The UrbanThings dashboard: Our in-house agile assistant

When working in a small team, sometimes there’s no getting around the fact that only so much can be done simultaneously. Having a single job can be a luxury, and quiet spells are few and far between.

In this kind of environment, it’s important to have key information available at a glance, and a number of tools exist to make that easier. There’s an ever-growing list of integrations with Slack and Microsoft Teams, not to mention Zapier and the classic IFTTT, which serve to surface relevant info in real-time. It’s a cinch to see updates to Zeplin screens in our #design Slack channel, or JIRA status changes via email.

For our purposes, we wanted something more centralised. Something that we could build internally using our abundance of developer talent. And to that end, we decided to lay down the framework for our very own solution.

Enter the UrbanThings dashboard. An Apple TV app that’s running on our office wall monitors and cycles through key info (with a few less vital bits, too).

The app itself is relatively simple. It’s an endless carousel of Angular web pages. The pages themselves are defined in a custom format that allows attributes such as display order and time to be embedded.

The Apple TV then plays these pages on a loop and you can use the remote to navigate, pause or restart the carousel.

Starting with one of the nice-to-haves, and advantage of building a tvOS app is that a lot of the code from our Bus Checker apps can be re-used in the dashboard. For example, we can see the UK’s buses moving around on a map!

App analytics at a glance
As you might expect, it’s the integrations that bring the app to life. Here are some examples of what we’ve hooked up so far:
  • Slack: We have a dedicated channel that lets us post messaged to the dashboard. Sort of like an office cork board!
  • Our Continuous Integration system
  • API monitoring: Our platforms team can keep an eye on server status.
  • Google Analytics: At-a-glance info on app users and session so that we can see real-time updates in response to social promo and ad campaigns
  • JIRA: Quick overviews of work done and tasks remaining in the current sprint
  • Play Store and App Store reviews: We can keep up to speed on customer sentiment with occasional Android and iOS reviews for our apps
  • Sonos: Now playing info for when you hear a song you like. And a preview of what’s on next, to exercise that emergency veto
  • Google Calendars: Upcoming important dates, staff holidays and company outings
  • The company blog: When you find yourself reading this, we’re probably seeing this blog post on the dashboard… on the dashboard. Meta.
  • Miscellaneous silliness: We’re not above the occasional xkcd comic

The beauty of an in-house system is how easy it is to add more functionality.

In a very exclusive peek behind the scenes, I can reveal that the next major feature will be a doorbell. Perfect for those trips to the shop when you just so happen to leave your door pass at your desk.