Last week I had an interesting conversation with the Head of IT from one of London's arts theatres. They were contemplating the replacement of their ticketing systems, and in our chat it seemed that cloud platforms might offer an interesting alternative approach for them.
My first question was why ticketing wasn't just outsourced entirely to the likes of Ticketmaster? The answer was simple – cost – and reading between the lines I guess that those services are more geared for commercial events (films remade as musicals, Lloyd Webber extravaganzas, and pop gigs) than the low, no or negative margin world of 'proper' theatre.
The system that they had in place was originally developed for the Met in New York, and presumably came out of the old tradition of bespoke development of software that works that is then spun out as a product. The challenge for the London group is that sadly the failure rates for bespoke developments are disturbingly high still, as requirements gathering turns into scope creep turns into delay and ultimately disappointment. Don't get me wrong, this isn't a technology issue – it is a socio-technology issue that is of the people and the way in which they manage and are managed. The added complication for the London initiative is that a number of arts institutions are coming together on this, and the smell of a committee of committees hangs heavy in the air.
So what is the alternative? Well, suppose that rather than setting up a project to deliver a system that meets the requirements of the various stakeholders, the institutions set up a start-up to deliver a product that would appeal to customers?
Yeah, it is a matter of semantics. But an important one. If the institutions were able to provide an amount of seed funding, with a view to selling the eventual service to more organisations in the future, and the basis for decisions throughout the project was on the basis of "will this make the product more successful with customers?" not "how do we balance these conflicting requirements?", there seems to me to be a greater chance of successful delivery (and some chance of greater future reward too).
Cloud platforms offer the ability for this kind of flexible, innovative approach because they take out a whole tranche of the traditional investment required in hardware and core software that would be required to set up such a project in earlier times. Taking entirely new approaches to development decision making gives an exciting new set of opportunities to deliver technology that ultimately provides better support to businesses.