Transport for Greater Manchester

Introduction

Transport for Greater Manchester recognised early on that the changing world of user consumption of data meant that they would see increasing demands for access to their information by travellers, ranging from bus positions and car park status to route-specific journey information. By aggregating their internal data they can provide a portal to third party app developers and ultimately help users seamlessly plan their travel in and around Manchester, providing visitors to the area everything they need, including delivery across a range of mobile devices and services.

They also knew that their own public resources were limited in what they could produce internally. They believed the decision to expose the data through a consistent interface (or API) would foster a development community, that would both create new applications that capitalise on the value of intersystem data, as well as providing the traveller with a range of choices across multiple platforms.

They reached out to Microsoft to recommend a partner with the software development and cloud credentials that could assist, and thus approached Black Marble.

Solution

By using the Windows Azure platform to build and host the system, Black Marble has created for TfGM a rapid development platform that offers critical service assurance and scalability to support expansion of the service, as well as enhanced access to travel information for the local populace.

All Government organisations are answerable to the public, and the solution created by Black Marble is provided to developers for free. This then opens up the market for a range of possible solutions for the consumer – providing a choice not just in application, but also in the platform they use to consume it. The developers also have a choice in how they make that application available to the market.

Travel in and around Manchester will become more predictable and stress-free, increasing the satisfaction of the traveller and encouraging them to travel more in the area, benefitting the area as a whole.

As the system is hosted on Windows Azure, it removes the need for on-premise computing resources and infrastructure. It is also easily scalable with metrics, allowing the health of the service to be determined and usage patterns monitored. In addition, a Hybrid solution utilising the Windows Azure Service Bus has been implemented, allowing for selected internal data sources to be made accessible to the open data platform without opening ports in the TfGM firewall, thus minimising the security risks to the TfGM network.

With Microsoft’s Windows Azure, the platform architecture is pluggable by easily allowing new services and data sources to be added without disrupting the existing solution. In short, utilising the Microsoft platform, specifically Windows Azure, allows TfGM to be flexible and scalable without the need for high cost server hardware to be installed within the TfGM network.

Benefits

The flexibility, scalability and comprehensiveness offered by the Microsoft Windows Azure platform plus the strong developer tooling provided by Visual Studio 2012 ensured it was far and away the platform of choice for TfGM.

  • By using Windows Azure Websites, we have created a flexible and scalable model for deploying the services necessary to support the consumer applications and developers.
  • Windows Azure Cloud services provide a scalable, resilient platform for the data integration services.
  • Windows Azure Blob storage provides a cost effective, scalable mechanism to store file based data.
  • By providing a standards-based interface enables developers to create applications that work on a variety of Microsoft and Non-Microsoft devices.

"The TfGM project created interesting technical challenges around delivering a robust solution using a real-time open data platform. We knew early on that Windows Azure would meet all of TfGM's needs - providing a scalable transparent and easy to manage solution. And with 50+ developers already registered on the platform, we are confident it will prove a success." - Steve Spencer, Black Marble - Development Director, MVP for Windows Azure and member of the Azure Insiders programme.

Ultimately, such independently produced applications could help TfGM improve transparency and system performance, as well as provide better services to travellers and better value to their local tax payers. As a public organisation, this is vital.

This solution reduces costs for TfGM, through using a scalable, security-enhanced cloud solution, enabling them to focus on their core business. Plus, the flexible solution means they only need to pay for what they use, scaling to accommodate variable workloads across services, applications and the network. With this solution TfGM can also respond to the growing demands from the public for information that can be consumed across a range of devices – smart phones, tablets, slates – as well as providing a comprehensive series of applications to meet a diverse set of needs.

Microsoft has just launched an official Case Study covering our work for TfGM as part of their City Next campaign!

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Transport for Greater Manchester is very impressed with the quality of the real-time transport open data platform that has been developed by Black Marble. Having the solution hosted in Windows Azure enables us to make real-time data available via a scalable, resilient and robust platform. We now hope to see the data being used by Developers to produce smart and innovative apps, thereby creating better informed travellers and stimulating smarter travel choices. Black Marble’s innovative system allows us to understand who is using our data and how, it also allows us to bring like minds together enabling synergies and collaboration which will drive better products for the travelling public of Greater Manchester. David Hytch, Information System Director at TfGM