Managing Time and Space

Colleges and universities are turning to advanced technology to manage facilities and coordinate appointments between people. These technologies, often referred to as event management systems, can work within individual buildings, colleges on university campuses, and even across all of the colleges on a large university campus.

Using campus-based or Web-based systems run by third parties, administrators, faculty, and students can reserve facilities for events, seminars, or group study.

The systems will reserve the rooms, notify the appropriate departments of equipment needs and times, display room schedules on information panels in the corridors outside of the rooms, and much more.

Other systems focus less on scheduling facilities and more on making appointments between people. Professors, for example, often spend office hours waiting to see if more than a handful of students will show up. With appointment scheduling systems, instead of sitting in their offices waiting, professors can require students to make appointments during published office hours. The professors can then show up for scheduled appointments, but otherwise go about other tasks or make other time commitments.

Who Uses These Systems?
Automated facility scheduling tools are only beginning to move onto colleges and university campuses. “We have just over 300 higher education institutions using our solution,” says Nate Pruitt, vice president of sales and marketing with Austin, TX-based NetSimplicity, which markets a system called Meeting Room Manager (MRM). “I would say that extrapolates into a market penetration of all of these kinds of tools.”

Institutions that have not invested in a new facility or appointment scheduling tool often rely on manual systems, in which someone in an administrative office takes a phone call and writes down a reservation in a notebook.

In some schools, IT directors have written their own scheduling applications, which may work fine, but probably do not offer the complex integration capabilities, which can multiply the utility of these systems.

Scheduling Facilities
When students in the business school at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, want to set up a study conference to prepare for exams, they log onto the University’s Meeting Room Manager (MRM) Website and reserve one of several team meeting rooms in the James A. Haslam II Business Building, which houses the Center for Executive Education.

Faculty and administrators use the same system to book the building’s mix of 35 classrooms and conference rooms and 35 team-meeting rooms.

Another way to book rooms is to use computers in 42 kiosks scattered through the facility.

Whoever uses the system can choose to have the room or rooms unlock automatically a few minutes before the conference or to accept the swipe of his or her identification card through the facility’s access control card reader upon arriving ahead of time to set up the room.

The card access control system ensures that the rooms, with their technological tools, remain locked when not in use.

Users need not use their identification cards unless they want to. The alternative is to program the system to unlock the doors at a certain time while reserving the room.

The rooms in the Haslam Business Building also have high-end projectors that use expensive lamps. To extend the life of the lamps, Coactive Systems has integrated each projector with the scheduling software and set the system to turn the projectors on and off in accordance with the schedule.

MBA candidates in the business school tend to have more regular needs for team meeting rooms. To ensure access, the systems has set aside a half dozen team meeting rooms for graduate student use only.

The system also integrates electronic signage and databases that manage university ID cards and permissions.

The integrated NetSimplicity MRM system is the brainchild of Ramsey Valentine, director of technology for the College of Business, and Brad Green, an integrator with Coactive Systems of Canton, OH. “We’ve integrated the MRM system with other systems.”

A proprietary Coactive Systems product called Global Enterprise Maintenance and Management (GEMM) provides the technical framework that enables all of the systems — MRM, security, electronic signage, databases, and potentially other systems — to work together, said Green.

Let’s Make an Appointment
Appointment Plus scheduling software from Phoenix-based Stormsource Software can eliminate waiting times and even reduce labor costs.

“Some colleges that schedule through us have gone to 100 percent self-scheduling,” said Ryan Kelly, vice president of sales and marketing with Stormsource. “They don’t want to tie administrative people up taking calls and recording appointments.”

By requiring students, academic advisors, tutors, course instructors, administrators, and others to book appointments online through Appointment Plus, office workers can focus on other tasks.

By the same token, faculty and administrators requiring students to use the automated appointment system don’t need to worry about five students showing up simultaneously during office hours. Each student reserves a time, and no one has to wait.

The system can function across departments or within individual departments. For instance, the Yale University Tax Department has been using Appointment Plus since 2003. “Yale international students, faculty, and staff are able to schedule appointments to meet with a member of the International Tax Office,” explained Daysi Cardona, the University’s International tax coordinator.

Cardona’s office used to schedule appointments over the phone or by e-mail. “The system has freed up time for the Tax Office administrative assistant,” she said.

According to Kelly, most Appointment Plus users focus on appointments between people, but the system can also be set up to schedule resources such as conference rooms.

Unlike the campus-based MRM system from NetSimplicity, Appointment Plus is a Web-based software as a service (SaaS) system. In other words, Stormsource houses the system in its facilities. Users pay a monthly subscription fee and access the system over the Web.

Stormsource makes sure the system is always up and running and bears the cost for software updates and system maintenance.

The NetSimplicity system costs more to buy, install, configure, and maintain on campus. But it offers many flexible features — such as integration with many campus systems — that SaaS systems cannot match for a low cost monthly subscription rate.

In the end, both kinds of systems, complex proprietary systems tailored to a number of specific campus needs and comparatively simple SaaS systems, have a place on today’s increasingly technology-driven college and university campuses.

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