For information consistency between the various leisure centres and the Trust’s web site, activeNewham wanted to install wall-mounted TVs in the centres’ foyers. These would display details of sporting activities, fitness classes and swimming timetables, as well as other information and advertising, complementing new self-service kiosks due to be introduced on January 2, 2016.
This was part of a broader strategy to make the council’s leisure centres cashless and more streamlined, replacing manned front desks with an automated payment and checking-in system. From this date, customers would pay for swim, gym sessions, exercise classes, court hire and other services by debit, credit or pre-paid card, Apple Pay or council Get Active Cards (topped up online).
With no in-house developers, activeNewham relies largely on external experts to meet its IT needs. Suppliers must be able to work with existing system preferences, to protect the user experience and support the flow of information from one platform to another.
By the end of October 2015, activeNewham had 80 per cent of its idea for the new unmanned reception areas, and had just two months to find the right development partner to create the TV app.
Display information needed to be consistent with what was on activeNewham’s web site. TV content also had to be engaging – enticing customers to try new activities. To avoid staff having to re-enter the same information in more than one place, the app had to support the Trust’s Active in Time API. (Active in Time is a software platform connecting sports and fitness operators and customers). As a not-for-profit organisation in the public sector, activeNewham also needed to deliver everything with a limited budget.
As the existing developer of activeNewham’s web site, used for membership purchases, DCSL GuideSmiths was the natural choice for the connected TV app. “After five years of working with DCSL GuideSmiths, I knew we were in good hands,” says Keiron Butcher, the Trust’s IT & Communications Director.
To enable extraction of the latest central timetable information, DCSL GuideSmiths connected the TV app to another third-party system. To make the TV displays creative and engaging, DCSL GuideSmiths provided special animations and effects that would draw customers in and give a very slick finish to the displays.
Rather than add the complexity of connecting the TVs to a PC, DCSL GuideSmiths uses the displays’ built-in web browser, and created a web application to deliver the user interface. DCSL GuideSmiths built the TV app using the latest Microsoft development technology including ASP.NET MVC5 and SQL Server 2014, as well as the Telerik Kendo UI – an HTML5 user interface framework for building high-performance web applications.
The finished solution went live as planned on January 2, 2016, alongside the new self-service kiosks, in each of Newham’s public leisure centres. activeNewham estimates that, by choosing DCSL GuideSmiths, it has halved the bill it would have incurred by using a larger development company.
The new TV displays provide a modern feel to Newham’s leisure centres, and are easy to update centrally. “There is more control now,” Mr Butcher says. “With 12 receptionists, it was hard to ensure that consistency.” Combined with the self-service kiosks, the new system has reduced the waiting time in leisure centre foyers, accelerated the flow of customers into the centres, and made it easier for customers to choose, book and pay for sessions.
“DCSL GuideSmiths had a lot of creative input, which is one of the reasons we like working with them,” Mr Butcher notes. The team suggested adding the ability to scroll from the current to the next day’s timetable, for examples, and using music to accompany the videos. “They were very creative with the administration section, too, which is very easy for us to manage. Information is clear to view, and we can update both our web site and leisure centre displays in seconds.
“It’s always a very two-way process, which is important – we like to see things stage by stage, to check we’re on the right track,” he adds. “With such a tight timeframe, the last thing you want is to get to the end and find you have something that doesn’t do the job.”
Next on the agenda for activeNewham is a mobile app being developed by DCSL GuideSmiths. This will allow event organisers to scan membership cards for outdoor events, while automating associated paperwork. The solution uses an iPhone or Android smartphone’s camera to capture and read the attendee’s barcode, and create membership records in the Trust’s Gladstone Plus2 leisure management system.
Of working with DCSL GuideSmiths, Mr Butcher says, “Developers tend to be very dry people, but DCSL GuideSmiths communicates well, understands what we want and develops tailored solutions that meet our needs, without costing the earth. They always deliver on time and to budget, and have a very good work process.”