When Physical and Digital Realities Blur: A Slack Slash Command That Opens Doors
If you are around me enough, you will hear the phrase, “The future is amazing.”
It is often blurted out when I see something amazing built by one of our coworkers. Sometimes I say it when I get that feeling from seeing a piece of technology that feels like magic, and I have to carefully dissect all the sleight of hand that just happened before my eyes. Frankly, being a magician is one of the best traits of being an engineer and working at a tech startup.
The greatest of magical feats that an engineer can perform is to blur physical and digital realities. To me, there is something magical in calling out into the air, “Hey Alexa ...", to summon an omnipresent being, and having a task executed by a bunch of IoT devices waiting to be summoned by your command.
At EventBoard, at our core, we do similar magic every single day with our customers. We take data and anchor it into a physical space expressed through a variety of different mediums: tablets, mobile devices, notifications and even televisions. With our incredible partners, we pair our data intelligence with their software and hardware to create magic, often unseen, to optimize productivity across some of the world's most progressive companies.
How Our /Unlock Command Came About
Internally, we use our own software. But we also have a bunch of internal software written by our team to help our coworkers out with their day-to-day tasks.
One of those tasks that most folks don’t think much about is getting in through the office doors. The problem I witnessed hourly, sitting next to the office doors, was watching the daily struggle of coworkers forgetting their keycards.
I watched as they locked themselves out, pulled out their mobile device, and pleaded for someone to let them back into the office. In the irony of it all, I found the solution: It's easy to forget your keycard, but no one – no one – ever forgets their phone.
The phone had enough ingredients to solve the problem. It had an internet connection, and an app that every single employee was guaranteed to have on their device: Slack.
Our doors are secured through Brivo’s OnAir system. We enabled the API in the admin console and I began hacking against the API. Within a few minutes, I had a command line script that I could fire –and I could hear the pop of the doors as they were released from the magnets keeping them closed.
After I had made the script robust enough, I started writing in the code to turn it into a Slack Slash Command. We have multiple doors in the office, so I set each door to have a 4 digit code. In turn, that code would get translated to the Brivo Door ID. A few more tests – and door pops – and I had the core of the code complete.
Knowing that this would be magical to most, I consulted a few Harry Potter geeks in the office and the personality for the command became Hermione Granger. I cleaned things up, and deployed the code to Amazon Lambda.
From inside of Slack, I typed /unlock 0000 and hit return. In a split second, Hermione appeared with a message, “ALOHOMORA! The Main Doors are unlocked. Proceed." And then a pop.
Just like that, the doors were unlocked. To this Muggle, it was magic.
I recruited one of our designers to use his vinyl machine to print out the slash command and unlock code. The next day we installed the vinyl to the doors, and announced the availability of the script to our employees. The response was through the roof. Everyone was thrilled that they could quickly and easily get in to the office with little friction.
Unlocking the office doors is such a small, innocuous interaction. But by making it easier and more accessible, our employees have become happier because the workplace is working for them.
In our workplaces, we are all surrounded by a multitude of inefficiencies: overbooked conference rooms, dead projectors, videoconferencing systems that never seem to work, and a lot more issues that get in our way and stop us from doing our best work.
Truly, the future is amazing. The future of work is amazing, as companies like EventBoard use digital and physical means to optimize the workplace. Often we don’t see all the inefficiencies, but a company’s bottom line is greatly affected by the loss of productivity in aggregate.
It is my personal goal, and the goal of every employee at EventBoard, to create magical, frictionless experiences that lead to the optimization of an organization's work.
Zach Holmquist (@zholmquist on Twitter) is the CTO and co-founder of EventBoard.