From a whisper to a roar

From a whisper to a roar

By Christine Gill

When Jodi Glass stepped into the CEO shoes at the Adelaide Fringe, she had to find a better way to manage her limited resources. Christine Gill goes behind the scenes to meet two companies who stepped in to help her.

It began in the 1960s when a group of independent artists who were not invited to participate in the Adelaide Festival decided to hold their own event. Since then, the Adelaide Fringe has grown to mega proportions. Outstripping the Adelaide Festival in terms of volume, the biennial Fringe festival has come a long way since the hippy days of its radical birth.

In 1975, the Fringe became an incorporated association and almost 30 years later, the festival is contributing in excess of $15.6 million to the state's economy: "We do a hell a lot of preparation for the event," says Jodi Glass, General Manager & CEO, Adelaide Fringe Inc. "For example, we have been busy developing our online registration system."

Formerly an associate producer of an Australian touring company, Glass was originally on loan to the festival to manage the 2000 event after the former CEO resigned. Seizing an opportunity to manage her own large scale event, she decided to stay on at the Fringe and was officially appointed to her present role for the 2002 and 2004 festivals.

But managing large scale public events is both time scarce and information critical. The Fringe employs just four people in the off year and 200 people during its peak season. It also publishes 450,000 official guides and drives advertising, promotion and sponsorship initiatives. On top of that, it manages over 4,000 local and international artists: "Artists provide us with all the details about their event and what kinds of resources they need such as lighting, sound, staging and technical resources. As part of our service, we help them to find a venue, sell tickets on their behalf, sort out visas for international artists, and get them through the landfill of trying to get permission from Councils and Australian Performing Rights Association," says Glass.

When it was last held in 2002, over 858,550 people crammed in to the city of churches to watch the Adelaide Fringe events and about 7.8 million people had logged on to the Fringe website. The organisers are expecting an even bigger volume in 2004.

But with the 2004 Fringe looming, Glass urgently needed to find a better way to manage her limited resources. What she needed was to find an online system that would make the festival more accessible to artists and visitors wherever they were based around the world.

Timing is everything

Help came in the form of two companies: 3DResourcing and Internode. Sydney based 3DResourcing is building the customised online solution and Adelaide based Internet Service Provider Internode, is hosting the site: "Our design brief was to try to minimise the number of actions the Fringe staff would have to do off-line and to try and maximise the amount of assistance that would be given to them by the new system," says Derek Lavine, Founder and CEO at 3DResourcing.

"The Fringe is a pretty 'out there' kind of festival. There are so many different types of acts and different types of venues to handle so our approach in some sense was minimalistic. We didn't want to get carried away with features that were not needed."

Lavine explains the technology: "In order to meet the time and budget constraints of the Adelaide Fringe we employed a hybrid methodology based on the XP (eXtreme Programming) development approach. We discussed the needs of FERS with the Fringe and broke these needs into small "Customer Stories" which were used to drive development. This enabled us to keep the Fringe completely in the loop, making it possible for the Fringe to change direction and include new, or change existing, stories without much disruption to the big picture."

"An agile, organic approach was absolutely vital, as any project of the size and complexity of the Adelaide Fringe is bound to undergo change during its life cycle - both pre- and post-initial deployment," says 3D Resourcing's co-Founder and COO, Ian Pridham.

"The platform we picked was based on the need for smooth integration of web, non-web and database technologies. In addition we had to produce flexible, quality software in a short time frame - it goes without saying that object-oriented techniques were employed wherever possible. We utilized a combination of Microsoft .NET products (primarily C# and SQL Server), " adds Lavine.

A ticket to ride

FERS is the first part of the 2004 solution that 3D Resourcing are developing for the Adelaide Fringe. The other components are FringeTIX (in use since 2000), FringeSHOP (in use since 2002) and FringeHELM [see breakout box].

Part of FringeTIX is a sophisticated search engine that allows consumers to browse for information on Fringe events, including events in the Youth & Education Program (YEP). Teachers can search the Fringe website for YEP shows and then contact the Fringe to arrange for the YEP artists to tour to their school: "It suddenly means that the Fringe is much more accessible. It also means less time is spent on fixing data entry errors because whatever the artists put in to the website, that's what is published - and if there are any mistakes it's the responsibility of the artist," says Glass.

"Registration used to take days but it can now be done in half an hour. So it means data integrity and efficiency of provision of information. For staff, it means we've now got an online database that anyone can access if they need to find contact numbers, when an artists is intending to come to the Fringe and what help they need from us.

"One of the beauties of FringeTIX is because it's an online system, we can set up box offices wherever we like, it means that our phone room can be wherever it needs to be, and artists and audiences can access the website from wherever they are located and buy tickets. It means it is a much more dynamic system and much more responsive to the needs of the Fringe," says Glass.

"The Fringe has seriously clever technology to support both artists and festival visitors," adds Simon Hackett.

As the founder and CEO of Internode, Hackett came to the Fringe's rescue in the form of its major sponsor for the 2004 Fringe. Internode's sponsorship role continues a long commitment to supporting the arts - a personal passion for Hackett who has also sat as a board member of the Fringe for several years.

Internode is also helping the Fringe with its connectivity, whereby, all Fringe servers are hosted in the Internode Data Centre in Adelaide, ensuring the new system will be secure, reliable and fast: "Access is the key to the success of both Internode and the Fringe, so it's our mutual advantage to work together like this," says Hackett.

Once completed, the Fringe will have a single platform that includes a website, an online artist registration system, FERS (Fringe Event Registration System), FringeSHOP, an online Fringe merchandise sales system and FringeTix, an online ticketing system - and, it all has to be ready by November when merchandise goes on sale in anticipation of Janaury when tickets will go on sale for the 2004 Fringe.

But for Lavine, it is the short time scale that will be the most challenging: "You can't be late. When it's being advertised on TV and everything is going live, you can't be late. It is better if you slip requirements than time frames under those circumstances."

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