activeNewham is a Leisure Trust running and supporting council leisure, sports and volunteering opportunities in the London Borough of Newham.
For information consistency between the various leisure centres and the Trust’s website, 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 introduced in January 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% 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 website. 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 website, used for membership purchases, One Beyond was the natural choice for the connected TV app. “After five years of working with One Beyond, I knew we were in good hands,” says Martin Clarke, IT and Facilities Manager.
To enable extraction of the latest central timetable information, One Beyond connected the TV app to another third-party system. To make the TV displays creative and engaging, One Beyond 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, One Beyond uses the displays’ built-in web browser, and created a web application to deliver the user interface. One Beyond 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 2 January 2016, alongside the new self-service kiosks, in each of Newham’s public leisure centres. activeNewham estimates that, by choosing One Beyond, it has halved the bill it would have incurred by using a larger development company.
One Beyond 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.
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 Clarke 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.
“One Beyond had a lot of creative input, which is one of the reasons we like working with them,” Mr Clarke notes. The team suggested adding the ability to scroll from the current to the next day’s timetable, for example. “They were very creative with the administration section, which is very easy for us to manage. Information is clear to view, and we can update both our website 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.”