(Rating: 4 out of 5)
Have you been looking for a tool to help you manage your conference rooms in SharePoint? There are not a lot of 3rd party tools available and ACAR has created a tool that may keep others from jumping on this bandwagon. ACAR describes the product this way: “Room Manager Suite for SharePoint is an easy to use room scheduling software solution for SharePoint. It is simple and powerful. Consists of a set of web parts which makes room reservation simple for end users.”
It is a room scheduling software for MOSS 2007 and Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 which provides a nice interface that allows the user to see both a calendar and thumbnail photos of the rooms (see Screenshot 1).
Screenshot 1: Room Manager Home Page
The rooms are color-coded so it is easier to identify what meeting is in which room. That is a nice feature that can be controlled within the “Room Details” screen (Screenshot 2).
Screenshot 2: Room Details Screen
The installation is simple and automatically creates a sub-site for you within SharePoint for the Room Manager. Basic setup steps include uploading your photos of conference rooms and entering the basic information about them. ACAR provides a list with setup and administration guidance as well as FAQ and Information lists.
Adding the Capacity and Description to your rooms helps users choose the right room for them. If you add keywords and have Search enabled your users can find specific rooms quickly by searching.
The Sort Order is used to control the display of the rooms on the home page, next to the calendar view of the events.
The “Title” fields seem a little irrelevant to me, they only control the label/link that is displayed next to the thumbnail. I felt that anyone implementing this would want those to be consistent; and although you may want to modify them for your implementation they should be managed in a more central location.
The Picture Size field also seems unnecessary, and I would rather see a column in the display with “Room Dimensions” to provide more useful information to the users of this tool.
That raises a good point; one of the great features of this product is the flexibility that they allow. They hide a few lists, but otherwise if you are relatively handy with SharePoint you can modify the lists and libraries to fit your needs. I was able to create SharePoint Designer workflows to manage a few rooms that we require approval on prior to scheduling meetings. The “waiting list” feature made this task easy. I simply added a few columns to the Events list and created my custom workflow to send an approval email, update the columns as needed, and notify the user of the results after the approver responds.
The default SharePoint Quick Launch has been modified by ACAR for the Room Manager sub-site. As you can see it provides for ease of navigation and a custom feel for your users. Your users only see what they need to effectively schedule a room or manage the Room Manager. Breadcrumbs are provided for access back to the host site in the normal SharePoint fashion.
You may want to “hide” the links to the settings or Information lists because of the information they contain. This can be accomplished by setting permissions on those lists or by adding audiences to the Navigation item on the site.
One additional thing to watch out for is the selection of colors in the Room Details. Although there are 27 pre-defined colors, I was only able to effectively use 18 because some of the colors did not display correctly when selected for a room.
Colors that displayed oddly:
- Light Yellow (displays white, which is used for “waiting list”)
- Bright Green (displays purple)
- Violet (displays purple same as Bright Green)
- Aqua (displays bright blue same as Turquoise)
- Dark Teal (displays purple same as Violet)
Colors difficult to read:
- Dark Red
- Dark Blue
- Dark Green
When contacted, ACAR support was surprised by this but agreed with my assessment to simply remove some of the options from the drop-down list. If you need that many rooms you may want to consider either multiple implementations of this tool or plan time to resolve this issue. Please note that this is only what happened on ONE test server implementation, results may vary. Also, the difficulty reading events when using the darker colors could potentially be mitigated through the use of CSS to alter the text color of the events for the specific rooms using those colors. Let me put it this way, the minor display behavior isn’t stopping me from purchasing ACAR Room Manager.
Overall, I really like this product. It allows you to quickly and easily implement a solution for room management while making use of mostly Out Of the Box SharePoint features. Room management can be delegated down to appropriate levels and the Administrator shouldn’t have any major tasks after the initial setup. I ran this test over several weeks, and never ran into any significant issues. It is very intuitive and simple to use.
ACAR offers a Standard Edition and an Enterprise Edition with single server licenses and discounted licenses for additional servers. The difference between the Standard and Enterprise Editions is unlimited locations and rooms with Enterprise. Enterprise also appears to allow for Invoicing or charge-backs of rooms, but this seems to be something you implement using InfoPath not something built-in.
If you are thinking about a tool like this, download the Trial version and then buy the Standard Edition for only $790.