Office 365 and ‘Peggy’ keep The Australian Ballet on its toes

As the one of Australia’s major arts companies, The Australian Ballet’s vision of expanding its Company, attracting new audiences and creating new productions, has lead the IT department to look at ways the company could be more productive, more collaborative and more mobile. IT Manager Damien Calvert has been with the The Australian Ballet for the past nine years and we spoke to him about this evolution and recent introduction of Office 365.

Tell us about The Australian Ballet and its particular needs from an IT point of view.

We are one of the bigger arts companies in Australia with about 300 employees. Our headquarters are in Melbourne, but as we are a touring arts company we spend a lot of time on the road. At the moment we have around half our workforce in the Sydney Opera House doing a season of shows up there. We really wanted to find a solution to cope with the problem of having people in different places and connect the different parts of our organisation. We were looking for a modern intranet, and Microsoft SharePoint was a good fit. We made the decision to go to Office 365 as Microsoft offers great benefits to Non Profits and we saw the potential of the platform.

How did you manage things in the past?

We were very traditional in the systems we used. We have a bunch of file servers broken up by department, so it was challenging to collaborate between departments. It resulted in a lot of data duplication and a lot of information being shared via email and kept in people’s in-boxes. We had a fairly basic intranet which was static and uninspiring. There was also the issue that the dancers and orchestra members had to be emailed information to their personal email addresses. They had limited access to the intranet and there wasn’t a compelling reason for them to use it.

How long have you been on Office 365 and what has the change been like?

We’ve been live for a little over a month using Office 365 and our new SharePoint intranet site. The feedback is already incredibly positive. People are liking that they can find information when they search for it – we didn’t have search last time – and they are seeing the potential for the document collaboration and the document sharing. We’re still in the process of on-boarding the dancers and the orchestra members with their own corporate emails accounts.

How are you using SharePoint?

The site’s nicknamed Peggy, after [Dame Margaret] ‘Peggy’ van Praagh, the company’s founding Artistic Director. One of the key pieces of Peggy is the productions and seasons pages because a lot of the working materials are focused around a season or a production. With the current season at the Sydney Opera House, there’s a lot of information around casting, scheduling and anything that it takes to put the performance on that night – rosters, ticketing information. So we designed it so that each season, or each production, has its own section where we can put all the information in the one place. We’ve also built a venue library with all the information about each venue we perform in, so all information is in the one place. A central calendar was the other big thing. We’ve currently got about nine calendars with about 30 categories and once we started nutting that out I think we were all a bit surprised about just how much calendar information we had.

Is there mobile access to the intranet?

Yes, a key criteria was to have a mobile friendly interface. We really want to give people access to these core business tools on any device of their choice. We’re also introducing the ability for the dancers to book a physio appointment through the site and want to continue to evolve the mobile experience to offer much more. This is where the LiveTiles product has worked well. We’ve been able to create those finger friendly pages that will work on a small screen device.

You mentioned LiveTiles?

We went to market looking for a SharePoint partner that really knew the product, and Rhipe impressed us because of its LiveTiles offering. By putting a tool like LiveTiles on top of SharePoint it just puts the icing on the cake. We saw how easy it was to create the pages, the speed of how we could create and change things on demand, as we continued development.

What did you previously use for video?

Video was a big challenge. We had a small video serving appliance which dancers could access with a smartphone app but they could only do that when they were inside the building. Other staff were putting copies of the video footage on their computers or taking DVDs around so it was less than ideal because the dancers didn’t have the flexibility to watch it when they wanted to watch it on their device of choice and it’s important we meet our copyright requirements.

Does Office 365 Video give you access and control?

Correct.  We can control who is seeing it and do our best to ensure that it’s not able to be shared beyond who needs to see it. We can now give the right people the flexibility to watch it how and when they want to watch it.

What are rehearsal videos used for?

The primary purpose is when we are putting on a new ballet or when we have a lot of dancers who have never seen or done that ballet, so it’s basically a learning tool. They will watch videos and go through the steps outside the classes to help them learn the repertoire better. With new works it’s also a good record of what was created. There is the potential for a coach to use it for training also.

Where do you see yourself going with Office 365 in the future?

I think there’s a huge potential with the Office 365 platform. We are starting to look into things like Power BI as analytics is of great interest to the business. A lot of our daily reports have to be manually collected and put into Excel sheets, so I think the Power BI tool is very exciting in how it visualizes the data and allows people to interact with it.

Getting the dancers and orchestra members onboard with their own corporate identities is going to be a huge win because that will help us in the way we communicate with each other.

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