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The Unconventional Guide to Work

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Tip of the Week: How to Create a Giant Collaboration Board in Your Office using WorkflowMax

Do you have clients that could benefit from using WorkflowMax in ways other than via a desktop based web browser?

Hut8 have clients who actively try to engage their teams to work together by collective review and appraisal of lead and job progress. They wanted a large visible reminder of issues at the heart of their call centre. Sticks, carrots and peer-pressure were all ingredients.

To address the need we conceived the idea of a big wall-hanging iPad where issues were constantly visible to all; one that would promote teams to discuss and take action over activity and task issues. Such an iPad does not exist and so we set about assembling our own hardware based solution - a hardware device that plugs into any HDMI TV. The device is loaded with software that automatically starts when it is powered on. The device connects to WorkflowMax and requests key pieces of data and presents issues it finds for collective view and discussion. The WorkflowMax API is the key ingredient in grabbing hold of the information directly from the WorkflowMax database.

In a nutshell this is what we did:

  • Locate a cost effective hardware device that would work with a standard HDMI TV.

  • Create software that can run on the device and connect to the WorkflowMax via its API to extract data.

  • Build a cache to reduce impact on WorkflowMax servers.

  • Build a dashboard that satisfies the collaborative requirements of some of our customers.

  • Plug the device into our customer’s TVs and watched.

But first: What’s the WorkflowMax API?

API stands for application programming interface, meaning most computer programming and scripting languages can connect directly to WorkflowMax information. The API can even be used to change information (a separate post perhaps?). WorkflowMax has a very elegantly defined API; it allows simple get requests for data to be issued. For example “get me all the details on jobs between certain dates”.

You will need to get a couple of “keys” (the API key and the Account key) from the WorkflowMax help desk, and then you can get going. You can start by simply issuing requests through a browser. An example of a request to the API is:

https://api.workflowmax.com/client.api/list?apiKey=[your API key]&accountKey=[WorkflowMax account key]

examplexmlYou will see data (similar to that shown above) being returned, but surrounded by lots of tags. You should be able to spot your info surrounded by lots of tags like <Contact>. The format of this data is known as XML. XML helps computers to easily interpret the real data.

This is the technique Hut8 uses to get data from WorkflowMax, and in fact also how some of our customers’ field workers get some of the data in!

The End Result

bardenThe photo on the right shows the dashboard in use at Barden Energy. a biomass based engineering business. The dashboard is in constant view of the sales and project management teams.

Each job task or lead activity that is “overdue” or has other “client defined difficulties” is displayed along with staff members responsible for action.

The photo to the left shows the dashboard in detail and the hardware device in the bottom left hand corner. A 5th gen iPod is shown for size comparison.

dashboard

Now the initial hardware solution is assembled and core software created, it is reasonably straight forward for us to change the information displayed and even introduce graphics where they can add value.

This initial Beta version focused on both lead and job information where difficulties are detected. It highlights activity that have become overdue, the revenue at stake, and who is responsible for action. In terms of jobs/tasks it highlights overdue jobs and again who is responsible, and the revenue at risk. The dashboard also detects and reports missing pieces of key data, e.g tasks without due dates, or jobs without any financials.

We have called the device the iSee TV Dashboard. It is in Beta at the moment. Check out the video below for learn more about the iSee:

The nutshell steps in detail

  • We base our low cost hardware device solution on the ARM development board running the Linux operating system. This keeps costs down.

  • We use a scripting language on the device so that dashboard content / focus is easily changeable. From this out-of-the-box TV dashboard solution our customers can start to tweak and adapt the contents of the dashboard as their needs and practice evolve. At the very least we would be able to make cost effective changes on their behalf.

  • The TV display cycles through job and lead data, screen by screen, until all issues have been displayed. It then starts over. We wanted to ensure information was only requested from WorkflowMax every ten minutes and not with each set of page cycles. We built a software data stash on the device to satisfy this.

  • We built a Beta dashboard that satisfied the collaborative requirements of some of our clients. Most of the effort required was to establish the principle of the TV Dashboard, i.e. create the script, connect to workflow, and figure out the display technology. Once we had something working, we sat down with our clients and figured out the precise format and precise pieces of data that would help break some of their log jams. We set about displaying this. This is a work in progress and will now likely extend to Xero data.

  • Plug the device into our client’s TVs.

Conclusions

The office-based large screen TV introduces a shared visual. This shared visual promotes team collaboration and responsibility. It is always on. It is focused. It allows for a dashboard bespoke for customers’ specific needs and issue types.

Finally, it is becoming clear that the dashboard needs to be easily adaptable, or at least to allow for easy reconfiguration. As a business learns and therefore adapts its use of WorkflowMax, it needs to be able to easily adapt the focus of the dashboard to the next types of issue.