Wednesday January 28, 2015 0 comments
By Martha Roden
FORT COLLINS -- A flying rocket on a hanging sign clearly identifies Rocket Jones, a downtown Fort Collins company specializing in websites, web apps, and content management systems.
This unique firm combined its personal approach with a custom content management system to overcome a tight deadline and produce an award-winning website for Transfort in the summer of 2014.
If you live in Fort Collins, you're no stranger to the streamlined green MAX buses running up and down the Mason Street corridor every 10 minutes. But did you know that the amazing Transfort website that heralded the arrival of MAX was developed in less than two months -- complete with a clean, modern look and rider-friendly web apps?
Back in October 2013, the City of Fort Collins needed an agency to market MAX -- the first urban bus rapid transit system in Colorado -- to the citizens of Fort Collins. That agency was Slate Communications, founded by three former city employees who now work with municipal clients up and down the Front Range.
"We were responsible for the branding and the message," says Claire Thomas, principal at Slate Communications. "But when it came time to build the website, we had a huge challenge - the website had to be ready for the MAX launch in less than two months. It seemed impossible."
Luckily, Slate Communications knew just the company to pull it off -- Rocket Jones. "We had worked with them earlier on several city projects and already had a relationship with them built on trust and respect. They were great communicators and technical wizards who never missed a deadline," says Thomas.
If you haven't heard of Rocket Jones, an explanation might be in order.
"Think of us as the Joneses from next door who just happen to have a degree in Rocket Science," says Jeff Bristol, Rocket Jones CEO. "Our staff has to be down-to-earth and personable, as well as out-of-this-world programmers. Our success depends on that balance."
Rocket Jones lived up to its name when the company came onboard the project in March 2014. Their goal was daunting: develop a brand new website for Transfort from scratch that was (1) easy to navigate and use by transit riders, (2) easy to maintain and update by Transfort employees, and (3) ready to go live by May.
According to Timothy Wilder, Transfort's service development manager, "The new website had to be readily available, clean, and clear so customers could find information as quickly as possible without wading through pages of information."
The website also had to be mobile-friendly and provide various interactive web tools for riders. In addition, an easy-to-use content management system (CMS) had to be in place so Transfort employees could manage web content and rider alerts.
Developing a website for one audience (transit riders) and a content management system for another (Transfort employees) was like working on two projects at once.
"The CMS had to be highly customizable, powerful, and ultra-easy to use," says Bristol. The solution was RocketPages, a flexible and adaptable CMS product developed by Rocket Jones and already in use by other companies and city departments.
Rocket Jones hit the ground running. "They immediately started working closely with Transfort," says Wilder. "We would sit down and have casual conversations on couches at the Rocket Jones office. It was definitely a low-stress, high-creativity environment where we could discuss an approach and they could start building."
During the web-building process, Rocket Jones created real-time web apps and tools, or integrated existing ones to help transit riders get to their destinations on time:
- A bus-tracking system that links with the GPS system on each bus to provide real-time bus arrival information.
- A trip-planning tool that integrates with Google Transit to show you how to get to your destination via Transfort.
- A display of route alerts and closures, as they occur in real time.
Miraculously, the site went public on schedule, and customers loved it. If you've visited it, you know it looks nothing like a traditional transit site. It is bright, clean, modern, and easy to use (www.ridetransfort.com).
"The analytics are good," says Thomas. "There have been lots of visitors, plenty of app downloads, and ratings went way up in August when CSU students came back."
"We are super happy with Rocket Jones and their CMS," says Wilder. "Any employee can make changes without being a web developer, while the CMS ensures we always maintain the same website look and feel."
Much of the success of the project has been attributed to Rocket Jones' stellar work ethic, collaborative methods and personal touch.
"Throughout the project, Rocket Jones was very diligent about working with us, one-on-one, making sure they addressed our needs," says Wilder. "If something wasn't quite right, they fixed it. Their service is outstanding and their people are wonderful to work with. Honestly, it was a lot of fun compared to other projects I've worked on."
Although the collaborative website project is completed, Rocket Jones continues its relationship with Transfort and will be developing more interactive rider web apps in the future.
"Web apps are becoming a growing part of what Rocket Jones does," says Bristol. "We love developing them because it's challenging and fun."