Getting smarter about the future of work
UMA has a tool to help employees and managers find a way forward together
No matter your views on remote work, there’s no doubt that the changes brought about by the pandemic are far from settled.
Today’s startup wants to help businesses navigate this uncertain world in a way that aims to help rank-and-file employees and the C-suite alike. Scroll down to learn all about UMA.
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UMA wants to help businesses navigate the future of work
Life in the office isn’t what it used to be, and managers haven’t quite yet got to grips with the shift.
The pandemic has helped transform the traditional 9-5 desk job into a mix of flexible working, home working, and office-based activity that can make it difficult for businesses to understand exactly how their resources are being used.
UMA (pronounced oo-ma) wants to solve this problem while making day-to-day life easier for workers when they are in the office.
The SaaS software lets employees book desks and rooms while collecting data about how office resources are actually being used, along with data about things like air quality, room temperature, and humidity via IoT sensors.
“If you're on the management side of things, you can work out ‘do I need that amount of floor space?’ Do I have enough? Do I need more? Or is the office being used like we expected it to be?’,” explains CEO Rachel Swann.
Resource management software is nothing new but in the 2020s, it really should be about more than booking a room. Swann explains that one of UMA’s customers uses the product to monitor how well their hybrid work policy is working.
“Employees might need to only be in the office two or three days a week. But what if they’ve only turned up on one of those days. Are they okay? When they’re in, who do they sit with?
She explains that one customer has completely reconfigured their workspace based on actual usage. While staff might only need to be in for a couple of days per week, some come in more often.
“They've reduced the floor footprint in one office but actually increased it in another location based on the profile of the teams in that location.”
In these days of ridiculously high energy bills, only using what you absolutely have to in order to help your workers stay productive is a smart thing. UMA is positioning itself as being core to that thinking.
“We're using machine learning and A.I. to come up with predictive models,” says Swann. “For example, if you're booking a meeting room on a Thursday afternoon in May, and you've invited six people, five of them have responded positively. The temperature outside is going to be 22 degrees.
“We know the humidity, so therefore the aircon is going to kick on at a certain time before that meeting starts and then during the meeting, there will be actions you’re either prompted to take manually, or if you're IoT enabled it will open the windows, or pull the blinds down at certain points, or kick on the fan.”
Swann says these A.I. features are in the process of being rolled out into the product.
How it works
UMA integrates with Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace, along with support for Cisco WebEx and various IoT sensors, such as the people-counting software in the Jabra PanaCast camera, Cisco’s Meraki security cameras, or temperature and humidity sensors.
In addition to a cloud-based interface that allows staff to book rooms and manage their meetings on the web or via an iOS or Android app. UMA also produces its own hardware; a booking panel designed to be positioned outside meeting rooms.
And a key part of the product is the analytics view for admins. This can incorporate a digital version of an office floorplan, helping to visualise usage in an easy-to-understand way.
“We talk about historic, present, and future data. Depending on your admin authorisations, you can look at the dashboard and the data to see insights around the overall workspace, a particular floor, a particular asset, or the entire estate,” explains Swann.
UMA had its beginnings in its co-founders’ business ISDM, which instals audio-visual hardware for businesses. In 2016, Karen McWhirter, Rory Brannigan, and Stephen Milner realised this kind of tech wasn’t delivering on its full potential, and no-one in the market was capitalising on the opportunity.
So they devised UMA, first as a voice-activated meeting management system (hence the domain ‘askuma.com’). But Swann says potential customers were far more interested in the data the system could generate than a nice, but far from essential, UI feature.
After spending a few years developing the product, they raised their first commercial invoice in November 2021. UMA sells both directly and via resellers and distributors, who sell the software alongside hardware from other companies.
Swann says the business has 100% retention among its 40+ paying customers, which include business in North America, Europe, and the Middle East.
Along the way they’ve picked up a Cisco Fast Future Innovation Award and were recently recognised as one of GP Bullhound’s Northern Tech Awards ‘Northern Stars’ (alongside another company previously covered in this newsletter, GigPig).
As someone who grew up on the western edge of Bradford and regularly travelled into Halifax as a child, I was pleased to discover that UMA is based in Halifax’s Dean Clough, a local landmark made up of repurposed factory buildings.
“We're in a converted woollen carpet mill. I always talk about the fact we're in this new digital revolution, particularly around A.I., and we're in a building that was from the first industrial revolution,” says Swann.
UMA’s co-founders brought Swann in to lead the business last year, based on her experience growing B2B SaaS companies. Meanwhile, McWhirter and Brannigan are non-executive directors at UMA and still run ISDM. Milner is full-time at UMA as chief strategy officer.
Go deeper on UMA
Read much more about their investment, vision, competition, and challenges: