ENO is ‘the national opera house for everyone’. Its performances, sung in English, help to break down language barriers and ‘create new experiences with opera that inspire’. Championing inclusivity, the English National Opera defies traditional expectations for guests to wear formal attire, instead opening its doors to one and all. ENO has built an innovative model fit for the modern era. But its operations systems were stuck in the past.
Like any opera house, ENO is challenged with extremely complex logistics: From managing staff working hours, to meticulously documenting and storing props and costumes; planning performance runs for the coming years, to shipping rented operas overseas.
Managing complex logistics with manual legacy processes
Staff juggle a stream of continuously evolving information affecting each element of production every day. Incredibly, says ENO’s Katie Haynes, it has all been managed using a master Excel spreadsheet called ‘The Cards’, or on paper records pinned to boards in each department.
“It is an awful lot of manual checking things, and every time we announce a season, I have to sit at my computer, check the database and make sure all of the details are correct. Everyone carries around their own version of The Cards, printed off, and when something changes everyone has to change the information in their own documents. The possibility of human error, because we are all only human, is incredibly high and if something is wrong it could be really bad.”
Driven by a clear need to centralise, improve accessibility of information and modernise operations, ENO entered a tender process to find a technology partner, which concluded in 2020 with the selection of Booker25.
“Ultimately, Booker25 offered greater capacity to customise and run with our ideas,” says Katie. "As an opera company, we have very specific, not particularly mainstream requirements of how we want to manipulate and handle bookings. And Booker25 has been really receptive to that.”
A single source of truth and simple digital management system
As a result, ENO and Booker25 have partnered to create a completely tailored system capable of rationalising the many bookings and intricate details shared from one department, production or run to the next. Custom functionality has been developed to address ENO’s specific needs. This includes creating a ‘ghost’ function that allows draft schedules to be created before pushing live, enhancing planning capabilities; and a QR code system to track and group all costume items with their rightful performer and performance ensuring continuity and saving precious time. ENO now has 6 separate calendar views that can all be overlayed, customised and manipulated as appropriate by anyone assigned permission. This is providing visibility that ENO has never experienced before. Every single detail of a performance now exists in one space. Show Bibles, that provide each department with their unique requirements for each show can now be accessed centrally providing a more joined-up working experience. In an industry steeped in history, the ability to look backwards at the details is essential.
“We now have an everlasting record of who wore what and in what performance. In this industry it’s really important to know. We can say that ‘this item of clothing was worn by this person 30 years ago’. It also allows us to record former measurements. Previously it was very painful to do that for every performance every week but now it’s very nicely handled in the system.”
For the first time, a new Performers Calendar offers ENO a comprehensive view over what performers are doing and where. Each individual performer’s activity and requirements, from legal obligations to allergies is logged, providing swift visibility over availability and ensuring work regulations are followed. Calendar views have also been created for performance spaces, opera rentals, staff, performance runs and, of course, The Cards, providing a complete overview. ENO and Booker25 worked to build a near exact digital replica of The Cards, allowing anyone with an iPad or smartphone to access the most up-to-date version while on the move - essential in a theatre setting. Importantly, ENO now has a single source of truth for all of its planning, reducing the possibility of human error significantly.The functionality comes at the toughest of times for the Arts sector, with COVID restrictions severely hampering access to performances. But Katie advises that the technology is needed more now than ever.
“Historically we would plan production runs years in advance and everything was very set, we knew our budgets and there wasn’t loads of ground movement. But with COVID, I was having to send The Cards out weekly because of the constantly shifting plans.”
Changing regulations and audience numbers
The changing regulations around audience numbers and safety precautions meant that performances had been replaced with recordings or commercials that could safely use the space within COVID regulations. Booker25 meant that ENO could be agile in response and plan ahead with greater ease. As a Salesforce integration, Booker25 provides detailed reports to support onward planning and budgeting. One feature providing ENO with significant impact on budget is the staff calendar.
“Historically we could never say these are the hours we're working on a show, we just didn't have that ability. We couldn't record what shows staff were working on, which meant that when it came to our budget we were always working on an educated guess. Whereas now we have a very accurate report that says exactly how many hours were spent on that show and we can make small changes that make quite a big financial difference.”
These kinds of budget savings have never been more important than during these times of uncertainty in the Arts. Booker25 continues to work with ENO, evolving the system to meet changing requirements as they navigate COVID challenges, helping ENO to continue to innovate and bring opera to the masses.