Booking, lab admin & equipment service

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Chair: Philippe Laissue (University of Essex)



We had a look at different strategies and options for booking instruments and charging users. There are different solutions, from low-key to advanced. The best solution depends on

• number of users and instruments

• IT support for setting up internal server-based solutions and creating workgroups etc.

• financial support for purchasing commercial solutions

• policies of University/Department/Museum (e.g. for data protection)

As facilities vary considerably in their provision of instruments and technical solutions, any solution should be customisable.

Most solutions have the problem that they do not log the actual use on the instrument, but the hours booked on the calendar.

Swipe card/code-protected access does not prevent ‘rogue’ use of instruments. If users really want to break something, they can.

Another problem exists with users who last operated the instrument many months ago. It would be helpful if a booking system could show that a user has not been active for X amount of time and/or flag up the user after X months of delay. This does not seem to exist in any of the listed solutions. An option however is to delete accounts if they are inactive for more than e.g. six months.

If you are interested in any of the solutions listed below, please consult the website or contact the person who talked about it.

Open Source Solutions

Google calendar

(Philippe Laissue, University of Essex)

google calendar

Pros: Free, easy to set up, hosted externally. Ties in with other Google applications (I set up a Google training site with calendar and Google Docs, forms & code tied in, which can all be easily changed/adapted). Charging is not automated, but can be exported to Excel using Gcal2Excel app.

Cons: Only booking (does not log actual time spent on instrument). Not fool-proof. Users can modify or cancel their own and other people’s reservations retroactively. Details are visible to everyone (compare to Calcium below). Gets very busy with many instruments in facility.



This is a rather old open source solution which is used in quite a few places around the world. Oxford in collaboration with Dundee have recently moved maintenance to [github] and are trying to update it in various places. Hopefully an updated version will be available some time late summer 2014.

Commercial Solutions


(Kurt Anderson, Beatson Institute, Glasgow)


Pros: Categorised users, facility staff can also be booked. Access granted only after training on an instrument has been completed, using Active Directory for log-ins. Cancellations can only be done 24h before (such ‘last minute’ cancellations often get picked up by others in busy facilities). Can be cancelled retroactively only by Administrator.

Cons: Commercial. Scionics set it up on Beatson server for ~1.5k. Does not use different rates for different times (e.g. for overnight time lapse vs. daytime use). This might however get implemented upon request. Also takes several weeks to be fully set up (i.e. with all different users/ categories/ instruments etc.).


(Alex Ball, Natural History Museum)


~1.4k for 25 licenses. It allows data protection as the instrument appears as booked, but it does not reveal by whom.

PPMS (Platform-Pilot Management Software)

(Colin Gray, University of Sheffield)


Pros: Web based hosted externally (no set-up on internal server required). Fully featured with, individual logins, user rights can be assigned after training, pre-session cancellation time can be set (and allow full or partial charging), different charging rates for different systems, times of day and/or user/project. Project function allows multi-role (e.g. technical) staff to book individual sessions under appropriate account. Long sessions (eg time-lapse) can be discounted after a set time. Special microscope conditions can be requested with the booking. Users can log problems which admins validate to allow warnings of limited/no service status. Full usage and downtime stats. Supports active directory/LDAP and can log actual use on instrument. Charging invoice can be produced automatically, very useful when a grant audit is ordered.

Cons: Commercial.

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