BBVA API Market
A few months ago we participated in the InnovaApps+ competition organized by Google and the BBVA, where we won the second prize in the internal management Apps category with an application called GentleMeet. The purpose of this application is to optimize the use of meeting rooms in companies by using available technology. We have now been invited to collaborate in the new BBVAOpen4U website with the following article, where we talk about our experience.
As soon as we saw that the call to participate in the competition had been opened, we decided to register, convinced that we had a great opportunity. The type of applications expected by the organizers convinced us that we could apply all our experience to the development and implementation of business applications and create something innovative and useful for many companies.
We have seen the day-to-day problems caused by meeting management firsthand in many companies. Cases range from meetings that take much longer than planned to not making reservations for the required space and attendee lack of punctuality. This translated into a waste of company time and money. Although companies have sophisticated scheduling systems at their disposal, these cannot be accessed from the actual meeting rooms and sometimes professionals have to revert to their outdated equivalent: a simple piece of paper (like the one in the image).
Lastly, given the lack of information, it is very difficult for company management to know the real use of the space dedicated to meetings and to make corresponding decisions.
We are convinced that GentleMeet will improve these situations and that technology can help introduce a company culture that stimulates the respect for room reservations, more effective meetings and optimization of physical resources.
GentleMeet is the perfect solution for business environments with available meeting rooms that require efficient control of how they are used and occupied. The installation of physical devices in the rooms and an information system that depends on Google Apps (Google Calendar) for time reservation allows the administration of company resources and the employees themselves to have control and complete visibility of meeting room occupation.
The idea came to us after attending the 2010 Google developers conference. At the conference, we had the opportunity to interact with Arduino prototypes that were quite accessible and opened new possibilities for Web use. We envisioned an application in the real world, identified the need in our work environment and started to work on the first versions of the physical prototype and software component.
From that point on we have made several changes and adjustments resulting from paying active attention to the market and the requirements of potential customers to improve the product and its characteristics. The competition was essential to the process, because it generated new expectations to push ahead.
How does it work?
The current version has two operating mechanisms. The first mechanism requires a computer or tablet in the meeting room with a browser running the GentleMeet Web client. This displays upcoming events from the associated resource in Goggle Calendar. If available, anyone can immediately start an "express" meeting. If there is a meeting in progress, the Web client will display a counter with the time remaining for the reservation and offer the attendees the possibility of registering or checking in by reading the QR code from their cell-phones. GentleMeet also has a function to indicate the end of the meeting in the system.
The second operating mechanism requires all the attendees to have the GentleMeet Android application installed. They can use this to check room availability and agendas, check in and see how much time is left for the meeting to end. In both modes, GentleMeet will provide a greater degree of certainty as to who actually attended the meeting and when it really finished, or if it never even started.
The application consists of several components, shown in the following diagram.
The first component is a backend displayed over Google App Engine (Python) that is in charge of:
· Interacting with the Google Calendar service via its API to consult and change events.
· Interacting with the guardian devices using Google Cloud Endpoints. Server push communication is currently under development for customer with Google Cloud Messaging and Channel API.
· Collecting and storing additional information, such as check ins, real date and time versus programmed meeting start and end times.
· Providing an interface so the system administrator can manage the meeting rooms and physical devices installed in each of them.
The second component is called the guardian, in reference to the application installed in mobile Android devices (tablets, cell phones) and the Web client developed using AngularJS. It is in charge of:
· Showing the attendees the remaining time on a countdown timer
· Showing the attendees the meeting agenda for that day
· Providing the attendees with mechanisms to check into the meeting
· Allowing any of the attendees to end the meeting
An important part of the GentleMeet vision is to offer different types of companies a variety of different options. We know that we cannot impose high-end devices on all users. Therefore, our short-term intention is to increasingly reduce the friction with a mobile application for tablets that uses the front camera to read user information, such as a simple QR code that can be printed on the ID card.
However, we also know that other users prefer the least possible interaction with devices and for the proximity of meeting rooms to be displayed "automagically", so we have planned to integrate with iBeacon estimotes.
For cases where a television is used instead of a PC or tablet, we can see how technologies such as Chromecast can use the entire screen surface to display information about the room's agenda and the events in progress.
In the current version, we are only collecting and storing valuable information in the backend. We believe that a future differentiating GentleMeet feature will be to offer interesting visualizations of this information by generating statistics and reports that help company managers decide if a meeting room is not being used enough or if an investment in additional rooms is needed due to high room demand. It may also be used to identify company culture items such as attendee punctuality or average reservation times. Lastly, we want to include Gamification features to stimulate tool use.
The GentleMeet team members are Carlos Prieto (Front End developer), Jorge Salcedo (Android developer), Santiago Amaya (graphic designer), Jorge Forero (businesses) y David Cifuentes (backend developer); none of this would have been possible without the enormous talent of this inter-disciplinary team. We want to thank Google and BBVA for organizing this competition and giving us the opportunity to show our application to the world and invite us to speak about our experience.
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