Scheduling, Software as a Service and the Day I Sat Through the Same Presentation Four Times

I don’t know if “As a Service” has replaced “experience” or “convergence” in the AV buzzword bingo game, but it certainly has been a hot topic as of late, opening some interesting questions as to how the business models of traditionally hardware-centric AV companies fit into a software — and software as service — based world. Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting with our good friends from Crestron Electronics, often seen (perhaps erroneously, but that’s a topic for another day) as a hardware company. What was interesting about this is that it was neither a hardware-based day nor particularly a Crestron-based day; the heart of the gathering was a series of presentations by Crestron’s software partners in the world of room scheduling. Overall, both the event and the partnerships say something about one of the ways in which Crestron sees their role in an increasingly software-based world.

Room scheduling has always been an excellent fit for AV control system manufacturers; they already provide commercial-grade touchscreens of an appropriate size and form-factor to mount outside of a conference room, an area likely already involved in the project as suppliers of the technology inside the room. Part of the challenge comes from outside our world in the form of vendors of scheduling software packages that are more polished and feature-rich products than we can develop here in the AV world. As most of you reading this should know by now, Crestron did not choose to partner with one such scheduling vendor and have their software run natively on Crestron hardware. Instead, they partnered with four of them: Teems, Robin, EMS and Appspace. Why do this and what do we in the AV industry get from it? I attended the Crestron event with the goal of finding out.

As the title says, a meeting with four scheduling software vendors is a recipe for four iterations of the same pitch. This was not surprising in that all four began with the same basic premise: A well-designed scheduling tool allows more efficient use of resources, removes a source of friction and can improve overall utilization. All talked about being able to gather analytics, about being able to identify and avoid “ghost” meetings and being able to tie in with other systems. All are subscription models with three of the four priced on an annual per-device basis. Appspace is the odd one out, with its pricing being multi-tiered and based on storage as well as device count. More on that later, but they are the most different.

The other familiar item from vendor to vendor included desktop-based dashboards to track usage, support for kiosk displays showing available spaces as part of a map or floorplan and, of course, integration with Microsoft Exchange or Google GSuite. Those are the basics and fit similarly across the four platforms. Why do we need to support four platforms? Are they really different enough that it’s worth taking time to hear from all four? After listening to them, I’ll say yes.

Teems, the first we heard from, is perhaps the most basic in its offerings. Teems was still a relatively young company, about six years old, when it was acquired by WeWork as part of its continued efforts to expand their services beyond simple space rental. There is an interesting story to tell about how WeWork and its “powered by We” consulting service looks to expand its reach into the way enterprise clients use their office spaces, but this isn’t the place for that. While Teems didn’t identify any unique features, its position in the WeWork ecosystem is necessary for scheduling integration with clients working with the WeWork team.

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Next up was Robin, the only one of the three pure scheduling solutions to be independent. With the exception of the lack of a partner with which to integrate, these first two told the same story: that meeting spaces are often underutilized for lack of proper scheduling tools, that analytic tools can help justify costs and drive decisions, that the very ability to measure improves usage and — therefore — return on investment. Like all of the others, Robin includes G-Suite and Exchange integration. Unlike Teems, it also integrates natively with multiple software-based conferencing systems including Zoom, BlueJeans, Slack and Microsoft Teams. Robins struck me as a slightly more polished and feature-rich platform than Teems, but both are strong products with the potential to add value within enterprises.

EMS is the most mature of the four scheduling partners, having existed in some form for an incredible thirty years. It’s currently part of the Accruent family of services, which includes energy management as well as other tools for building management. In other words, it isn’t simply a scheduling product but is part of a larger ecosystem. It’s also a very mature product line that could be quite attractive to certain types of conservative enterprise clients.

The odd one out, as I hinted, is Appspace. While its presence at the Crestron event was in service of the company’s scheduling system, Appsace is primarily a digital signage system whose primary “product” consist of the creation of HTML-based “cards” to be displayed on a variety of devices, including, of course, a Crestron scheduling panel. It’s a product with a pricing structure that doesn’t scale down all that well but scales up quite impressively.

What did I find interesting about the above? Two things. First, that after working to integrate Zoom and Skype for Business into its hardware, Crestron is taking more steps to find software partners as part of a larger ecosystem of ecosystems. Second, even if you thinks that you’re hearing the same presentation four times in a row, if you listens carefully, you can hear variations on a theme. That one very similar product might fit one client better than another; we need a more nuanced view of these services than the initial observation that they’re all just room scheduling systems.

It was also interesting to see how one manufacturer is partnering with those in the software world to keep relevant in an increasingly software-based world.

Listening to the same presentation four times was more worthwhile than I’d have expected.

Image via Crestron