Room booking and timetabling: two sides of the same space utilisation challenge.
Here’s a conundrum that frustrates many facility, estate or building managers:
The cost of meeting and training rooms in real estate terms is expensive, especially if they are furnished with costly equipment like large displays, conference phones, lecture capture etc. and, like any resource, organisations need to make best use of them to deliver a good return on their investment. Surprisingly, however, the space utilisation of many rooms can be very low, and yet some rooms can be at the other end of the spectrum and very heavily used.
Organisations are complex systems
Organisations tend to be multifaceted and tend not to have standard users, or homogenised room facilities. There is always a natural variability in such a complex systems which makes planning space utilisation very complex. Human nature is also a significant factor when it comes to ‘ownership’ of rooms and behavioural traits i.e. users like to use rooms near them, with certain facilities and often will have favourites that they prefer to use all the time. After studying this phenomenon we find that, essentially, users fall into three categories:
The Specialist Booker
One of the most difficult tasks carried out by an education, teaching or training department/organisation is scheduling that brings together training/teaching events with trainers/educators in a room(s) with the right facilities and capacity for the attendees. Usually this task can take weeks and some time months to do. The outcome of this is a large volume of room bookings consuming the availability within room calendars of the organisations teaching or training spaces. This task needs a to precede each term or training period with enough time to inform training or teaching staff, create communications, book the meeting rooms etc. without the space being consumed for other purposes. In other words, this is long term planning which typically takes priority over other meeting events. The task of scheduling is usually carried out by a small number of staff with specialist knowledge and skills in this area.
The Professional Booker
There are two types of professional booker: Room Managers and Executive Assistance. Both of these use a room booking system on a day-to-day basis. Room Managers manage or set up bookings requested by staff who have a need for space to carry out an event. Often, they also need to set up a booking series to satisfy regular meetings being carried out in the organisation. Executive Assistance manages the personal diary of one or more Senior Managers and needs to be able to cope with the flexible demands of leadership.
The Casual Booker
A casual booker can typically be anyone else in the organisation who has the need to organise and run meetings. For the most part, the meetings are planned days or weeks in advance – however, occasionally, there is an immediate demand to find space to work on an urgent issue too.
Room Booking and Timetabling (Scheduling) Challenges
When creating a schedule for teaching and training, complete with appropriate spaces for each event, there are always some challenges. Typically, timetabling/scheduling systems are not designed to serve as room booking systems and vice versa. Time is required to carry out the work of scheduling so, from a future point in time, room calendars need to be locked down and users prevented from making room booking requests in order for the room calendars to be populated with scheduled events without the risk of creating double bookings. So, at some point in the scheduling process, information needs to be fed into a room booking system to secure the rooms, and this can be fraught with errors if done manually. When the scheduling process is complete there will often be spare capacity in the rooms that could be used for other events outside training or teaching which, if made available, could improve space utilisation.
How does EventMAP Overcome these Challenges?
Firstly, EventMAP has worked closely with its clients to understand their business needs and concerns around space utilisation and they understand that different users have different operational needs. Equally, the demand for space is challenging and in business there is a need to do ‘more with less’ – ensuring room usage is maximised and justifying the return in investment for an organisation in providing productive space for their employees.
EventMAP has two fully integrated software applications: Booker, which manages room bookings and Timetabler, which manages long term scheduling and planning needs. These two applications use the same backend infrastructure and database and use the same organisational constructs (rooms, buildings, departments) and business rules. Individually these applications provide different capabilities, however they do have a similar look and feel which provides an easier learning experience for users.
Business rules can be set in Booker and Timetabler that provide room calendar control for the purposes of ‘lockdown’ – which allows the administrators time to schedule teaching or training events into the appropriate rooms but allows other rooms more suitable for meetings to be viewed and booked further into the future. Hence teaching/training space which can double up as meeting space can only be found in Booker for urgent and short-term usage or medium-term needs only after the rooms have been released from ‘lockdown’.
One of the issues we have seen is that teaching and training rooms that could be used meeting are poorly advertised or even just not visible. Booker’s simple interface makes discovering and viewing rooms very easy and, because it can display detailed information about each room, often a user can find (using filter and sort) the room which best suits their event needs. Once Booker has been implemented in large organisations, users often can discover rooms which they had previously never known – or find more rooms that can equally satisfy their meeting requirements.
Improving Space Utilisation
EventMAP’s products come with a reporting capability which allows organisations to pull information about their room utilisation – allowing for detailed analysis and the provision of actionable business insights. This can then be fed into business planning discussions and rooms can be reconfigured or new rooms created of better economic sizes to suit business needs.
EventMAP can provide expertise in space utilisation and advise on how to make best use of your space. This then can be backed up with an implementation of Timetabler and Booker tools in support of managing your estate.
Chris Thornhill is EventMAP’s Portfolio Manager and has successfully worked in project management for around 20 years for organisations such as the University of Cambridge and HP. He’s spent the last four years focusing on problems in space utilisation in room booking and timetabling.