Every festival will have some type of system in place to manage their event, whether it is the back of an envelope, or an advanced project management program. And while your current system will get you through – it’s what you know after all – sometimes it can be worthwhile to take a quick look at the other options. I’ve been working with festivals for over ten years, helping them develop ways to make their lives easier, so here are my three key points of what to look for.
Local or Online – What’s right for my event?
Let’s assume that we’re too big to be running things on the back of the envelope and that some sort of software is required. Your first decision is the scope of the software – who can use it and where? A local option is one that is installed on the office computers, and generally licensed on a machine-by-machine basis. Solutions range from Excel through to sophisticated event management software, such as that provided by Artifax. The downsides of going local are when your team doesn’t all work in the office or when you’re onsite and need to check what’s been agreed on a system that’s sitting back in the office. Local also prevents third parties (artist management, volunteers, etc) inputting their details directly into the system, so everything that comes in has to be typed-in by someone on your team. The upside is that you are in control of your data and, provided that there are regular back-ups, that information should be safe.
The alternative route is to go “into the cloud” with an online solution. Online means that you’re not tied to a machine (or an office), rather if there’s Internet and a web browser you’re sorted. Google Docs and Basecamp are two examples of generic online solutions. Problems can arise when the infrastructure isn’t in place to ensure 24/7 access, and there will always be concerns about hacking and data loss. You’re putting your business into their hands, so it better be rock-solid.
Collaborating – Can’t we all just work together?
Most online options, and the more expensive local ones, enable collaboration; several people working together on the same task. Anyone who has tried to share a master Excel document knows that it only takes one forgetful moment before chaos reigns – multiple versions of the same document floating around, people referring to outdated copies and a constant fear of overwriting someone else’s changes. A priority for any system must be to make our job easier – putting on a festival is a hard enough task without having to deal with software induced incompetence.
Specialisation – The more generic the tool is, the less useful* it will be.
Specialisation generally brings better, more productive tools. You can fix a computer with a sledgehammer, but sometimes it’s more effective** to use a torque t6 screwdriver and some heat resistant paste. Specialisation for our software shouldn’t just mean that there’s a set place to enter riders, or guest lists; it should also bring a sense of thoughtfulness to the content the system holds. Excel is good; I can create a set of spreadsheets for my entire festival, but will it email Accounts when deposits are due? Does it provide the facility for performers to upload their tech specs? Will it support users when they make changes that will impact others (like a last minute stage change)? Finding a specialist system that stores the right details is only half the battle, getting one that thinks intelligently about the information it contains should be the Holy Grail.
* gaffer tape is the obvious exception to this rule
** although not as satisfying
The Ideal World
There is no solution that’s perfect for everyone – even if you commission a tailor-made system for your event, you’ll just be at the beginning of an unending stream of changes and improvements as your company and event evolves, which is both expensive and time consuming. In a market that is increasingly competitive, finding those tools that give you the space to concentrate on what makes your event successful has to be the priority. I believe that online, collaborative and very specialised is the ultimate path, but then I’m biased.
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