Rockefeller Observation Deck goes live, thoughts on good software development

by oneafrikan on September 5, 2005

Working in the software development industry, one is often involved in projects where the results of many long, hard, intense hours and months end up being behind closed doors on corporate intranets / extranets. For all intents and purposes the development of internal business applications is not really glamorous, and the development team seldom gets the girl.

That said, one of the projects Open Box software has been involved in has just gone live, and it’s for a really iconic part of New York City. Although I haven’t been involved in the actual development or project management / account handling of the project, as I work for the UK part of the business, I’ve certainly been watching in anticipation as the project evolved from an initial concept that was at first thought to be skirting the boundaries of software integration possibilities, to a live system that has all the bells and whistles asked for by the client, and may even make coffee on-demand for the Observation Deck staff (but I may be fibbing a little there ;-)

Suffice it to say, we’re all immensely proud of the end result, and I think it’s a really good example of what is possible when you put your mind to it.

Some thoughts on achieving software development project success:

  1. Start with a team that is at least competent, works well together, and is working towards clearly defined objectives. Humour probably helps along the way too…
  2. Use a structured methodology that enables you to deliver what the client needs, but doesn’t overcommit nor hamstring you in the process. There is no magic silver bullet that works for everyone in every situation, so experience and a willingness to try make for a good nights sleep. Envisage the expected end result, so that developers know what they are developing, and make sure that all stakeholders know this. Wireframing and mockups will probably help when doing this as well.
  3. Make sure that you have complete buy in from the client at all important levels of decision making, so that you have the best possible chance of success. Good luck if you don’t…
  4. Release early, release often (make that a mantra with everyone in the team), to show the client progress and to cement the buy in factor. It also helps you to discover fundamental flaws or bugs early on, saving you time and money in the process.
  5. Communication, communication, communication. This is like the 3 laws of property: location, location, location; and almost ties into the point about getting buy in from the client. But, on an operational level, communication is the secret ingrediant to every project. Without it you’ll wonder why things are going wrong, with it, everything should work itself out. Have regular meetings that are quick, focussed and objective / results driven. Having an experienced project manager who knows the software development team will probably help too.

Just in case you’re wondering, here are some notes that will give you more detail on what Open Box delivered (I’ve tried to cut out the boring bits):

A key competitive advantage of the ODT System is the ability for visitors to book pre-defined time slots for their experience. This timed ticketing module is flexible to enable supervisors to control the flow and numbers of visitors to the deck throughout the day and react to events as they occur, all the while ensuring a “queue-less” experience for the visitor.

Systems integration was a major aspect of this project. The ODT system integrates with the back-office financial system Intuit Real Estate, an Active Directory back-bone, a multi-media system, a CRM-type Agent Database (also built by Open Box Software), as well as credit card processors.

Top of the Rock’s™ IT systems include a number of technologies which, while not unusual in their separate pieces, are ground-breaking in their combined form in the amusement parks and attractions industry. All the systems have been developed from the ground up to include features not found in software available to the industry.

At the heart of the operations of the deck is the Observation Deck Ticketing System (ODT) application suite, which controls ticket sales to individuals and agents, admissions, venue capacity, and the finances of the operations.

Critical to the success of the Rockefeller solution was scalability. During extensive load testing, over 40 million transactions were loaded into the system… “Aside from the wide array of peripherals and pieces of hardware interacting with the system, our biggest technical focus was ensuring that we had a system architecture that could easily support many millions of tickets and performance under load, ensuring that it supports the business well into the future”.

Their particular solution for the Rockefeller Center utilized end-to-end Microsoft technologies – developed on Microsoft’s .Net platform – thus Microsoft was brought in early on and gave their stamp of approval to the solution proposed by Open Box Software.

Update: There’s now an Open Box software blog about this as well

3 comments

[…] ive projects come to mind, which I can’t really talk much about except to say “Observation Deck Ticketing System” and an internal on […]

by oneafrikan.com » Blog Archive » The exciting start of a new chapter for me on September 15, 2005 at 2:41 pm. Reply #

I didn’t even know there was an observation deck up there I’ll see if i can go the day it opens.

by Julio on October 28, 2005 at 1:08 am. Reply #

Cool – I’m sure you’ll see something spectacular ;-)

by Gareth Knight on October 28, 2005 at 9:38 am. Reply #

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