It is becoming increasingly popular for businesses to have remote employees. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in lots of people...
We remotely organized a successful Ship-IT DayStijn Schutyser
Tons of great ideas are put forward by our colleagues here at ACA, but not all of these ideas get the attention, time or funding they deserve. During a Ship-IT Day however, everyone gets the chance to flesh out their idea and build up knowledge. People organically organize themselves into teams and work out the idea as much as possible in one day. In this blog post, we’ll talk about how we remotely set up the Ship-IT Day, the ideas the different teams have worked out and some valuable lessons learned!
This year’s theme
Lots of businesses were, and still are, confronted with restrictions when slowly picking up their core activities again in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. We at ACA IT-Solutions recognize that it’s often difficult to resume the ‘normal’ way of working and would like to offer help. That’s why we’ve chosen for ‘Exit COVID-19’ and ‘For and together with customers’ as this year’s Ship-IT Day themes.
Together with some of our customers, the different Ship-IT teams validated and fleshed out innovative ideas to proof-of-concepts. You can find these proof-of-concept examples a little further down below.
A completely remote Ship-IT Day
Since late February/early March 2020, all ACA employees have been working from home. However, we didn’t want to postpone or cancel the Ship-IT Day. And our colleagues didn’t, either! This year, our Ship-IT Day took place on June 4th.
All in all, 33 colleagues spread over 9 different teams put their best foot forward in order to win the coveted Ship-IT trophy. Two teams decided to use our office in Hasselt, of course respecting the 1.5m distance rule. The other teams worked together using Zoom. That way, team members could always reach out to one another and share their progress throughout the day. Via screen sharing, they could easily collaborate, program in pairs and use virtual whiteboards. At the end of the Ship-IT Day, teams also presented their projects using Zoom.
The 9 projects of the 2020 Ship-IT Day
1. Visualizing the occupancy rate in office buildings
The current guidelines regarding the coronavirus restrict the amount of people that can enter an office building at any given time. Functionally, this first project wants to easily display the occupancy rate of a certain location: how many people are inside the building and which time periods seem to be busiest?
Sensors set up on different locations transfer their coordinates, the amount of people detected and a timestamp. This information is processed and compared to the maximum amount of people allowed inside the building or room at any given time. Technologies such as Kafka’s Mongo Database help visualize the output.
In a first visualization, users can see how many people are inside a room. A colour code shows which spaces or desks in the room or building still have space. A second visualization provides more detailed information and shows the average hourly occupancy rate at a set of desks. Busy periods are marked in red, while calmer periods are coloured green. This way, users can easily track when more or less people are in the office at a certain time.
2. Faster application adjustments with a micro front-end
In a growing application landscape, it’s a challenge to keep all your applications consistent. That consistency should encompass not only the visual branding, but also the way the same functionalities work across different applications. Users typically want to be able to follow the same paths to navigate the application, manage their settings or give feedback. That means that adjustments or new functionalities in one application could lead to changes in every application, which have to be adjusted and deployed separately. In turn, that typically leads to more working hours and higher costs.
By using a micro front-end pattern, all the common functionalities across different applications are considered a separate ‘application’ that appears in all of those different applications. The micro front-end pattern developed by this team is implemented through a web component. Changes to the communal functionalities or UI are triggered by changing just the web component. This way, changes can be made swiftly and easily without the need for separate deployments or longer down times.
3. Visual voicemail
Team 3 wanted to improve the user experience with voicemail. The team proposes a user interface to replace the different steps users usually have to take when calling their voicemail. More specifically, users are notified of new messages in their voicemailbox through notifications. Moreover, a user can visually choose to listen to a voicemail, read its transcription, or reach out to the caller via text or call. Managing the voicemailbox is easier as well: no need to go through endless audio menus by pressing keys, simply swipe and tap to delete any voicemail messages.
4. Contactless location proof and asking for access
Team 4 created a mobile app that allows users to identify themselves in a new, innovative and user-friendly way as well as ask for access to a specific location.
The mobile app works with geofences placed around points of access that require permission to pass. Whenever a user travels to the location that requires permission to access, the mobile app asks for multi-factor authentication. The user identifies themselves via biometric techniques, i.e. facial recognition or fingerprint. Once the user is identified, the app prompts them to scan one or more objects in the vicinity in a certain order. The app clearly shows whether the authentication has succeeded or not.
The team developed the app using a few tools such as Mural, a digital workspace for virtual collaboration. In this digital workspace, the team brainstormed, compared results and checked progress. The team created the app’s wireframes with Balsamiq, which helped with clarifying and discussing the user journey and flow through the app. The actual prototype was created in Adobe XD.
5. Scanning the amount of people in a space
This idea for a Ship-IT project was a collaboration between a team from ACA and input from IDEWE, one of our clients. At the timing of writing this, stores, restaurants, public buildings have to take into account the maximum amount of people allowed inside. Team number 5 developed a system that calculates the amount of people inside a space and displays this result on a screen at the entrance of the space.
The system consists of software that works together with two ultrasonic sensors. Ultrasonic sensors usually measure distance, but in this case they detect people. Whenever a person passes the first or second sensor, the system automatically knows if that person has entered or left the space.
The software then sends a push notification to the application’s front-end. Users can then clearly see how many people are inside a space at a certain time. Whenever the space reaches its maximum capacity, the screen at the space’s entrance(s) displays a notification that warns the user not to enter, along with an estimation of the waiting time.
This approach and application have a couple of advantages:
- it’s cheap and easy to make
- plug & play!
- no need for users to take action themselves
- remote follow-up through a QR code
- easy to integrate into a website
Additionally, there are a couple of functionalities that could be added, such as a prediction of crowds at certain times and connecting multiple sensors if a space has multiple entrances and exits.
6. Access to cultural and leisure program at UiT.be via speech
The UiT.be website is run by publiq. Publiq and ACA IT-Solutions have been working together for some time now, most notably in the form of the Museum pass and UiT pass. For this year’s Ship-IT Day too, an ACA and publiq team combined their powers.
Based on an existing API from a previous project, the combined team has made the entire database with cultural and leisure activities accessible via speech. That way, users can easily get an overview of the activities in their neighborhood.
The team connected Google Dialogflow with publiq’s website containing the database with acitivies. When a user asks which events take place in the neighborhood, the voice assistant suggests a few options. Whenever a user selects one of the options, the voice assistant is able to dynamically give more information via questions and answers. In further iterations, this voice assistant can be expanded to:
- integrate with Google Maps to program a route and calculate travel time,
- automatically call the contact number related to the event,
- automatically make a reservation.
For the design of the voice interface, the team used Invisionapp. Lucidchart served as a visual work space to draw diagrams and Asana helped with remotely organizing the project as a whole.
7. Chatbot concerning the coronavirus
This project, too, was set up in conjunction with our client IDEWE. Information about the coronavirus is very topical and in high demand at the moment. As a vaccine for the virus draws closer, the amount of questions is only expected to go up. Currently, employees have to register for any vaccine via their employer. Team 7 wanted to speed up this registration process, as well as provide employees with clear answers to questions about the virus and its vaccine. A chatbot proved to be an ideal solution.
Users of the chatbot register via a chat application such as Messenger or WhatsApp. The users finds out about which vaccines are available for them via questions and answers, and then get to option to register. The chatbot then asks for some personal information, such as the social security number. A safe database securely stores this information. The user can also opt to get updates from the chatbot concerning the vaccine for the coronavirus.
8. The ‘Hello visitor!’ app
For the second to last project of the 2020 Ship-IT Day, an ACA team partnered with a team from the Jessa hospital. According to the COVID-19 guidelines from the Belgian government, hospitals are allowed to receive a limited amount of visitors for their patients. To help hospitals follow the official guidelines, the joint team built an application that allows users to plan their visit to the hospital.
The user registers themselves and books a visit online at most 2 weeks into the future via a unique visitor code. Each hospital ward can, within the guidelines of the government, adjust the parameters of a visit, such as the maximum duration, the amount of visits allowed per day, and the maximum amount of simultaneous visitors in a ward. After the user books a visit, the system generates a unique QR code that needs to be scanned by a steward at the entrance of the hospital or ward. The steward receives a green screen when the user has booked a visit within 10 minutes of the time of scanning as well as 20 minutes after the start of the booked visit. The screen turns red if this is not the case, and the user will not be allowed in.The ACA team worked together beautifully with a business team as well as a technical team from the Jessa hospital. As soon as this project reaches a stage beyond ‘proof of concept’, it will be implemented. Via the homepage of the Jessa hospital, users will be able to register for a visit by clicking “Ik kom op bezoek” (“I’m planning to visit”).
9. Measuring the density in stores
We’ve already built an automatic stock management system for our client Medi-Market. You can read the case study here in Dutch or read about it in English in this blog post. For this year’s Ship-IT Day, one ACA team wanted to help further improve Medi-Market’s services.
The team developed a proof-of-concept to help the cashier or steward at the entrances of Medi-Market’s physical stores with a digital assistant. This digital assistant
- counts the amount of people in a store through camera images,
- filters out any employees out of this count using artificial intelligence,
- makes sure the amount of people in the store never exceeds the maximum amount of people allowed in the store, based on current COVID-19 guidelines,
- predicts a waiting time for customers waiting outside of the store on the basis of historical data,
- and gives an overview of a store’s peak hours.
And the winner is …
Near the end of the Ship-IT Day, every team pitched their project to their colleagues, who then voted for their favorite project. Project 5, scanning the amount of people in a space, was able to take home this year’s trophy! A big congratulations to the entire team and all the other teams that contributed to this wonderful Ship-IT Day.
Additionally, a huge thank you to our customers IDEWE, Jessa, Medi-Market and publiq for their incredibly smooth cooperation with our teams. We’re already looking forward to next year’s Ship-IT Day!
Some lessons learned
- Albeit a successful remote edition, the participating teams agreed that the remote aspect somewhat takes the ‘hackathon’ feeling away. In this year’s edition, most team members could only remotely contact each other. During previous editions, seeing the other teams work together close by creates a much more fun and competitive atmosphere. If we’re ever obligated to organize a remote Ship-IT Day again, this is certainly something where we can improve.
- Our social media team kept everyone up-to-date throughout the day. Teams really wanted to show off their progression to their colleagues and the world, but it’s often more in the back of their minds since they’re not working face-to-face and they’re really busy. That means it wasn’t always easy to get updates, pictures or videos for social media. In a future remote edition, the social media team could communicate to the Ship-IT teams for content beforehand instead of handling this ad hoc.
- Since everyone was so busy, it was hard to get our content shared throughout the day. It might be a good idea to communicate to colleagues with a vast network, such as our CEO, to share some updates.
- There are a few advantages to working remotely.
- after a brainstorm, no need to digitalize your post-its. It’s already in virtual space!
- No need to hop from your laptop to a whiteboard and back when doing research, you can just easily paste it in Mural.
- The appointed facilitator during progress meetings can easily time-box conversations and shift the focus of the team if necessary.
- Real-life conversations sport the advantage of being able to convey emotions that much easier. It’s not something that’s impossible over video call, but it is harder to gauge what your audience is thinking.