Automating Healthcare
Solving business problems with savvy automation

Conference Room Scheduling

Business problem
Few businesses have enough conference rooms. Modern health care, driven by collaboration, requires a huge amount of meeting time, and competition for conference room space can be fierce. We had a different manual process for each room, with no clarity about the room's "owner" or how to book the space. We needed a clear, understandable process to manage conference rooms, ensuring the best possible utilization of each room.

Tools for everyone
We built a set of tools that are available to any worker, and are described in more detail below:

  • Book conference room [default screen]
  • Conference room search
  • View my bookings
  • Find a meeting
  • Conference room specifications
  • Conference room equipment
  • View room schedule
  • View building schedule

The most frequent task is booking a conference room. Most people already know which room they wish to book, so a simple selector allows them to select a room (shown below). It is at this point that we ask whether this will be a recurring meeting.

Having selected a room, two sets of data about the room are displayed: the room's "profile" and the current day's schedule (shown below).

To select another date, the user can either browse through the schedule, one day at a time, by selecting the "Next day" or "Prev day" links (shown above) or the calendar icon, which opens the calendar popup (shown below). The user is warned if the selected date is a holiday.

To book a time in the room, the user simply selects the Start time picklist (shown below). Only the available start times are shown.

When a start time is selected, the process assumes a duration of one hour and automatically sets the end time at five minutes prior to the hour's end (shown below). The user, of course, can select a different end time which does not conflict with an already-booked meeting.

Having selected the date and time, the "metadata" about the meeting is input. At a minimum, the requester must provide a name, the number of attendees and the contact person for the meeting. If desired, the meeting may be flagged as "confidential," so the metadata about the meeting are hidden from other users.

Next, room's options are selected for this meeting. If the room is configured to require approvals for requests, the approvers are listed at the top of the screen (shown below).

If the conference room has a permanently mounted LCD projector, a special note is displayed, reinforcing the fact that these projectors are self-service (shown below).

Finally, a confirmation screen is displayed.

  • If the room requires approvals, the message shown below is displayed.
  • If the room does not require approvals, the confirmation screen simply states that the room has been booked.
  • The approver(s) for the conference room receive an automated e-mail with a link to this request for approval.
  • When the request is approved, the requester receives an automated confirmation e-mail, and IT is notified of any requests for video-conferencing or other equipment.

Conference Room Search
When someone simply needs a conference room — any conference room — they can define their criteria and search for available rooms (shown below). A list of any available rooms will be displayed for booking.

View My Bookings
Selecting "View My Bookings" displays a list of all meetings for which the current user is the primary contact (shown below).

Selecting one of the meeting titles displays the meeting details (shown below).

  • If the meeting is canceled, an automated confirmation e-mail is sent to the requester, the primary contact for the meeting, the approver (if any), and to IT (if any IT services were requested).
  • If food was requested, and the cancellation is within 24 hours of the meeting, an e-mail is sent to the appropriate nutrition manager.

Find a Meeting
Trying to find a meeting, but forget where it is being held? Just look it up by title. Any combination of the criteria below may be used to look for a meeting.

Any meetings matching the search criteria are listed (shown below). Selecting a meeting title displays the meeting details (shown above in "View My Bookings").

Conference Room Specifications
A list of all conference rooms is available, including seating capacity, amenities, and whether booking approval is required (shown below).

[Click the image above to see the full size image]

Conference Room Equipment
A set of reference materials describing conference room resources, especially video conferencing equipment, is available (shown below).

[Click the image above to see the full size image]

View Room Schedule
Each room needs a printed schedule of bookings for the day. The View Room Schedule function allows the user to select the schedule for any room for any range of dates (shown below), and to view the schedule in a printable format.

View Building Schedule
Similar to the room schedule, the building schedule report provides a combined list of meetings in all conference rooms in a building (shown below).

[Click the image above to see the full size image]

Administrative Functions
A variety of administrative functions are provided for those who manage and support the conference rooms:

  • Special reports for housekeeping and nutrition
  • List of pending booking requests needing approval
  • Edit room approvers
  • Approve food requests
  • System maintenance

Special reports
Housekeeping is responsible for rearranging furniture and providing certain amenities, based on the booking request. Nutrition must fulfill any food requests at the right time and place. Both departments need a summary list of relevant bookings.

A schedule of bookings, including essential data, is available on demand. For example, the housekeeping report is typically run for a three-day period, and may be configured with any combination of variables (shown below).

The Housekeeping Report opens in Excel by default, listing all bookings which meet the selected criteria (click the image below to see a full-size image).

[Click the image above to see the full size image]

Pending Booking Requests
Anyone who is an approver for specific rooms can see a list of pending requests for any room(s) for which they are an approver (shown below).

Selecting the title of a booking request displays the meeting details with the option of approving or refusing the request (shown below). Either action triggers an automated e-mail confirmation to the requester and primary contact for the meeting.

System Maintenance
The conference room scheduling application has many variables that need configuration by the process experts (room approvers, housekeeping, nutrition, IT). Pages to manage these variables are available to anyone with admin permissions for the application (shown below).

The food list is managed at two levels:

  • display order (first image below), and
  • item details (second image below).

Selecting an item opens a page to edit the item details as they will be displayed for the user (shown below).

The options for each room are selected from the page shown below.


  • Using the Conference Room Scheduling application remains optional, at the discretion of the room's "owner." Over time, most rooms used by more than one department have opted in. Currently, 50+ rooms are scheduled through the application.
  • The Conference Room Scheduling application makes a huge difference for many people. Room owners and requesters have a consistent, reliable process for handling booking requests. Support departments have complete, timely information.

Lessons learned

  • This is another example of "if you build it, they will come." By using an opt-in process and being patient, even the "owners" who were skeptical about giving up the hands-on control of their manual process and paper schedules eventually decided that the application offered too many benefits to ignore.
  • The amount of maintenance required was surprising during the first couple years. This was driven by what seemed like constant tweaking by support departments, as processes for food requests and equipment requests were continuously adjusted by nutrition and IT. Eventually these departments found processes that worked well, and the tweaks became infrequent.

Posted 28 September 2008


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