Sunday, May 29, 2011

How Brown University’s IT Dept uses Apps Script

In 170-person IT department at Brown University, had a less-than-ideal way of sharing sick/vacation time among coworkers: sending an email to a Listserv. This was inefficient - mails were not written in a standard format, so it was difficult to determine who would be out on a certain date. Some teams would notify each other of time off by sending personal invites to their vacation events, but this resulted in cluttered calendars.

The Solution

Since most of my coworkers were already creating events on their calendar to indicate their vacations, a calendar-based solution seemed most convenient. The script I wrote simply requires them to perform one additional step: when creating their vacation event, they invite a specific email address as a guest.

The script:
  • Aggregates events from the invited ‘out’ calendar, keeping only the relevant information: person, date, and type of event (from keywords like vacation, sick/doctor, or conference)
  • Creates a single daily event on another calendar with the day’s “who is out” list. We can overlay this calendar onto our own without having an overwhelming amount of individual “out” events.
  • Each morning around 9am, the daily Out list is automatically posted on a Google Site.

A single daily event on a shared calendar contains the list of who is out that day.

Code snippet - function which determines the type of event based on keywords in the event title. The keywords were chosen with the help of our HR Manager and several co-workers.

Something that streamlined the process was using up a dedicated email address for the calendar and script. This allows people to invite a simple, easy-to-remember email address to their vacation events and gave us a neutral place to store the script (not a personal account).

One issue I ran into while writing the script was that the user who created the event wasn't always the person who was out of the office because assistants often put these events on calendars. I received great feedback from the Apps Script forum. This is essential because we do delegated calendaring, and assistants put vacation events on the calendars they manage.

I’m not employed as a programmer - I’m a trainer with some self-taught ActionScript, JavaScript and PHP skills, and I found it very easy to wrap my head around Google Apps Script.

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