The City of Chicago wanted an interactive, online map that its residents and visitors could easily use to plan a visit to the annual Taste of Chicago event. The city asked West Monroe Partners to cost-effectively develop a map, which it did in just two weeks by basing the map on the Windows Azure platform and Microsoft Silverlight browser plug-in technology. The map was a success, helping attendees make the most of their time at Taste of Chicago.
To serve its nearly 3 million residents, the City of Chicago, Illinois, has more than 50 city departments handling everything from public safety and business development to environmental policy and transportation. One such department, the Mayor’s Office of Special Events, produces and promotes free festivals and citywide holiday celebrations for Chicagoans and visitors alike.
The Taste of Chicago event is one of the largest outdoor food and music festivals in the world, attracting more than 3 million people each summer. In May 2009, the City of Chicago decided to provide the city’s residents and visitors with an interactive map for the upcoming Taste of Chicago. “Our previous maps were PDF files that were too complicated for the public to print out,” says Megan McDonald, Executive Director for the Mayor’s Office of Special Events, City of Chicago. “We looked to move from printing an expensive, 28-page brochure to giving the public a simple flyer and an online map. We felt that this map, in addition to conserving costs, would make it easier for prospective attendees to get the information that they needed for a positive experience.”
The city wanted attendees to be able to create and print maps that also contained information about all the performances taking place on the stages throughout Taste of Chicago—including times and locations—plus other food- or performance-related information in which they were specifically interested.
However, the project faced hurdles in time and scalability. The city needed to get the map designed, built, and posted to a Web site within just a few weeks so that festival attendees could start planning their activities. It also needed to ensure that the map’s site could scale adequately to accommodate up to 50,000 hits per day.Solution
To meet its needs, the city worked with West Monroe Partners, a Chicago-based Microsoft Gold Certified Partner. The city and its partner turned to Microsoft technologies, deciding that the best chance of satisfying expectations—and ensuring that the map could support public demand—was to use the Microsoft Silverlight browser plug-in technology and the Windows Azure platform. Windows Azure is an Internet-scale cloud services platform that is hosted in Microsoft data centers. It provides an operating system and a set of developer services that can be used individually or together, and affordably fits the needs of the City of Chicago by offering a scalable infrastructure with a pay-as-you-go model.
“We knew that using Windows Azure would make it possible to create the map quickly, without a big investment, and that we’d have no concerns about scalability or availability,” explains Joe Mongiat, Technical Architect for West Monroe Partners. “Alternative solutions would have necessitated longer development times and would require us to deal with load balancers, redundancy, and other infrastructure-related issues. With Windows Azure, those were non-issues.”
||We were able to make the new interactive map available to the public the day after finalizing our information. We have been nothing less than thrilled with the whole process.
Mayor’s Office of Special Events, City of Chicago
In less than two weeks, the City of Chicago had a fully interactive event map for Taste of Chicago. Attendees could search by day, stage, event, and vendor, and then put together a tailored, printable, and portable map to use as a guide at the festival. After establishing the initial map solution, the city and its partner added functionality that displayed top search terms to Web site visitors so that they could see the vendors and performers who were generating the most interest.Benefits
With Windows Azure, the City of Chicago was able to quickly and inexpensively deliver a new level of interaction that enhanced the experience for residents and visitors, nearly 2 million of whom visited the Taste of Chicago map over a five-day period. “We were able to make the new interactive map available to the public the day after finalizing our information,” says Nancy Herman, Creative Director for the Mayor’s Office of Special Events, City of Chicago. “We have been nothing less than thrilled with the whole process.” Benefits of using Windows Azure include:
Enhanced service to the public. Because Silverlight was used in conjunction with Windows Azure, the city could provide citizens and other attendees with an immersive online experience unlike anything before. “This year’s map is not just a static image like we had in the past—its up-to-date look and feel better represents the festival’s appeal to visitors of all ages,” says McDonald. “Visitors to our Web site liked that the map was easy to navigate, provided all the information they needed, and could be printed with the click of a mouse.”
Fast, efficient development. It took just one day for the City of Chicago to receive an initial proof-of-concept map from West Monroe Partners. “I sent over the initial information, and West Monroe gave us a map with zooming capabilities the next day,” says Herman. The quick turnaround made it possible for the city to make faster decisions to ensure that the online map would not only meet but exceed the needs of festival attendees. The final map was finished in less than two weeks, and the city launched it immediately. Continues Herman, “The earlier Chicago residents and visitors have access to our information, the easier it is for them to make travel plans to visit Taste of Chicago.”
Cost-effective communication. The city deemed the new map so accessible and comprehensive that it determined that it could meet the public’s needs with a much smaller printed flyer than the brochures it created in years past. “With today’s economy, the city is taking measures to reduce costs,” says McDonald. “By producing a smaller piece that directed visitors to our new map, we reduced printing and distribution costs, saving 34 percent of what we normally spend. Yet we were able to share our information earlier and with more people.”
Easy updates for a richer experience for citizens and other attendees. The City of Chicago took full advantage of the new map’s flexible foundation, which made it fast and easy to accommodate incremental updates and enhancements. “By putting the Taste of Chicago map online, we were able to quickly update it as new information evolved,” says McDonald.