Switching to a new ticketing system requires a lot of meticulous planning and the actual switchover day is very very tense, warns Harvinder Singh.
Monday 19 August 2013 is firmly etched in my memory. It was the date on which Performances Birmingham Limited (PBL), the registered charity that runs Birmingham's Town Hall and Symphony Hall, went live with a new ticketing system. Changing systems is a testing time, but to ensure the process ran smoothly we planned meticulously, mitigated risk and communicated as widely as possible.
The contract with our existing ticketing supplier was nearing expiry, and with funding cuts firmly in mind, an organisation-wide working group (subsequently project team) planned what we wanted from a new system. Key to our objectives was the ability to configure events and sell tickets in a variety of ways and without constraints (we sell tickets for single events and long runs, fixed and flexible subscriptions, offsite venues and other Birmingham-based arts organisations). It was equally critical that it should deliver better customer relationship management (CRM) to improve marketing efficiency, return on investment (ROI) and improved business analysis to inform planning decisions. It also needed to integrate a number of previously independent systems including website, finance, fundraising and email.
The implementation involved the data migration of over 600,000 customer records, a million orders and thousands of performances
We were looking for exceptional support and a proven track record in data migration and system availability. The new system also had to comply with our legal, payment card industry (PCI), data protection and Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) requirements. Above all, we needed value for money, accepting that this would not necessarily equate to ‘cheapest’.
We chose Spektrix with its cloud-based technology. This technology, not widely adopted at present, caused some anxiety but research and specialist advice, coupled with its impressive functionality convinced us of its advantages over the traditional hosted service. We then devised a switchover plan, selecting August as the quietest time for box office sales.
The implementation involved the data migration of over 600,000 customer records, a million orders and thousands of performances. New merchant numbers and new agreements with payment gateway providers were required and hardware needed to be updated. Key reports were pre-written in readiness for the switch, online booking links amended, and a communications plan prepared to advise all relevant parties of the process and its implications for them.
Taking advantage of the fully open and documented application programming interface (API), we also decided to take the opportunity to upgrade our website to improve functionality and customer experience, and make the site mobile-responsive. This added more pressure to the project but this was assessed and implemented seamlessly.
Implementation ran smoothly and the project has been a success. We continue to work hard to build on what we have. Some key conclusions in its success are:
- Project team: Forming a project team from across the organisation (box office, marketing, customer intelligence, finance, development and key directors) with an independent project manager from the outset ensured the project did not stall and was delivered on time. The team still meets regularly to review and work on fresh ideas.
- Decision: Factoring in all elements, thinking about when the system is live and not just the implementation. What is on the provider’s roadmap? Does it charge for upgrades? What is the support structure?
- Data migration: For us this was a massive piece of work so we made sure we allocated as much time and resource to this as we could.
- Testing: Involving front-line box office ticket sellers and supervisors early on not only helped during switchover but also with the data checking and set-up required before going live. The marketing team trialled the email tool Dotmailer and revised the initial plan based on the outcome of the testing. Building in time for training is important but sometimes the best way to learn is in real situations.
- Go live: Communication to customers, promoters, staff and partners in advance, and a website holding page during switchover, was well received and minimised disruption.
Harvinder Singh is Box Office Manager for Town Hall and Symphony Hall Birmingham.