Making room for collaboration

Collaboration is both a boon and a curse to creativity, as anyone that has ever tried to organize a large meeting can attest to. It can be almost comically difficult to arrange for a group of people to sit together in peace and quiet. Finding the right people, the right time, the right place and the right agenda is difficult enough to perhaps warrant its own meeting.

To make life a little easier for aspiring collaborators, Certus went on a mission to make room for creativity. Their product, a hybrid of custom hardware and clever software interfaces, is a room manager – a stylish device hung outside your company’s meeting rooms that clearly communicates the room’s availability throughout the day, and enabling immediate ad hoc bookings on the touch screen interface.

It’s been a tremendously successful concept, and the device and platform is now used by companies big and small, from the US Senate to Microsoft, Coca-Cola and Accenture.

”The room manager is not just a nifty gadget, but an essential productivity aid”

The cost of a meeting is multiplied by the number of participants, and the same goes for difficulty arranging the meeting. Six people roaming the hallways for 10 minutes trying to find a spot to sit is an hour’s productivity lost, and these costs quickly mount to become significant drains on a company. Factor in the emotional costs of frustrations and distraction and you quickly realize that a room manager is not just a nifty gadget, but an essential productivity aid.

Once rooms were connected to the device and platform, several other opportunities quickly presented themselves – by creating an open API the device allowed for smart use cases like having the air conditioning automatically turn on a few minutes before the meeting. A large company may have several dozen meeting rooms, and when each room is connected to the device, which in itself is integrated with many popular calendar solutions, it becomes significantly easier to find the space to collaborate, literally.

“A lot of things had to come together to make this work”

Apart from an award-winning stylish touch screen dashboard, the device runs a custom Linux version that handles the devices’ MeteorJS applications, networking and security needs. The current version of the product line was built by a cross-functional team distributed across continents, with the hardware and firmware being handled in Taiwan and Sweden, and the software being handled by teams of skilled engineers in Bosnia and Sweden.

Softhouse was brought on as a partner to lead the software development and agile practises out of their office in Sarajevo, and over the last two years we’ve helped build servers, applications, APIs, integrations and user interfaces to aid Certus in their vision of making companies more efficient.

“A lot of things had to come together to make this work,” explains Softhouse scrum master Amir Caluk. “The device has to connect to and interface with the many calendar solutions in favor by big organizations. For the platform to be accepted by the big companies that would really benefit from using the room manager, we had to integrate with Google Calendar, Office 365, Exchange and IBM Domino.”

”Every single line of code is double and triple checked”

For these larger companies, security also becomes a pressing concern,

“We’ve had several security reviews over the last year. We have to put a lot of emphasis on both performance and security to build trust with the users,” says Damir Dizdarevic, the lead Softhouse engineer responsible for the platform.

“Getting it right means we have to be meticulous with both our code and our own culture,” he continues. “We do things properly with unit tests, regression tests, pair programming, all kinds of best practices. We really put a lot of care and effort into making sure that every single line of code is double and triple checked.”

Apart from delivering the software, Softhouse has taken the lead on organizing the cross-functional team, and enforcing best practices.

”The project has been a perfect case study for agile principles and scrum,” says Amir Caluk. ”We have followed the framework without compromise, and we can see the results. We try to lead by example, and provide a cultural protocol for everyone to operate under.”

”Ambition on both sides of the table is essential to a successful project”

”Certus’ product owner has also been exceptional, and that has really helped the project move smoothly,” says Vernisa Rejhan, COO of Softhouse Bosnia. ”To have someone be so knowledgeable and involved on the client side means that there’s always a will and a drive to get the best results. Ambition on both sides of the table is essential to a successful project, because it challenges you to deliver something great.”

She continues to describe the working relationship with the product owner: “Our developers are very familiar with the product and its value, so when the client comes over twice a year for workshops and retrospectives he also asks for input from the developers themselves because he knows our developers have valuable expertise.”

With intimate knowledge of the product and business, Softhouse has also undertaken the second tier support. When issues aren’t easily solved by the frontline support staff, calls are forwarded through to dedicated personnel in Bosnia that has a full technical overview of the project.

”We were often breaking new ground”

The project has also been both challenging and interesting, explains Damir Dizdarevic, because of the many modern technologies used. “When we started building the applications in MeteorJS there was very little help and documentation available online. We were often breaking new ground, and we have had to spend a lot of time reading every day just to keep abreast with the latest developments.”

“I have seen more new stuff and been more challenged, at Softhouse in the last two years than in all of my previous years as a developer, doing projects for the likes of the banking industry. All clients are demanding and challenging, but you don’t always have the opportunity to grow by testing new things. Some of my colleagues here were hired straight out of school, and seeing how they have evolved in our culture is really stunning,” says Dizdarevic, himself a senior engineer with a decade of experience.

“It’s a great project to work on because you know you’re making a difference”

The room manager has been very successful, and although the competition is getting tougher it is one of the market leaders.

Vernisa happily summarizes why it’s been such a success: “It’s a great project to work on because you know you’re making a difference. The time and energy saved will be put to more valuable use, so each booked meeting is a small contribution ion to the productivity of our clients and the world.”