Most large scale organizations use Microsoft Exchange for their business communication. Microsoft Exchange is the de-facto standard for large organizations or even organizations that are running from the cloud. Whether it is sending emails, chatting with staff or looking up contacts, Exchange is a powerful tool and essential for work.
One of the most commonly used feature that Exchange offers is the ability to book meeting rooms through Outlook. Its power comes from the ability to reserve both people and resources in one go. While it is a powerful feature in Exchange, there are limitations and complexities present in managing them. Recently, we came across many large scale organizations that need a room booking system to augment or replace the Microsoft Exchange.
A room booking system, like ecobook can help staff have the same level of functionality while providing more control over the rules and have greater flexibility in managing the rooms.
In this article we would like to explore areas where using Exchange may not be the most ideal when it comes to managing rooms and resources.
When we talk about rooms and resources in Microsoft Exchange, they are mainly considered as another mailbox with special rules that are "invited" to a meeting. While this feature is very simple to comprehend, it has a few of limitations.
Creating A Room
Creating a room is similar to setting up a mailbox for people, except that it is for rooms. Primarily, to create a room resource in Exchange, you need to have the necessary permissions to create resources. This is usually done by the Exchange administrator who will log into the Administration Panel of Exchange to provision and configure the room and its business rules. In short, you must be a highly trained expert in Exchange to be able to setup a room resource. Firstly, this prevents business users from being able to manage their rooms as needed.
In most large organizations, getting a new room listed can be a tedious task of having to raise a service request to the IT team and get it through the approval process before it is implemented. This is complicated by the fact that many organizations have their Exchange server administration outsourced to third-party providers who will have their own set of policies and procedures. To add to the problems, if you want specific groups of users with special privileges, they have to be managed in Active Directory first before being able to grant special privileges. The management of business rules requires a command prompt on a shell that can only be managed by someone who is proficient in Microsoft Exchange. A quick change to the business rules may not be possible as it requires you to go to the IT department to implement those rules.
In the case of a system like ecobook, the ability to create a room lies in the hands of business users who are directly in charge of creating and managing the rooms. There is no involvement of IT department or you do not need administrative privileges on the server to be able to set up and manage a room. In this ways, business users and facilities team can respond to changes faster while the role of IT is only to ensure that the system is stable. This will usually be welcomed by the IT team as they will not want to be involved in the operational aspects of managing meeting rooms.
While Microsoft Exchange provides a suite of business rules to manage meeting rooms, it is limited by a lack of comprehensiveness in terms of the fine-grained control that room owners come to expect. As a front end staff managing meeting rooms, business rules may change and special requirements exist that are not possible to be implemented in Exchange.
When using a room booking system, there is tremendous amount of flexibility in terms of existing features and the ability to customize and build in new features that will augment the business rules. For example, if a room needs to be blocked for a specific duration or business rules need to differ between user groups, the room booking administrator simply needs to fire up the browser and change the settings and this is reflected immediately.
The booking of a room is similar to that of inviting a person to the meeting. While you can check the availability of the room using the scheduler built-into Outlook, Exchange does not provide intelligent filtering that shows you only the rooms that are available at the specific time slot. The user will have to check the availability of each room by including it into the scheduler. Also, when reserving rooms that need approval, the invitation is sent first to the room whose delegates act on it. Unfortunately, the email would have already been sent to the invitees as well. Meaning that, if for some reason, the room is rejected, then the invitees are notified as well. This causes a lot of emails to go back and forth.
Approvals & Workflow
Exchange allows for controlled rooms where rooms can be set to accept or reject bookings based on certain criteria. If there is a need for manual intervention to screen through the bookings, then the mailbox of the room is delegated to another user who can manage the bookings. A custom rule based workflow cannot be implemented. Users who are assigned to act on behalf of rooms must vet through each request.
The rooms in Microsoft Exchange requires people to be connected to Exchange to reserve the rooms. In many organisations, This means that staff must have an Microsoft Exchange account to be able to reserve rooms. Today, there are a lot of contract staff, part-time workers and non-organisational parties who may work in the office. There will be a need for these people to be able to book rooms. Since they do not have an Exchange account created for them, they will have to approach someone who is part of the organisation to help them in reserving rooms. This is becomes a hassle for both the non-organisational staff and those who are making the booking on behalf of these people.
With a web based room booking system, the need to have an Exchange account is eliminated by having a localised account created for them. Once logged in, they can perform the all the necessary room booking and management as a staff that have an Exchange account. This opens up possibilities in terms of collaboration and relieves staff from making on behalf bookings.
Extending & Enhancing Room Booking Systems
Extending or enhancing the Microsoft Exchange room is next to impossible which requires a large amount of effort in terms of involvement from the Exchange Team as well as usage of Exchange APIs which are usually restricted from being used in large organization due to security concerns.
With a modular and extendable framework like ecobook, the ability to enhance the booking system is made easier. Apart from a wide variety of existing modules, new ones can easily be developed without needing involvement of the exchange team.
While Microsoft Exchange provides a powerful means of reserving rooms and resources, they can be hard to manage. With a room booking system like ecobook, the power to manage rooms and resources are in the hands of the business users.