The Project at a Glance

The Challenge

Partner with the City of Melbourne’s flagship events website What’s On to grow and boost the vibrant local economy.

The Solution

Full-service product delivery, ensuring the website and ecosystem’s functionality was fit for purpose, validated by continuous user research, and establishing strategy to manage for the future.

What We Did

Established a strong working partnership with the CoM’s internal marketing team, conducted extensive research to fully understand What’s On’s products and its various user groups, and building enhancements for improved performance and user experience.

The Outcome

Delivering stable operations, high-velocity delivery and feature ideation. Results are better system performance, improved user experience, and greater engagement rates. This generates strong commercial outcomes for the City.

finalist: Website of the Year category

2023 Mumbrella Publish Awards.

winner: Best Use of Content

2023 Mumbrella Travel Marketing Awards


What’s On is a trusted, hugely popular source of information about events and businesses in downtown Melbourne.

The website and its social media channels are a core part of the City of Melbourne’s strategy to increase visitation and spend by promoting businesses and events in the inner city.

Retail, cultural and hospitality operators within the City of Melbourne are able to create a business listing on the website, and event operators can promote upcoming shows, exhibitions, special events or experiences. What’s On delivers high-profile advertising campaigns and online content through its own channels – it provides this service at no cost to businesses and event operators, with the aim of attracting people to the inner city precinct and boosting economic prosperity.

Attracting over 10 million visits per year, What’s On is the go-to site for Melbourne listings. Latest figures show that year on year, page visits have increased more than 50 percent, with a more than 45 percent increase in the number of users. With about 1.6 million leads per year (up by 56 percent on the previous year) delivered to Melbourne businesses, What’s On makes a positive impact on the local economy.

Taking over the reins

What’s On has been a runaway success for the City of Melbourne. The Destination Marketing business needed to appoint a new partner who could readily come to grips with such a well-used and high profile product. With our expertise in the Ruby on Rails platform, Ackama was ideally placed to partner with the high performing product team, roll up our sleeves, and get to work.

After the disruption of Covid it was a good time for a new provider to take stock and make sense of what was working well for What’s On. It was also a useful opportunity to step back and consider who was using the website, with a view to creating a strategy.

Importantly, we connected CoM’s digital program to its internal teams, bringing everyone on the journey by linking the objectives and relevance of this major website to the organisation’s overall purpose.

Our first task was to engage in a technical and platforms review. We established reliability, security, and performance benchmarks.

Then we uplifted the AWS platforms to our best practices, and evaluated scalability and disaster recovery needs. We optimised costs of the infrastructure through this process.

Having established that What’s On was stable and technically sound, we moved on to the product manager’s goals which were to take a fresh look at what users of the site experienced, and what they wanted. As it is the community that provides the value of What’s On, we worked on building a fresh strategy oriented to them.

“It’s a long term relationship where we continue to support the What’s On platform and create improvements over time. It’s about becoming part of the City of Melbourne team to help them continue to build and grow.” Sam Nickson, Ackama Senior Product Manager



Ackama thoroughly researched What’s On’s organisational structure, which provided a robust foundation from which to start exploring potential new features. Ackama created a backlog of work to understand what might need to be changed or integrated, which has been delivered in fortnightly sprint cycles. This agile, iterative approach also enabled internal regular showcases. Showcases have been a great means to align with the wider organisation and share the digital product practice at What’s On Melbourne. These calls are open to all and canvass recent work delivered and discussion of our work, and explanation of the planning we are undergoing.

“The investment in research is incredibly important for Ackama,” says Sam Nickson. “And that means continued research, not just doing a one-off discovery upfront – conducting continual discovery cycles to understand the different ways What’s On is used is critical for a digital product like this, which is so well-loved and widely used.”

“It’s exciting to be working on a product and to be able to shape it and for it to continue to grow in a really good direction. Also having the time and space to do meaty feature ideation based off of the really good understanding we have of the users from research, analytics and data – and implementing those features and seeing how they perform – is a really nice experience.”

Suzanne Conkas, Ackama Principal Designer

Adaptability is key

Being a ratepayer-funded organisation, the City of Melbourne needs to run on a tight budget – this has meant the decisions Ackama has made about changes and new technologies have been carefully considered while empowering the decision makers to have the best information to set priorities. “We have very open conversations with the City of Melbourne about the usage and cost, and where the best use of funds is in terms of making investments into certain areas,” says Sam Nickson.

Ackama helps clients engage and understand tradeoffs, and our technical experts work alongside business managers to make good decisions and provide great outcomes with value for money.

“All of our backend is Ackama, so we really do work as if they’re part of the City of Melbourne team. It’s been great for both of us to get an intimate knowledge of how each other works. The approach that Ackama takes is that we’re partners in every sense of the word – that partnership has been growing from strength to strength.” Gabrielle Oldaker, Destination Marketing Senior Manager, City of Melbourne
What we’ve achieved for What’s On
Working in close partnership with the City of Melbourne internal team, Ackama is delivering stable, ongoing support and feature ideation that has resulted in better system performance, improved user experience, and greater engagement rates.

Ackama is helping CoM create better metrics to gauge whether customers’ needs and expectations are being met – having heard their voice we now have the information we need to act on their feedback.

We are delivering value – ultimately What’s On serves the business community, so we are focused on providing the best value possible to allow our client to amplify local businesses and boost the economy.

What’s On is a hugely successful website that is continuing to grow at pace. In serving local ratepayers and businesses, it has been – and continues to be – a crucial part of the effort to revitalise downtown Melbourne following the devastation wrought on local businesses by Covid.

Its enormous popularity and effective delivery of its strategic goals have been recognised by the wider publishing industry in Australia – the City of Melbourne and Ackama have been nominated for What’s On as a finalist in the Website of the Year category in the 2023 Mumbrella Publish Awards.

By all measures, What’s On is a massive success story – Ackama is proud to be a vital part of that story and we are looking forward to future growth.


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