technology must be to a Silicon Valley company. They were planning for their new office and were frustrated with not having access to all the centrally managed elements of the building to include in their workplace solution. Elevators, secure access and other building services were simply not available to them. And the building managers didn’t seem to understand what the problem was. The elevator will have its own interface, you can use the bluetooth app for virtual building access cards and why do you even need to monitor the water quality?  

It got to the point where this tenant started building their own backdoors and workarounds. You say no to a company like this and they’ll simply use their tech resources to find a way. And their employees have allocated time to work on side projects- so this was a nice little challenge for the dev team.

What these developers discovered was something we also stumbled across at ACA: the building management systems and central building software is redundant. It’s basically unnecessary middleware that hasn’t changed for decades. Why not just bypass it and talk directly to the end-points?  And this is where the building managers and leasing companies get in the way. They just want to do what’s easy- use the systems they know- follow the same formula. It’s not an easy area to disrupt but conversely this makes it a soft target for disruption.

If you are interested in more of my thoughts on bypassing unnecessary middleware- the last part of my webinar (this link) covers that.

UX is not about technology- so don’t let your IT department lead the process

The  above example shows us that there is at least two big silos: the building and the tenancy. And this is why we might see multiple interfaces between the two. In the same vein, it’s also why there is double handling in other ways. For example- why do I have to sign in at the building reception- then do it again at the workplace. If we include security- sometimes we have  3 interactions before the host knows we are in the building. “Sorry I’m 10mins late- but I arrived 10 mins early!” There are many more silos we are challenged with across a smart building.

If we look at a single tenancy- a workplace- there are some consistent problems we see- and sometimes solve. I’ll lead with the solution: IT should not be making the technology purchasing decisions. A business unit should run this- with technical input from IT.

If you run everything through an IT decision process it will look something like this:

  • We need an x solution. EG we need a room booking solution

  • We’ll write the must haves and nice to haves requirements list.

  • We’ll get 4 products into a POC environment

  • They all have to pass our network and security audit first

  • Then we’ll tick off our requirements and the one with the highest score gets spec’d and we’ll put out an RFP to the vendors channel partners.

The problems this creates:

  • You are leading with a product: not thinking about the broader solution. If you scope the UX you might find you can solve this problem by removing technology- not adding tech. It's hard for IT to think like this. Also, you might be replacing something you already have with something that does the same thing. Sometimes the problem is not the tech- it’s the UX. And if you replace the tech to get the same UX- you are left with the same problem. This is fresh in mind for me as a common thing I hear is ‘we are not happy with our Condeco room booking panel- can you guys provide an alternative? Here is our requirements list based on what Condeco does”.

  • The must haves and nice to haves are immediately siloed to this one feature set: EG room booking. But how does it fit into a seamless UX with other elements of the building and workplace?  You are also just looking at what you have and asking how it could be a little better. Instead of discovering new opportunities to improve the UX or find new ways of working.

  • Network and security can be designed and scoped just like the UX. You should not rule out technology based on your assumptions from a POC. Instead you should work with the vendor or integrator to design the perfect balance of security and flexibility.

  • The scale of a POC is not an indication of real world performance. It is likely that products that scale well- find it hard to set up a small POC. And products that are aimed at small deployments do not scale well. And I've never seen a POC that is truely a production environment- so what is the value?

The IT selection process of running everything through a POC leads to selecting the wrong technology and 5 or 6 different technologies rather than a single integrated platform. The UX suffers greatly as each system has its own user interface.  This might be different systems with no integration across the following: visitor management, reception booking (room booking God-view, car space management, loan equipment and other requests), room booking panels, room finding maps, room availability reporting and room control. And this is just the rooms!

How do you scope UX across the building and tenancy?

The previous example shows how many siloed systems there can be in one tenancy basically just for rooms. But there’s even more silos to break through. These include kitchen, catering, desk finding/analytics, lockers, air quality (and other workplace wellness goals), retail and service integration, transport, media and digital signage, etc.. etc... . So how do we break through all these walls and help create a seamless UX? I think it is as simple as assigning someone to that role but first- scoping the UX effectively.

UX is not graphic design. The result of UX is your requirements list and IT's role is not to POC products- but to identify the integrations and dependencies needed to deliver the UX journey. You start the process by mapping all your types of users and building their personas. Why are they in the building? When/why are they not in the building? How do they meet/ collaborate What tasks do they perform?  How do they socialise? Do they live near the office? What are their fitness goals?

You then list all the spaces (assuming you have already gone through a process with Interior designer and know what spaces you need). Then for each persona you ask- what happens in this space… and this one when they are in it? And what is the journey from one space to another. Basically, how do they get to the building and what is every interaction with space throughout the day?

Finally, imagine everything is connected- what opportunities for workflow automation are there? i.e. can we replace the need for any user interaction and trigger actions automatically from data and/or profile information? Remove any double handling and aim for a single record or truth.

The main tip here is don’t just list every type of user and every type of space without thinking of the journey between spaces. Automate as many workflows as possible.

The UX scope will result in a long list of dependencies. At this stage it is important to have someone that sits across all the stakeholders to make sure the project can access all the required dependencies.  This will be across the three main areas of a smart workplace:

  1. Facilities / Real Estate

  2. IT

  3. People and culture.

Don’t get me wrong about my position on the  IT department. I’m not trying to undermine their value in the earlier sections of this post. I just think they need to focus on exactly that: their value. And that’s project related- not UX scoping. There is one project (my colleagues will know the one) that comes to mind where our client did not have an IT department. They are a real estate company so they tick box one and we had a number of stakeholders from HR so that’s box three. But two years later, and the job is still open. They had great ideas and scoped really cool user experiences but there was no one internally steering them to the right dependencies. And we were stuck trying to do something that was sometimes impossible because of fundamental IT problems.  

Some of our best work at ACA ,such as PwC, had all three areas above working closely together. If any one of those is missing from the mix it is, at the very least, a hard project to close off. And at worst- a failed project.

I’ll end with a list of easy to achieve workflow automation ideas if everything is connected to a single record of truth and a single automation platform.  But please let me know your own ideas!

  • Room booking: automatic workflow: Visitor management pre-population

If you invite external visitors via exchange/O365/Google/IBM Notes- then this should pass onto the visitor management system so reception can have a list of who’s coming today. This will speed up the sign-in process. We could of course automate a lot more but this is a good starting point.

  • Room booking: automatic workflow: Room Control

If you search for a room based on requirements- e.g. “I need a room with a TV,” the room should be able to automatically carry out a function related to those requirements like turning on the TV and initiating wireless sharing.

  • Room booking: automatic workflow: catering requests.

Most room catering in a workplace is simple- it shouldn’t require a seperate catering system. Map out all the possible catering rules and work out if you can just apply those as meta-data in your room booking. And if the room booking system is already tied to the email platform (exchange) you can use the service account to send requests to the kitchen.

  • Room Check In: automatic workflow: video conference dialling

Most conferencing end-points have great APIs. Including web-based platforms such as SfB. So if you have everything booked- the call should be up and running by the time both ends turn up to their space. Just walk in and start collaborating.

  • Visitor management: automatic workflow: car space allocation

Room booking, visitors and car space- could all be from one record of truth. Map your workflows between these three areas. Allocate car spaces, apply payment rules to different types of users (e.g. open the boom gate automatically for VIPs)

  • Visitor management: automatic workflow: building/floor/room access

If we go beyond just having a list of pre-populated visitors- we could email QR codes to external visitors and allow them temporary access to the building based around their booking.  Obviously consider your security options but we have allowed this for a number of projects.

  • Desk Finding: automatic workflow: Locker allocation and control

Find a desk- allocate a locker. Sounds simple but a lot of people run two seperate systems for this in a hot desking environment. Classic example of the problem I described in “UX is not about technology- so don’t let your IT department run the process. “

  • Desk Finding: automatic workflow: user preferences

Allow users to save their favourite preferences  to be triggered when they arrive at a desk or room. This could be desk height, lighting levels, climate and even favourite coffee order for different times of the day.

  • Locker booking: automatic workflow: laundry services

Maybe once a week you have it set to have laundry access your locker and take any washing to return at the end of the day. This can automatically charge your account and the system can provide temporary access to your locker- even if you change lockers every day. This could be used for any service. Basically a locker could be a personal PO box in your workplace.

  • Room booking: automatic workflow: transport timetable.

Most cities have a public API for transport timetable data. Could this be used in room booking rules- or to improve any other user experience?  

  • Coffee order: automatic workflow: payment processing

Have rules that decide when the company pays for catering (e.g. requires an external customer to be with the employee) and when to automatically charges any stored credit card the employee can add/manage.

  • Slack chat: automatic workflow: room booking and/or visitor management

If you use slack or similar you will find your employees almost live  there most of the day. So why make them use a different interface? Bots can allow for any feature provided by other user interface elements. e.g. “Hey @deskbot find me a space with a standing desk”

  • Friday Drinks: automatic workflow: vending machine control.

This is one we haven’t done. But is very easy with the right dependencies. We have been playing around with these new vending machines that can mix drinks and make cocktails. We have access to their control unit and can send commands from our triggers. Therefore- the input can be anything you can think of. A simple order page or how about this idea: our Chat Bot can recognise key words like “Friday” and “Drinks”. We can automate your Friday drinks booking in any room- and have your favourite drinks automatically dispensed from one of the smart vending machines. This is something we are going to set up at ACA. But vending machines in general are at a point where anyone could have their own Amazon Go like experience in their tenancy. Let me know if you have any ideas for smart vending machines in your workplace or smart building.


Takeaways;

The Problem

  • There is currently user interface overload in a building and tenancy

  • This is due to silos between the tenant and building. And additional silos at the tenancy such as the workplace.

  • This is amplified by technology purchasing and scoping coming from IT.

  • This creates a product first approach- missing out on new opportunities to improve the UX by perhaps removing the product altogether.

  • It also leads to more of the same- “let’s replace one room booking system with another” when the underlying problem is the UX not the technology providing the UX.

Recommendations

  • Have business units and HR scope workplace features

  • Consider the journey between spaces. If this is a new fit-out or building- the Interior Architects would be all over this.

  • Aim for workflow automation and single records of truth.

  • Have IT identify all the integrations and dependencies required to deliver the desired user experience


Jon McFarlane.

Dimension Data Sydney Office

Dimension Data uses ACAEngine for a number of workplace features. This includes desk usage and availability, people searching across a hot desk environment, room booking and space analytics. Most importantly, ACAEngine is a platform that enables these features by integrating into existing building and IT services. For example, to track available desks and find people- ACAEngine connects to Cisco wireless access points. These WAPs also provide the general network for staff meaning ACAEngine is leveraging something that is already there. No additional sensors, hardware or installation was required and we were able to provide better ROI on existing technology.


Notes on the growth of ACAEngine

This post was first published as a Linkedin Pulse article by Jon McFarlane. View other Pulse articles here.

Last month William Le from our team relocated from Sydney to Hong Kong to lead our efforts in the Asian market. In this short time we have delivered ACAEngine to a large insurance company for visitor management and building access control, started scoping our first major residential project and established a delivery and hosting partnership with two of the leaders in the Asian market.

Our aim now is to replicate this success in cities all over the world. Right now we have active projects in major cities such as London and New York- but also a few scattered in smaller cities such as Milan, Istanbul and Ho Chi Minh. This is thanks to some of our multinational clients- managing the solution centrally and rolling it out to their global offices.

How do we manage this with a relatively small team? Well there are a few things working in our favour.

Scalable product from day one.

Our software was designed to scale from the get go. Many startups are following the “lean” methodology- basically releasing the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and constantly playing catch up. This means they focus on features that they can sell right away. Our first project was a single system- it would have been easy for us to ignore scale as the client didn’t need it. But we took the time (while living on 2 min noodles) to get it right before releasing. Having the technical co-founder that I do, he would not of had it any other way. Eight years later, scale is still at the heart of what we do. We are a couple of months away from a new version that can scale even further. We even built our own open-source framework so we are not held back by Ruby on Rails limitations. Our current offering is as scalable as our clients need right now, so again we are ignoring the MVP method and releasing something that will be scalable for another eight years- while our competitors are yet to catch up to our day one.


Software has no borders

The building industry has historically been very hardware focused when it comes to technology. As we are 100% software based, international business is pretty straight forward. Even when we work on projects in our own city- we are doing it remotely. From a technical point of view we do not care where the server is located, the process is the same.

Instagram famously had just 13 staff when they were acquired for $1B. We are not running that lean, but it shows how a small team can have big results when all they focus on is software. This is one of the main driving factors behind our internal shift of delivering our projects directly; to working through partners so we can focus on product and not spend half our day in project meetings.

Furthermore, many of our elements and tools are open source. This means we have external developers contributing to some elements of our stack. And any partner or developer can get up to speed very quickly with our documented APIs.

The open source model also allows clients to set up their own demo or Proof of Concept as they can download and setup ACAEngine without us. If you are not using it commercially, you do not need a commercial license. This works really well for us as resourcing POCs is hard even for the largest IT companies. Also, not needing us helps our clients validate the platform so this turns out to be a successful way to run a POC.

Partnerships

Projects require local resources- so we lean on partnerships to enable this. There are two core areas for our delivery partnerships:

  1. Designing, scoping and building UX

  2. IT services and integration.

As an API based platform, ACAEngine UX can be completely customised for the job. Companies that typically sell product can struggle to get their head around this. So we also provide templates for a number typical requirements such as a workplace app, room booking interfaces and visitor kiosk (to name a few).

Creative agencies are best suited to scope and design UX as they already work with and understand platform. Our message is not too far off their typical web projects: “We’re Wordpress and you're engaged to build the website on top” is the simplified analogy. "Wordpress for buildings".   

IT services are simple: we need a VM (maybe a few), client side Auth, a network and domains with SSL. Our challenge is these two areas, UX and IT, might not be covered by the same partner. Personally, I spend a lot of my time travelling and meeting with potential partners to close these gaps so the client can engage one partner and have both areas covered. 

So what next for ACAEngine?

We are going to establish more partnerships- not going to go nuts with it rather be selective and focus on capabilities. We are launching new products Q2 this year (a SaaS offering and our own building Analytics platform) and we are using our existing projects in new markets as a base to grow sales in those regions. It will be a busy year for us- but I guess it has never been quiet. It’s always just a new set of challenges- but we have a motivated team that thrive on it.

It you are interested in my personal experience as we do all this I've started a personal blog here: http://www.jon.sydney/

Jon McFarlane, co-founder ACA



Apps- the new 'box' you don't need.

This post was first published as a Linkedin Pulse article by Jon McFarlane. View other Pulse articles here.

apps image.jpeg

An app can do a set number of things. If you want it to do anything more-  the developers have to build and push a new version and users have to download an update. The company that develops the App is not set up to scope UX specifically for you.  This might be fine for the average consumer but is not suitable for a smart building or smart workplace project.

I feel like we have been here before in the integration industry. It reminds me of the rack full of boxes that have a set number of features and are sold to the client with little consideration for the total solution.  But instead of 5 boxes per room- the industry has switched to 5 Apps. And most of the time, these Apps are to help sell more boxes!

The integration, AV and IoT industry is so hardware focused that their answer to software is mobile Apps- in 2019! A clear example of how far behind the broader IT industry these fields are. And how disconnected from the customers they have become.   

There are countless articles on the App being dead but here are a few:

The software industry is focused on platform, APIs and build your own UX. The UX is not just button presses in an App, although this can be part of it and many of these platforms have their own App. But customers are thinking more broadly and aiming for passive interaction with technology.  The UX might be automatic triggers from user location, predictive actions based on historical data, chat-bot integration into Slack or a new type of interaction we are not thinking of yet. With a platform, you have this flexibility.

Apps and boxes are easier to sell- as it requires less of the sales person. This is how they end up in so many “smart office” projects. Another room booking app- another room booking panel. Not very smart.  This is why I wrote an article on not attending industry events. I learn more from my customers, partners and co-workers than room booking app vendors invited to talk about the future of workplace.

Think about some of the apps in this field; most require their hardware. “Our App tracks people for automatic room check-in. But you have to buy our bluetooth beacons”.  Or“you have to buy our desk sensor”. Or “you have to buy our in room control hardware”. Or “you have to buy our video conference system”. Or “you have to buy our swipe card readers”… etc, etc. And if they even have the ability to integrate outside of their App- you probably have to buy their middleware software or subscribe to their public cloud.

The customers are demanding more. They don’t want all their building technology to be disconnected systems that required multiple apps to operate. The end user certainly does not want an app for the car parking, an app for their visitor management check-in, an app for their elevator, an app for their virtual access card, an app for their locker, an app for the desk finding and an app for their room booking. From the articles links above- you will see that App downloads per month for an average user is almost 0. When was the last time you downloaded an App that you didn't delete a few hours later?

My final thoughts are for system integrators in this field. IT companies and creative agencies have been working with platforms and solution-based sales for a long time. If you don’t step up- they will take over your AV, IoT and integration niche. It’s only a niche because it required special hardware and weird vendor specific software. It doesn’t anymore. You might be a billion dollar system integrator- but your vendors are blinding you to the opportunities and changes in the market. Meanwhile,  companies you have never heard of are taking your market share. Stop selling boxes, stop selling apps and focus on solutions.


Jon McFarlane. Co-Founder, ACA.