How a coding-averse IT team brought Toronto’s CN Tower into the 21st century

It’s exactly the sort of iconic destination you’d expect to see on the cutting edge of technology, but until recently Toronto’s CN Tower didn’t offer visitors WiFi, let alone a mobile app.

Enter Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) subsidiary Aruba Network’s Mobile Engagement solution, which the tower’s IT staff recently used to develop and release a new mobile app as part of a wireless infrastructure upgrade, just in time for the attraction’s 40th anniversary.

Kevin McManus
CN Tower IT director Kevin McManus says it was important that his team find a solution where they could modify existing tech, rather than being forced to develop it themselves.

“We’re not a coding organization,” Kevin McManus, the CN Tower’s IT director, explains. “My entire staff across Canada is roughly about 20 people, so we purposely went looking for a partner where we could build something without having to bring code development in-house.”

Released during the summer, the “CN Tower Experience” app takes advantage of the attraction’s new 150-node Aruba Gigabit wireless LAN to individually guide its 1.6 million annual visitors through the tower while delivering personalized, proximity-based marketing notifications, Lisa Tompkins, the tower’s director of sales and marketing, says.

“Our ultimate goal, really, is ongoing guest experience enhancement,” she says, noting that the app also allows visitors to purchase advance tickets or make reservations at one of its restaurants, and that the organization hopes to add time-based notifications such as time-sensitive admission offers over the next year as well.

Designed using off-the-shelf products

While developing the app, the CN Tower’s IT team was assisted by Access 2 Networks (A2N), a local Aruba partner they had collaborated with in the past.

It also helped that the team was familiar with Meridian, an off-the-shelf product they had whitelisted some time ago, and which A2N helped them use to build the app, McManus says.

“We built a plug-and-play application, so we were limited by the capabilities of the product,” he says. “But being one of the first clients to take on the product here in Canada made the contract a pretty good steal for us, and there were services, mostly consulting, that Aruba gave us free of charge to break the ground a little bit.”

Once A2N became involved it was easy for the tower’s IT team to build the app framework, McManus says, since technical functions including the navigation features and push notifications had been built into the Meridian software to begin with.

Without any coding necessary on the IT team’s part, the completed framework was then passed onto the marketing team for content.

“It’s really about giving this power to the marketing team, not the IT team,” he says. “Using the Meridian software they can configure a series of campaigns, and even the time of day or week that they run.”

A foundation for future marketing efforts

“A couple years ago Lisa and I made the conscious decision to bring our IT and marketing functions a lot closer together as we realized how closely our worlds are merging, with IT being a significant enabler for a large number of the marketing activities that take place on the property,” McManus says. “So whenever we look at our marketing programs, we ask, ‘what can IT do to make this better?’ or vice versa.”

Lisa Tompkins
CN Tower marketing and sales director Lisa Tompkins believes the organization’s new Aruba-powered mobile and WiFi solutions can be used to improve visitor engagement.

Tompkins echoes the sentiment: when the CN Tower’s marketing team thinks about how it can better engage visitors, technology plays a much greater role than it did before.

“One thing that we’ll be looking into over the coming year is the languages the app is available in,” she says. “Right now it’s just English and French, but we live in a multicultural city, and have a very multicultural and multilingual audience, so our goal is to make it available in other languages as well.”

Another enhancement the organization would like to add is using Aruba’s technology to enhance descriptions of whatever they might be viewing from one of the tower’s three observation decks, she says.

Still another would be analytics – using the WiFi nodes to keep track of how much time guests spend at the tower and where.

“I always think of us as a vertical theme park,” he says. “We have crowds to manage, food and beverage services, a children’s play zone… and significant wait times during the summer season.”

Eventually, he says, the organization would like to collaborate with third parties to deliver specialized ads through the app: Deals for impatient visitors – in their language! – who might want to visit the nearby Ripley’s Aquarium, for example, or the historic Steamwhistle restaurant, before returning to the tower at off-peak hours.

After all, with thousands of visitors already downloading the app since the tower began advertising it last August, McManus and Tompkins now know firsthand the value of leveraging technology to both delight and manage crowds – it’s just a matter of implementing it.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Eric Emin Wood
Eric Emin Wood
Former editor of turned consultant with public relations firm Porter Novelli. When not writing for the tech industry enjoys photography, movies, travelling, the Oxford comma, and will talk your ear off about animation if you give him an opening.

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