Friday, 29 February 2008 11:17

DIY ticketing for Melbourne Motor Show

Outsourcing has almost become a religion in some quarters, but sometimes it's better to do a job in-house even if it's not a core activity.

Case in point: one activity of the Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce (VACC) is the Melbourne Motor Show, and while most organisations would outsource ticketing and admission to companies such as Ticketek and InfoSalons, VACC used its own development resources to build a system that covers everything from online ticket sales to reporting on the pattern of admissions.

Peter Wright, manager, information technology at the VACC explained that the motivation was economic: with relatively low admission prices (eg, $A18), there's not much room to pay an external operator.

Visitors buy tickets from the VACC's web site, print them, and then present them at the venue doors, minimising queuing. The bar codes are scanned by an application running on a Symbol handheld device which checks that the bar code is valid and has not been previously presented, and logs the entry.

When the system was used at the Brisbane Motor Show, door staff were able to scan one ticket a second, but since then the software has been rewritten with an emphasis on speed throughout. "You don't want queues at the door," said Wright.

A Motorola wireless LAN connects the handhelds with a server, transferring information about newly sold tickets and those that have been used. In the original version of the software (used at the 2007 Motor Show), full database synchronisation was used, but a rewrite saw a switch to a socket-based store-and-forward scheme. The result is simpler and more robust, according to Wright, though "perhaps less classically elegant."

"It's really a transactional system, so [we decided to] keep it simple," he added.

The Symbol devices deliver around six hours use on a single charge, as the nature of the application means it is not appropriate to drop into sleep mode during periods of inactivity.

The display confirms the validity of the ticket, and presents the operator with information about the ticket category (eg, family vs individual tickets).

Messages - notably those relating to venue security - can be transmitted to door staff without the need to use the PA system or to equip them all with radios.

If visitors claim to have lost their tickets, they can be reprinted at the venue after the system checks they has not already been presented and the customers' details have been compared with the information recorded at the time of sale.

The use of a wireless network to connect to handhelds with the server is ideal for temporary installations in open spaces. The Motorola hardware selected can be quickly installed, partly due to the use of Power over Ethernet which means there is only one cable per access point.

This is especially useful for VACC, which also holds events at venues such as showgrounds and racecourses.

Damian Stock, consulting systems engineer at Motorola subsidiary Symbol's enterprise mobility business, says the company is about to release access points that operate in a wireless mesh configuration, removing the need for data cabling.

A first for the Melbourne Motor Show will be the use of self-service kiosks to purchase tickets at the venue. Each transaction takes around 10 seconds, and the door scanners are updated with details of the latest tickets about a second later.

The VACC is "in negotiations" with other unnamed organisations to provide ticketing services for their events. The system is all electronic, said Wright, which provides a cost advantage. "Our overheads are lower, and we can pass that on."

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Stephen Withers

Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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