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DT:TV Case Studies

AmbITion – Getting Digital

If you’ve read my blog a few times, then you’ll know that I am partial to sharing statistics  that reflect the impact of digital technology! The latest to report show that people have changed the way that they behave – statistics proving increasing interaction, creation and participation via the web:
•    2.7 bn searches were made on Google this month.
•    If Myspace were a country, it would be the eighth largest on the earth.
•    6 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute

The next stats show that we are living in exponential times. Distribution and commercial opportunities have changed dramatically:
•    The first text message was sent in 1992. Today, the number of SMS messages sent daily exceed in number the population of the planet.
•    Ebay’s 2006 revenue was $6bn – it was founded in 1996.
•    3000 books are published daily, in some digital form.
The opportunities presented by digital technologies for business, organisational, audience and artistic development are substantial, and will only increase in the future.

Growing and retaining audiences remains key to the health of our sector, and the wider competitive environment demands that the arts sector embraces new paths to audience or lose market share to other sectors. E.g.:
•    24/7 leisure options, the boom in the use of the internet for entertainment and information;
•    increased penetration of visual media via personal digital devices such as MP3 Players and mobile phones – in 1992, there were 1million internet enabled devices globally, now there are 600 million; and
•    the music industry, that understands individual eclectic tastes, and is beginning to produce business models that understand the notion of the Long Tail .

These other sectors have recognised and responded to some specific challenges and opportunities that have emerged from the technology revolution. It is critical that the cultural sector not only keeps up with these developments but can develop its own exemplars and best practice.

It is this future opportunity that my main project, AmbITion, has identified as one that the cultural sector is ready to embrace, but is not always – or across the board – willing and able to embrace. Through the previous research of Arts Magnet (reported in Arts Professional Issue 122) and through the testing phase of AmbITion, we have discovered that:
•    the technology base of arts organisations is incredibly low;
•    most arts organisations have made some digital developments, but they are piecemeal and not strategically connected or centrally embedded;
•    most arts organisations seek funding to develop digital content around their art form, but the audience development opportunities of this can not be maximised due to the low technology base; and
•    most arts organisations do not have a clear idea of what the appropriate assets are to digitise, nor how to set up contracts to allow/maximise digitisation.
•    basic operational software is increasingly required in order to conduct business, and should be justified as a cost of doing business. Knowledge management technologies, and other advanced systems, are justified if they reduce expense, improve productivity or enhance value.

AmbITion’s vision, then, is to generate a critical mass of arts organisations that proactively consider digital development as key to their business, organisational and artistic growth and sustainability.

The AmbITion model provides direct financial support for 7 organisations through ACE’s Organisational Development Thrive! programme. These share a diagnostic consultancy model with a further 8 organisations requesting funding support from ACE’s Grants for the Arts Fund. The diagnostic consultancy leads each organisation to develop a business case – for investment in integrated technology. The funding will enable the organisations to develop digitally across their business, operational and artistic functions. All the 15 AmbITion organisations (representing all art forms, operational models and sizes) will become “beacons” for the successful adoption of integrated digital technology in the sector. Their progress throughout the project will be monitored and evaluated, and we will widely disseminate their journeys, stories and case studies. This activity will be supported by an online knowledge base, a training and networking programme, and advocacy and leadership development around digital issues, achieved by a national roving roadshow.

To give you an idea of the sort of impact we can expect from AmbITion, here is the beginning of the story of AmbITion participant, Oldham Coliseum. 3 years ago, Oldham Coliseum had a single email address, and only a handful of computers, none of which were networked. Some investment prior to AmbITion had given them a server based network with internet for all, but there was still some concern that they weren’t using their systems well enough.

Under the guidance of their chief executive Liz Wilson, and artistic director Brian Clarke, ICT had been put to the top of their priority list, with AmbITion being a key driver for this. A meeting was held where all of staff met together and then broke up to talk about 4 separate themes: back office systems, e-marketing, digital technology in performance, and digital technology to help production.

Several key “cross cutting themes” came out of this initial meeting: namely, the need for a proper technology plan for the organisation; better sharing of resources across departments; and the need for a full technology audit to address immediate issues.

So, even as the AmbITion business case was being developed, Oldham Coliseum was engaging with how they use ICT across all aspects of their organisation. Since the technology audit, a digital development business case has been constructed, and the following has taken place internally:

•    a new supplier for technology services has been put in place and PCs and the network have been upgraded
•    a new administrator has been appointed – and the job title has been reworked to include ICT in the job description
•    a plan for the development of an exciting collaborative artistic digital endeavour with their young people’s theatre is programmed, to take place in 2009 after all the new digital technology and skills are embedded across the organization over 2008
•    Oldham Coliseum are speaking with their web developer about developing an intranet to improve communication across the building.
•    Oldham Coliseum have identified the need for a robust and ongoing technology strategy – and will be undertaking this in the next few months.

Liz Wilson wrote to AmbITion a few months ago to reflect on progress: “Just so that you know we have upgraded every computer…it has really made a difference…created a wireless environment in the bars, education studio, rehearsal room and green room and are in the process of purchasing a multi-media machine with peripherals for everyone to use.”

I believe that the AmbITion methodology will continue to breed successful digital development implementation and integration, and I look forward to sharing more of the stories, as well as presenting more thought and debate around the key issues of digital development.