Last year we launched the Ultimate Wallboard Contest, Atlassian’s search to find the best information radiators and wallboards. We were amazed by the response from around the world: 87 entries ranging from polished products to midnight hack sessions. We wanted to share the secrets from the cream of the crop wallboards entrants. Here are their stories. Stay tuned for a few more posts as we work through the winning categories.
Matt Satorius’ entry Willow Creek Production Systems was an early favorite in the contest and caught the eyes of voters. He narrowly missed the Community Prizeas we documented. Still, Matt remained a good sport and a worthy honorable mention. Here’s a summary of our chat about wallboards, blinking lights and his contest entry.
The Man, The Legend: Matt Satorius
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’ve been doing web design since 1996, living just north of Chicago. I live two professional lives: one as web developer and computer geek, the second as a sound production guy for churches and concerts.
Why did you create this system?
The status board is for a church that has a pretty extensive audio/visual production department managing a 750,000 square foot facility with different venues and spaces. Before the wallboard came up, I implemented a help desk ticketing system for the department that maintains the audio/lighting/video equipment. Based off that, the wallboard was created to show engineers exactly where the issues are, what are the most recent, and longest outstanding.
The department viewing the wallboard deals with gear failures and new projects. Prior to the help desk system and wallboard, SharePoint was used to list current issues and complaints, however with the size of the venue and devices failing from week to week, things were getting out of control. Thus the implementation of the helpdesk and wallboard.
I haven’t spoken with anyone else who has created wallboards. Prior to the contest, the people who use it everyday have given me feedback, plus the venue does get a lot of tours and people will see it and stop and ask questions.
What technologies and languages did you use?
The wallboard is 100% web-based, using HTML and PHP. It displays via a Mac Mini connected to a 42″ LCD TV at 1920×1080, displaying full-screen via the Plainview browser. It’s hosted on the same web server as ticketing system to access the same MySQL database. The page loads using jQuery to run a bunch of AJAX calls behind the scenes. Every few seconds it pings the server for the latest data.
The rundown on some of the data sources:
• The RSS is one of the most consistent elements, once it finishes scrolling it pings the server for the latest updates.
• Help desk is through Kayako Support Suite.
• I created the Twitter widget from the Twitter Search API.
• Calendar is from the Google Calendar API.
• Weather is coming from the Yahoo! feed, required some parsing out.
How many people use the system?
Always 3 people in the room with the wallboard on display, up to 7 during peak hours.
What’s the response been from people that use it?
Everyone loves it. Without having to login, you can see what’s going on. My favorite part is when a new ticket hits the system, the screen fades out and the new ticket detail fades in. The sound effect alerts the team to the wallboard in order to determine if they need to spring into action.
What are the biggest benefits that you’ve seen from using the wallboard?
Streamlined communication. End user confidence that when they report an issue that the engineers know about it immediately. Great from administrative standpoint. End users know that the wallboard is in place and communication is happening more efficiently.
Any of the other entries inspire you?
My eyes were closest on Vodafone, their RFID scanners are really cool. Hard to fight against that. I also liked the mobile task wall, can fold up in half and go with your laptop.
Do you have any future plans?
Not immediately, but open to custom development projects. I have the skeleton for another one for the same dept. Instead of tying in with help desk it would monitor a lot of the gear around the campus that is IP based. My plan is to build a status board that will show all the different venues around the campus and device status within each – such as which projectors are currently on, how many lamp hours are left in the bulb, etc. The board will ping individual devices to check status. Will do a lot of SNMP over PHP – should be crazy, but all devices are available over the local network.
Do you have intention to host the code any where? Or productize the concept?
Several people have expressed interest in similar systems, but it’s such a niche product. Wallboards are a unique business, hard to justify the cost for a custom design. There are not a ton of out of the box cookie cutter wallboards because everyone has their own different data sources and unique requests. A product version is never going to be able to cater 100% to everyone’s needs. I’ll more likely explore custom routes over one productized offering. It’s a new horizon, keeps it interesting. I have deployed custom wallboards driven via a WordPress backend, allowing clients to redesign layouts of the boards, create new additional boards, and choose which custom widgets they want to see and administer accordingly.
Questions or ideas for Matt?
Have an idea on how to improve the wallboard? Curious about something we didn’t ask? Leave a comment below, we’d love to hear what’s on your wallboard.
Ultimate Wallboard Interview Series: Matt Satorius, Willow Creek Production Systems