Click to Start – Arts Outcomes for Non-Arts Projects

I read recently that when legendary composer John Philip Sousa first heard Thomas Edison’s new invention, the phonograph, he "recoiled in horror and predicted unemployment and destitution among musicians." 1. It’s a lovely story, and I’ve hunted across the Net, but so far not found any corroboration. This Click to Start column is a quick foray into what I see as a basic issue facing arts organisations and the implementation of technology, and how we should recognise technology as an enabler to improve business processes – and not ‘recoil in horror’.

What I was searching for when I stumbled across the Sousa gem was a list of great technology predictions. Like the ‘paperless office’, or the oldie but goodie – the prediction by the Chairman of IBM in 1943 "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers". In a move which any marketer would have to admire, the IBM marketing department subsequently issued a press release announcing IBM as the worldwide leader in computers, with two computers sold giving them a 40% market share.

There’s been some fabulous predictions made for technology over the years – most methinks have not come true. We’re all familiar with the prophecies of doom in the entertainment industry – cinema will kill theatre, video will kill cinema. Funnily enough, they’re all still with us, long after the highly paid market analysts with apparently unlimited prescience have been superseded.

Technology has had a remarkable impact on art and its creation and production. Whether it’s digital effects in film; lighting a theatre show; or new imagery previously not possible with palette and brush, technology has changed the way many artists work, and made artists of many more.

But this is technology for art, not technology for the management of art. And that’s where I start to get a little hot under the collar, a little frustrated at what I sometimes think is a reticence on the part of some arts organisations to employ technology in their businesses.

My word for the week is ‘enabler’, technology is an ‘enabler’. It ‘enables’ us to do things – bigger, faster, better – but it doesn’t solve problems. And unless we know how to use it, technology just adds to our administrative burdens.

What technology has achieved is to provide us with a new set of tools to tackle our existing workplace tasks. We still communicate with people, we still write to people, we still plan projects, we still produce reports. And technology, when inserted into the workplace process, has given us tools to improve efficiency and effectiveness, albeit drastically increasing the amount of paper we consume – goodbye paperless office!

The average arts organisation uses technology in a myriad of ways – databases to manage mailing lists; email to communicate; CAD (computer aided design) software to design theatre sets; web sites to promote events.

What bothers me though is that this is a shallow approach to technology – it’s about continuing to do things the same old way, with the same old management approach, and ignores technology’s ability to refashion our approach.

"Rapid developments in information and communication technology have brought major improvements to the way we learn, communicate, obtain information, purchase products and services and conduct business. The emergence of the Internet, information technologies and global communications networks has provided critical business tools which have improved business processes, increased business efficiencies and provided viable business advantages over competitors." 2

Re-engineering an arts organisation to ‘enable’ it with technology requires a systematic and systemic approach. It requires examining the routines of the organisation, and considering how technology could effect change. Implementing technology can reduce the number of steps in a business routine, it can automate functions that were once manual. 3

"Effective implementation and use of ICT can substantially increase productivity and provide benefits in terms of organisational transformation." 4

At The Dramatic Group we’ve recently been working with Regional Arts Victoria on a technology project, funded by OZeCulture. RAV is a great case study in technology implementation, and their Director, Peter Matthews, and I recently presented a little of the story at the OZeCulture Conference in Brisbane.

RAV is a major Victorian arts organisation. Originally established in 1969, it has a turnover of $2-3million, 12 full time staff plus it hires up to 50 artists or groups per annum, and boasts a community based membership of approximately 80 local arts groups around the State.

In 1998 RAV had hopeless information technology gear and attitude – a few old PCs, no network, as many printers as computers, and no technology plan at all. In 2003 RAV boasts a strong IT culture, endorsed by the Board, an annual program to audit and upgrade hardware and software, ongoing staff training and an image as an IT leader through a number of projects.

At OZeCulture we highlighted a particular project – the online enablement of RAV’s ‘arts2go’ program – a schools performing arts touring program which sees 80,000 children attending 700 performances in 500 schools each year.

arts2go is incredibly labour intensive – like any touring program. There is a substantial amount of constant communication between teachers, performers, venues and RAV via paper and facsimile.

If you map the workflow of a booking it goes something like this:

Some tasks are expensive, others labour intensive. RAV prints thousands of glossy brochures detailing the program and sends them off to the teachers. The teachers look through the offerings, and fill out a booking form to request some events on various preferred dates – without any knowledge about whether a particular event will actually be available in their area on those dates.

They mail the form back to RAV, who then transcribe the data onto the in-house management database. RAV sends a confirmation of receipt, and then sets about the task of patching together the tour itineraries, and liaising with the teachers, venues and performers. In the meantime RAV mails out teachers’ notes kits to all the teachers who have booked each event – a few trees going by the wayside.

Once the itineraries are locked away, RAV then sends out more confirmations to the teachers and performers – which have to be constantly updated and reissued as the tours evolve and change.

Once the show has actually occurred, RAV then mails out a box office and market rsearch form for the teachers to complete – one form for each booking of each show of each tour. The teachers complete the forms and send them back – and RAV enters the data to the database. Finally an invoice request is made to the accountant who then bills the schools – one for each school for each event of each tour.

As part of our work with RAV we created a web interface to the management database, with a long term intent of subverting the labour, and cost intensive, parts of the process:

Using the web interface, teachers can log into the RAV web site and:

  • View tour itineraries based on school location
  • View full details of shows
  • Submit booking request
  • Track progress of booking request
  • View confirmed details
  • Download teachers notes
  • Submit post performance report

    Performers can:

  • Express interest in participating
  • View tour itinerary and booking status

    All of this happens automatically – and while the glossy brochures are here to stay for a while, and will probably continue to exist at least in summary form, their bulk and thus cost to produce will reduce over time as more teachers use the web interface to research the details of the events they are interested in booking.

    We’ve almost completely removed the need for RAV to re-enter the data which the teachers were entering on the booking form, and the post show reports. Teachers have access to accurate, current information at all times. For example, before submitting a booking request they can check if a particular event will be in their school’s region on their preferred dates. And they can check the status of a booking 24 hours a day – as can the performers view their itineraries even when they’re ‘on the road’.

    Our ultimate goal is to transfer the show reports automatically to the accounting system for the invoices to be created and dispatched.

    The system only went live a few weeks ago, but so far the feedback from the teachers using it has been extremely positive. There have been plenty of kinks to iron out, but as RAV moves towards planning and launching the arts2go program for 2004, the web interface is being refined and tweaked, and will be available to every teacher for next year.

    A report by the National Office for the Information Economy, ‘Productivity and Organisational Transformation: optimising investment in ICT’, which provides a number of case studies of technology implementation, found that:

    "Organisations can substantially increase their productivity through the effective implementation and use of ICT. While organisations in the study regularly achieved productivity increases of five per cent or more, the strategies and organisational forms they adopted were not overly technical or complex."

    RAV will make real savings from implementing a technology solution for the arts2go booking system, and whilst there is no formal costing available yet of the savings Peter Matthews, RAV’s Director, made the important observation during our OZeCulture presentation that if the system can save $10,000 a year, that’s enough to commission a new schools show – a pretty important, and concrete, outcome.

    And the benefits are not just internal – the web interface is delivering customer service hitherto not possible, and empowering teachers, performers and RAV’s other stakeholders to take control of their own information, in their own time, in their own place, as opposed to relying completely on RAV.

    The NOIE report’s executive summary makes the important point:

    "This report makes clear the fact that ICT is only an enabler – a necessary but not sufficient condition for productivity growth and transformational improvement. Unless firms and organisations also have the appropriate policies and supportive environments in place these outcomes they will not necessarily occur. The key is getting the business processes and strategy right. Then the ICT might be simple or complex, and the investment small or large, but the payoff will be there."

    The arts2go web interface, and the broader technology project we have undertaken with Regional Arts Victoria, will be a success in the long term because RAV has become an IT business. There is Board commitment at the top, a willingness by management to make decisions, and an enthusiasm amongst the staff to explore new ways of approaching traditional tasks. And the resultant savings can be used to employ more artists for more shows in more schools. A pretty good ‘arts’ outcome for a ‘non-arts’ project.

  • Click to Start – Twenty Years of Shooting Ourselves in the Foot

    At the heart of the arts is communication – telling stories,
    sharing experiences, exposing culture, exchanging ideas. And at the heart of
    communication is the technological infrastructure which enables us to interact
    when we’re separated by more than a city block. What a pity Australia has spent
    twenty years deliberately inhibiting our ability to communicate – and create.

    Last month Telstra relaunched its Internet business, BigPond. You can’t help but be swamped with
    a multitude of multi-media advertisements, from trams to trains to buses and
    the television. BigPond has a sexy new image, and a supermarket-like
    distribution with major retail chains such as Harvey Normal stocking easy to
    install home ADSL broadband internet starter kits. It all looks fabulous, is a
    triumph of marketing and branding, and conveniently ignores the $100 million
    Telstra ploughed into its disastrous ‘telstra.com’ all-singing, all-dancing,
    one-stop, where-else-would-you-possibly-go web site.

    Named internally ‘Project George’ the new launch is all
    about Telstra attempting to re-gain momentum in the broadband internet access
    market, in the face of increased pressure from dozens of smaller players, many
    of whom actually re-sell Telstra broadband – but costing Telstra money because
    it makes less from wholesaling broadband than retailing it.

    In a quote which takes the breath away, Telstra’s broadband
    manager, Justin Milne, was quoted in the Australia newspaper as
    saying “We think we’re re-creating the good old
    days when things were really booming
    ".  I think he means when
    things were really booming for Telstra, and, given its ability to extract the
    maximum amount of cash from our pockets, as evidenced by its quite remarkable
    profits, on that basis I’m not sure I want to return to that golden age.

    More interesting is, in the same report, the news that “excess
    downloads account for 10 to 20 per cent of revenue, which are incurred by less
    than 6 per cent of users
    .” Telstra ‘caps’ a customer’s usage of the
    Internet, based on the amount of data you download or upload. Once you exceed
    the cap, you pay by the megabyte. This has led to a raft of well-publicised
    incidences of home internet customers signing on for $60 or $70 a month access
    plans, then being hit with bills of thousands of dollars. Mostly this can be
    attributed to file sharing networks like Kazaa,
    where you setup your PC to share music and other files with users across the
    Internet.

    File sharing all seems very caring and sharing, until you
    discover that, as long as your computer is turned on and connected to the
    Internet, anyone in the world could be downloading files from your PC. Multiply
    that by the number of people registered to the file sharing networks (Kazaa
    claims 230 million users) and the potential number of people accessing your
    computer is truly scary – they can all download your files, and that translates
    to serious data moving up and down your broadband connection.

    The maths are easy. A MP3 music song file is normally around
    3 megabytes (give or take). If you are on the basic Telstra broadband plan with
    a 500meg monthly cap, it only needs 5 people to download a file each day and
    you are over the limit – and there’s 230 million Kazaa users alone clamouring
    to do just that.

    So why all this focus on data charges? Well, it’s been
    mooted that this is a contributing factor to the slow pace of broadband
    internet connection uptake in Australia.

    There’s something of a perception out there Australians are
    fast adopters of technology. True, it seems, if you examine history. But for such
    a ‘switched on’ country, it may come as a surprise to find that the body
    charged with promoting competition, the ACCC, has
    found
    :

    “The OECD ranks Australia
    19th in terms of the number of broadband users per 100 inhabitants. NOIE data
    also shows low levels of household broadband take-up comparative to other
    developed countries – only 5% of Australian home internet connections are via
    broadband, much lower than Hong Kong (52%), Singapore (25%), the US (19%) and
    France (13%).”

    And thank heavens for the ACCC because otherwise we might
    not even have made it that far to start with. It took major action by the
    watchdog in 2001 to force Telstra’s hand on broadband pricing, with Chairman Fels
    and his merry band of consumer champions threatening
    Telstra with fines of millions of dollars
    if Telstra didn’t open up its
    network and enable other retailers to access wholesale ADSL connections.

    Hard on the heels of the BigPond relaunch came Telstra
    executives giving evidence at a Senate Committee meeting, saying that they
    have halted the roll out of ADSL to telephone exchanges, and that Telstra will
    now only add new exchanges if they become ‘commercially viable’”.

    Senator Kate Lundy, Shadow Minister for Arts and Information
    Technology, and new Arts Hub columnist, wasn’t impressed:

    "In the context of
    eventually achieving universal broadband we are so far from that … it is a
    lot worse than I thought."

    What exactly constitutes ‘commercially viable’ is something
    Telstra won’t say – which makes life a little hard for all those people who’d
    love to take up the offer of fantastically fast internet promised in the
    BigPond advertising, but who are being told it’s not available in their area.

    It’s easy to understand why Telstra loves broadband,
    providing it’s on their terms. The broadband web site Whirlpool says Telstra’s “average
    revenue from a broadband customer is 3.5 times the revenue from a dialup
    customer
    .”

    So, despite the fact we techno-loving Australians lag behind
    the vast majority of the developed world in broadband adoption (the Government’s own figures have us dead last in their regular survey), commercial viability has struck, or at least,
    commercial viability as determined by the monopoly telecommunications provider,
    which not only controls the telephone lines; almost all the broadband provision
    technology; but which also controls the content as well, with its mega-millions deals
    with various sporting codes, and its 50% ownership of Foxtel, the ‘broadband’ television
    broadcaster – the other 50% of course being owned by those other ‘men of the
    people’, Mr Packer and Mr Murdoch.

    It’s easy to bash Telstra, it’s a national sport, and, in my
    more dreamy moments I almost feel some sympathy for them, but then I snap to my
    senses and realise that Telstra’s just doing its job like any other corporation
    – making money for its shareholders. Except I’m a shareholder – because despite
    the Howard government’s best attempts, we the people still own 50.1% of the
    goliath.

    I fell over an
    article by Robert Clark
    on telecomasia.net while researching this column
    which makes for fascinating reading. It confirms my anecdotal understanding,
    that you can trace the current disasters back into time to the Hawke-Keating
    decision to allow two competing pay television cables to be laid – at such vast
    expense neither company, ten or more years later, has found a way to
    recoup their investment and turn a profit.

    Clark quotes Ewan Sutherland, chief executive of the
    International Telecommunications Users’ Group (INTUG):

    "Australia’s target is so
    far down the world ranking it’s just not true, and I’d say you were running a
    decade behind world leaders like Korea," Sutherland says. "So if your
    target is world-class mediocrity, then
    Australia seems to have
    made that target."

    Clark places the blame firmly at the feet of the governments
    of the day:

    Australia‘s
    broadband crisis is the result of two decades of failed telecommunications
    policy.”

    I’ll let you read the whole
    article
    , just try not to get too depressed.

    So where’s all this going? I think it’s obvious: if the
    development of a vibrant culture, a community of diverse and rich art
    endeavour is underpinned by communication, then we’ve effectively spent twenty
    years shooting ourselves in the foot.

    I harbour slight longings to move to China – a thought
    prompted by a friends’ comments over dinner a few weeks ago. He and his wife
    recently returned from a stint in China. He told us about the Chinese
    government’s commitments to establish very fast broadband internet connections
    and compulsorily install them through new apartment buildings.

    I checked out some news and research reports online and came
    up with nuggets like:

    “The Chinese government is
    determined to position
    China as a world leader in broadband
    adoption”
    1

    “Informatization has become
    the core of
    China‘s economic development and industrial growth
    and is a top priority at all government levels. Holistic informatization of the
    economy, political structure, and society requires adroit planning, deft
    administration, and a central leadership. China’s newest leading group –
    Premier Zhu Rongji’s State Informatization Leading Group (SILG) – is seen to
    potentially provide this central leadership. One of SILG’s focus is
    coordinating convergence between all digital media over one pipe and
    development of a viable broadband business model.”
    2

    ‘Informatization’ is a terrific word, and of course I’m
    quick to note the ‘central leadership’ reference. The reality of the ‘central
    leadership’ is not always positive outcomes for the people, but it has one
    massive advantage – when the leaders decided to do something, it happens – and
    on a big scale, which is the only way they know how in a place the size of China.

    It’s summed up well by the man who should know, Wu Jichuan,
    the Chinese Minister of Information Industry in a conference
    speech earlier this year
    :

    “The Chinese government has
    made it clear that it will be committed to ICT-driven industrialization by
    using ICT to develop and upgrade the traditional industries, and to promote the
    optimization and the sustainable development of the industry as a whole. It will
    promote ICT applications in various fields, further develop and utilize the
    information resources and facilitate the informatization of the national
    economy and society. By doing so,
    China‘s information industry
    will become a pillar industry of the national economy.”

    The Federal Government’s own Broadband Advisory Group is
    under no illusion. The first paragraph of its recent report, Australia’s Broadband Connectivity says:

    "Broadband communications
    technologies can deliver substantial economic and social benefits to
    Australia.
    They reduce the constraint of distance and greatly increase the quality of
    communications in many sectors. Their defining characteristics (fast, always-on)
    enable a paradigm shift in the way people or resources (such as computers)
    interrelate. In short, broadband technologies can transform the way people
    live, work and do business.”

    And what’s the impediment? Ewan Sutherland from INTUG is emphatic:
    It is really metered broadband in Australia and New
      Zealand
    that seems to be the barrier.”

    In June this year the Government announced
    its response
    to the Esten’s Inquiry into Regional Telecommunications, with
    funding of $142.8 million over four years for the development of a National
    Broadband Strategy (NBS). A central objective of the NBS will be to provide access
    to affordable broadband services in regional Australia.

    There’s much motherhood in the NBS, and lot’s of talk about
    creating equity of access for regional Australia. But nothing about redressing
    the fundamental structural problems highlighted by Robert Clark.

    My theory is simple. I don’t want my broadband ‘connection’
    to be free, what I want is not to have to take out a mortgage to use it.

    Let’s rewind twenty years. Cue wavy lines and dreamy music. The
    government of the day decides that high speed data is fundamental to the growth
    of the Australian community, and economy. Our leaders determine we should have
    a national infrastructure project to provide future-proof, broadband data
    (which can include television) to all Australians – the same as the much-lauded
    right to a telephone (get with the program guys, Alexander Bell invented the telephone in
    1876
    ). You think we’d moved on…

    Because there’s only one network, for the same cost as Optus
    and Foxtel spent vainly rolling out two separate, competing networks, every
    telephone exchange in the country is converted to providing high speed data.
    The Government then leases space on its network to content and service
    providers – and ignores the lobbies of the media moguls seeking to protect
    their traditional broadcasting rivers of gold . It caps the connection charges
    at a rate mere mortals can afford, and doesn’t penalise high capacity users
    (you know, the ones swapping large files like pictures and music) thereby
    promoting the ability for every Australian to share information, dialogue and
    creativity. And along the way, to do business, embark on e-commerce, and export
    Australian knowledge and expertise and culture to the world.

    Be interesting to see how that utopian dream might have
    affected Australia’s economy, and culture, over the past twenty years, instead
    of us hobbling forward trying to recover from the bullet wound in our foot.

    1. http://www.strategyanalytics.com/press/PR00024.htm
    2. http://www.ptc.org/PTC2003/program/public/tuesday/t11/t111_abstract.htm

    Click to Start – Slow Thinking Music Dinosaur

    I’ve been following with interest the articles on Arts Hub about music downloading and song swapping. Plus tracked the main issues in my Blog as they arise in the media. And the more I read, the more depressed and amazed I become.

    Depressed because apparently the only way the music industry knows how to achieve progress in their business plans is to take court action against teenagers. Amazed because we’re clearly dealing with a dinosaur, out of date and slow thinking.

    I’m not going to re-cap the issue at hand, I’m sure we are all aware that the music industry around the world has been gearing up in a public relations frenzy to protect the intellectual property of its artists, by suing people who use file swapping systems like Kazaa and Napster to trade illegal copies of songs. At least that’s the music industry’s position – protection of copyright material, and through that, revenue for artists.

    The industry’s madness, and incompetence knows no bounds. Take the infamous black marker copyright breaking tool. In 2002 Sony introduced it’s "Key2Audio" anti-copying system on millions of audio CDs. It was based around a special security track around the outer edge of the disk. Til some enterprising person discovered you could just cover the track using a black marker. Worked like a treat.

    Or SunnComm Technologies taking court action (later dropped) against a Princeton University graduate who posted information to the Net which described a serious hack to circumvent that company’s patented copyright protection system. Wait for it. Press the Shift Key. Yup.

    And why is it that, despite taking legal action against hundreds of scared teenagers across the globe for supposed music piracy via file swapping networks, many of the big music companies pay for market research information from a company (Big Champagne) which specialises in monitoring the popularity of songs on those networks? Apparently they find it invaluable intelligence when mapped with other statistics such as airplay. So if a particular song is played on the radio, they can then check the ratings on the networks like Kazaa.

    At the end of the day, this is all about money, and when money is the focus, as always, all is fair in love and war.

    One of the best commentary pieces I’ve seen so far on the subject, written by Umair Haque on Red Herring says:

    "The music industry fails to understand that a primary reason that consumers illegally share music files is that they want insurance against the music industry itself. File sharing is as much about risk sharing as it is about the theft of value. Technology makes file swapping possible – but the music industry’s business model, which is at odds with the implicit contract it signs with listeners, is what makes it probable." 1

    Umair argues that the problem is one made by the music industry, and it’s natural that when an alternative came on the scene – the Net – consumers grasped the opportunity with gusto.

    Artificial pricing – leading to a complete lack of connection between price and real product value; record companies pursuing self-serving interests; a total information feedback disconnect between the industry and the consumers. All inform an understanding of why consumers prefer to search and download music from the Net.

    In the latest amusing twist, Kazaa’s owner Sharman Networks has won the right to sue the music industry for copyright infringement.

    "Sharman, targeted by studios and record companies because its software is used to trade music and video files, has sought to turn the tables on the industry, accusing it of misusing Kazaa software to invade users’ privacy and send corrupt files and threatening messages."   2

    The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, which represents hundreds of record producers and distributors around the world, recently claimed a breakthrough in its ‘battle against illegal music downloads’, saying that they are seeing a large migration of people moving away from the ‘illegal’ downloads, and to the ‘legitimate’ online music purchase arena.

    "The number of music files available illegally on the Internet at any one time fell by 20 per cent over the past nine months to 800 million in January 2004, having doubled to one billion through 2002 and early 2003."  3

    Yes, but the ‘legitimate’ services – led by the Apple iTunes business – have only just come on the scene. One reason people used pirate systems was because there simply wasn’t an alternative. The web has been around for ten years now, and swapping networks for probably close to half of that in one way or another. So it’s taken the music industry four or five years to get their heads around the issue, and their response was typically traditional. Prosecute people not conforming to their historical view of what is ‘right’, and perpetuate their business model by licencing companies to offer music for sale, track by track, album by album.

    The big boys continue to make a mess of it. Telstra BigPond just launched an online music store. Except they’ve decided that Microsoft is the way to go, and the whole thing is based on a proprietary Microsoft music file format. Which doesn’t work with iPod. Great thinking there guys. In fact, the 15% of the population who use Macs can’t even use the web site. Wow, what a business plan! Start with the premise you are going to lock out 15% of the potential customers from the beginning – and a market segment which actually probably has a higher proportion of cultural creatives, the Mac being the machine of choice for most multimedia designers, music makers and so on.

    Look at the numbers – hundreds of millions of files available for swapping, tens of millions of people swapping them. And the best the music industry can do is just more of the same. Distinct lack of imagination. It’s only going to take one enterprising person to dream up a viable model, and the music industry will be back to square one. It happened with Napster, and Kazaa, albeit they both bore the brunt of the industry backlash. But they were the pioneers, the first ones to put their heads above the ramparts and invite the slings and arrows. More players will inevitably emerge, armed with the knowledge and experience of the pioneers, and new ideas with which to lay siege to the music honchos.

    Shawn Fanning, the creator of Napster, has been beavering away quietly for the past few months, with funding from one of the original investors in Napster, on a new business called Snocap.

    "Snocap’s plan, which involves identifying music files being traded through file-swapping networks and then attaching a price tag to them, is resonating well with music industry executives. "   4

    Fanning changed the world with Napster, and it’s odds-on he can do it again.

    In the meantime those of you who don’t use Macs can buy songs from BigPond (but not listen to them on the best music player on the market, the iPod). And those of you out there – you know who you are – who use file swapping networks, can keep looking over your shoulders for the long arm of the music industry dinosaur.

    1. http://www.redherring.com/ForumPage_111903-04.aspx

    2. http://news.com.com/2100-1026_3-5147037.html?tag=nefd_pop

    3. http://www.australianit.com.au/articles/0,7204,8470224%5E15318%5E%5Enbv%5E,00.html

    4. http://news.com.com/2100-1025_3-5146858.html?tag=nefd_top

    Click to Start – Do You Berry?

    Ok, it’s official, I’m on crack. I’m addicted. My need for a fix gets greater each minute that passes, and I’m increasingly caving to the impulse whenever it calls me. No, I’m not smoking crack cocaine, I’m checking my email.

    I’ve recently become the proud owner of a Blackberry. A device so addictive that some have dubbed it the ‘crackberry’. It’s blue, not much larger than a pack of cigarettes, and the single most cool toy I’ve ever owned.

    Blackberries were launched in the USA a few years ago, but have only recently become available in Australia. A Blackberry is a mobile phone, organiser, and ‘always on email’ device. The organiser includes the usual diary, contact book, task list, note pad and other gadgets – a continuation of the convergence of mobile phones and handheld electronic organisers; why carry two devices when one will suffice?

    What sets the Blackberry apart is its email functionality. It includes a live email system. Send me an email, and it arrives on my Blackberry straight away, via my Blackberry email account, which can be configured to check and relay up to 10 standard email accounts. So now both my work and personal email addresses feed through to the Blackberry, and as long as I’m in an area with GSM mobile phone coverage, I see the email immediately.

    If I’m travelling overseas, and have activated global roaming with Telstra, the Blackberry functions the same whatever country I am in.

    I can even check sales on my company’s online publications because the Blackberry includes a web browser. We’ve set up private web pages displaying recent sales data, so in the middle of the night I can lean over to the bedside table and see how the bank account is fairing.

    There is a common inbox, combining my email, voice mails, SMS messages – and a record of outgoing messages, all grouped by date, so I can monitor the progression of my day. The diary pops up reminders of meetings and tasks, and the address book inter-locks with the email and messaging system so sending an email, SMS or making a call can all be done at the push of a button after selecting a person’s name. And then when I’m back at my desk, the Blackberry connects to my computer and re-synchronises the data with my copy of Outlook – all the while recharging the battery via the same cable (no need for a separate battery charger).

    Of course Blackberries are not the only game in town. You can achieve similar functionality using the latest generation of Windows-powered mobile phones, which essentially combine a mobile phone with a Windows based operating system – they even allow you to work in Microsoft Word and Excel, albeit on a tiny screen. And with the advent of the G3 high speed mobile phone network (the one which lets you make video calls), you can watch streaming movies and listen to audio tracks.

    The impact of mobile devices such as the Blackberries is profound on both serious and less serious levels. For example, after the September 11 attacks in America, Blackberries gained notoriety in Washington when they were unaffected after normal mobile phones were rendered useless by overloaded mobile networks. Government officials were able to continue to communicate during a period of emergency because the Blackberry used a different data network to that of normal mobiles.

    And on a lighter note, the Blackberry has become the dating tool du jour amongst congressional workers in the US capital, after the government issued them even to junior staffers, so work could continue day and night. The unforeseen consequence was the staffers using them to swap witty messages with potential love interests around the clock. It’s even reported they use their Blackberries to flirt discreetly in meetings. ‘Berry’ has become a verb. We ‘Berry’ someone, we sit in a meeting ‘Berrying’.

    So why is all this important? Because the Blackberry has several overwhelming advantages over its Windows powered convergent mobile phone cousins. A three year old can use it; there’s no battling with complex menus; it doesn’t crash every five minutes; battery time is phenomenal (I get 4 or 5 days of normal use between charges); and cost wise it’s not too terrible because you can buy it on a plan just like a mobile. The handsets retail for around $1,000, but you can pay it off in instalments. In any case, given the normal rapid fall in price of any mass produced electronic device, the Blackberry will be half that price in a year or two.

    Flash Gordon and Dick Tracey have finally arrived. A universal communicator, useable pretty much anywhere in the world, combining all the elements of your electronic life in one neat package, at a price which many can now afford. The Telstra sales representative who sold me my Blackberry had just also sold one to a woman who was off travelling through Africa, and was concerned about email access. With a Blackberry in her handbag, it didn’t matter about dialling up to the net in remote areas; lugging a laptop and cables; or finding an Internet Café. As long as she was within a mobile phone coverage area – which these days does include most third world countries – she could always be in touch with home and office.

    Of course addiction is dangerous. I found myself Berrying in the cinema the other day, answering emails while watching the new Harry Potter movie with my children. My addiction is advance warning of the way in which people will communicate and interact in the future – and I mean the near future, not in ten years. Mobile phones have almost reached saturation point in Australia, and true to form we are constantly updating to the latest and greatest technology.

    This is communication for the 21st century – immediate, constant and integrated with our personal and professional lives, again furthering the blur between work and home. These are the tools we need to use to capture someone’s attention, to interact with them, to promote our cause to them, to market our new show, exhibition or product. Blackberries have found a foothold amongst a desirable market segment – the young professionals, whose law, finance and accounting firms are implementing enterprise Blackberry solutions. They are young, educated, financially prosperous, technologically savvy – and they Berry.

    Click to Start – A Tourniquet on Cultural Endeavour

    Do you broadband? I know I do. If you do, can you imagine
    going back to dialup? I know I can’t. Data makes the world go round, literally
    these days. Which is why it’s a pity that a new research report has found Australia remains the broadband backwater of the world.

    Back in August 2003 I wrote a Click to Start column entitled ‘Twenty
    Years of Shooting Ourselves in the Foot’ [i]. The article was sparked by Telstra relaunching
    BigPond, with sassy advertisements, and deals so you could buy ADSL broadband internet from Harvey Norman. It was all about Telstra attempting to re-gain
    momentum in the broadband internet access marketplace.

    It all went so swimmingly well – except it seemed to have
    no effect.

    In that article I also gave some of the research which
    had found Australia ranked pretty much last in the OECD countries for broadband users
    per 100 people. I also noted that the price-gouging fee schedules were
    going to be a problem. And I was right – earlier this year Telstra re-launched
    all over again, even sassier advertisements, and broadband priced from
    $29.95 – the average cost of a dialup internet connection. Bringing down
    the wrath of the ACCC in the process, because this was less than the wholesale
    price Telstra was charging its ADSL resellers, consequently dramatically
    undercutting them.

    But, as with everything to do with Telstra, there’s always
    a catch. $29.95 only gets you 256k/64k speeds – which barely qualifies
    as broadband, and a cap of 200 meg of data a month – which is nothing.
    I’d go through that in a few days. Telstra almost owns up, they describe
    it as ‘Light use, or exploring ADSL’. If you want faster speeds, or bigger
    downloads, then you’ll pay – big time.

    I thought it might be interesting to revisit the issue,
    and I’m prompted by research just released which says Australia is still in a ‘broadband backwater’. Research company IDC says [ii]:

    Australia will
    have a broadband penetration of 13% by 2008. The study reveals that
    Australia remains
    in the broadband backwater when benchmarked against other developed countries,
    and alarmingly IDC predicts the situation will remain the same over the

    next 5 years.”

    It’s not just the actual number of connections, it’s the

    speed as well:

    “IDC found that most Australia broadband subscribers
    have an access download speed of 256 or 512Kbps, which significantly
    limits the delivery of content and hinders potential initiatives for
    high-content value proposition such as TVoVDSL [TV
    over the internet] and VoIP services. [voice services over the internet]”

    IDC offers contrasts with other countries:

    “For example, France‘s
    second largest broadband service providers, Iliad, offers free national
    phone calls, 2Mpbs ADSL and 100+ TV channels for about the third of the
    price for what you would get in
    Australia.
    There is still a long way to go for Australian consumers to get a decent
    deal”

    It’s interesting that Telstra is all of a sudden offering 100 free local calls to customers who bundle telephone, mobile and internet
    on the one bill – clearly they’ve been watching countries like France. But they can’t bring themselves to match the offers available overseas. We all know price is a key driver – Telstra’s reported a huge surge in
    the number of people signing up for the new el-cheapo broadband.

    But it’s a false success. It’s also clear that once those people have signed on and used the service for a month or two, Telstra
    is hoping they will upgrade to higher plans, once the customers realise they’ve got a kind of claytons broadband – the lowest possible speed, and
    the minimum amount of data. Restrictions which will inevitably become frustrating, forcing them to stump up for the higher access plans – which start at $49.95
    a month, and still with speed caps. Low speeds and low caps are like squeezing the bandwidth pipe – it’s capable of much more, but for commercial reasons
    Telstra clamps it down, restricting the data flow.

    We’ve got Telstra ADSL at home, we pay $90 a month for
    a 512k connection and no usage cap. No cap is great, but the speed is still
    at the low end of what is technically termed broadband. I’d far rather
    be in the USA for example. ATT, one of their big telecommunications companies will
    give me a 1.5meg/128k ADSL plan for $US39.95 a month – that’s about $AUD59.
    The equivalent plan with Telstra costs $AUD119.95 a month. I remember my first online experience. It was around 1991, while working for a theatre in Sydney. I discovered a modem tucked away, and discovered I could connect it to one of the PCs in the office. I dialled up and connected to the Dick
    Smith Electronics Bulletin Board. Bulletin Boards were a kind of precursor
    to the internet for many people. They were private communities, accessed
    via a dialup connection. In the case of the DSE Board, it gave you the
    chance to download files and send messages to each other. It was slow,
    oh so slow – using a 2,400 baud modem (that’s about 10 times slower than
    the present day 56k dial up modems, and 100 times slower than my current
    512k home broadband internet connection (and 200 times slower than my office
    internet connection).

    But I didn’t notice the speed – for two reasons. First
    I had nothing to benchmark it against, I just thought this was normal. Secondly,
    I was only working with text – no pictures, no sound, no web pages, no
    movies, just lines of text on a monochrome computer screen.

    I can’t really remember much of what I used the DSE Board
    for, but as a certified geek, I probably just revelled in the warm feeling
    of making it work, irrespective of the practical application.

    Over the years I sped up. In 1992 or so I encountered the
    internet for the first time – just before the world wide web arrived. I
    used Gopher and Archie and a number of other online tools – all text based – to
    search library catalogues and to participate in discussion groups. Back
    then the literary arts were online – books, essays, stories, poetry. Text
    based art was the only art which was possible (other than ASCII art – making
    pictures with keyboard characters). I went from my trusty 2,400 baud modem
    to a 9,600 baud version, and then, with the advent of the world wide web
    in all its graphic glory, what I thought was luxury – a 28,000 baud modem.
    It could even send faxes as well.

    In the mid-1990s I moved to a 56k modem – and I thought
    all my Christmases had come at once. And in the late 1990s I moved to
    ISDN (an old technology Telstra continued to try and flog as a high speed
    internet alternative as a way of avoiding rolling out ADSL, and maximising
    profits – ISDN was very expensive and Telstra made a bundle from it).

    Then finally I moved to a broadband ADSL connection, when
    we installed one at the office – and all my Christmases, birthdays, anniversaries
    and public holidays had arrived – a 1 megabyte broadband internet connection.
    Fast enough to watch movies, listen to music, transfer large files etc.

    It changed our business. With our ISDN connection it used
    to take an hour and a half to email an Arts Hub Jobs Bulletin. Now it clears
    in 10 minutes.

    So what’s the point of this little history lesson? My speed
    of access kept pace – generally – with my use of the Internet. Broadband
    for me in 1991 wouldn’t have been such a big boon.

    But that was 13 years ago. The world has changed. What
    seems unfortunate to me is that certain elements in our community don’t
    understand the degree to which the world has changed, or harbour other
    more selfish reasons for not keeping pace.

    Try searching Google for ‘importance of broadband’ and
    you’ll quickly get the picture of why broadband is so completely critical.
    For example, you’ll find a report by US internet equipment giant Cisco [iii], which discusses a study named ‘Net Impact
    in 2002’, conducted by a group of researchers, which concluded that:

    “Results indicate that adopting IBSs [internet
    business solutions] in both the
    United
    States
    and Europe would
    generate substantial productivity gains. Consider the
    United States first: The
    study forecasts that Internet business solutions alone could account
    for 48 percent of the projected
    U.S. productivity
    growth rate by 2010.

    Europe paints a similar picture. When all current and planned IBSs are complete by 2010, the Net Impact study concludes that these

    solutions could account for 30 percent of the projected European productivity growth rate.”

    I think this quote sets the context well, it’s from a report
    entitled ‘Developing Broadband Infrastructure and Services in Western Australia’ released in September
    2003 [iv]:

    “The economic case for broadband and its significance can be put into context by looking at similar capacity changes in national

    infrastructure such as rail, roads, electricity and telecommunications.
    Each of these significantly changed the way that economic activity was
    undertaken by firms and citizens, enabling new activities to develop,
    providing economies with competitive and comparative advantages. Importantly,
    many of these benefits were unforeseen when the original infrastructure
    investments were made, yet today it is difficult to conceive how our
    daily lives and economic activity would function in their absence.”

    It’s the final sentence which is possibly the most important.
    It’s about the latent demand, the activities and use which only become
    possible once the broadband infrastructure becomes available – but which
    might not be specifically identifiable now.

    Writing in the M/C Journal Gerard Goggin rounds off the subject nicely [v]:

    “The story of broadband so far underscores the predicament for Australian access to bandwidth, when we lack any comprehensive, integrated, effective, and fair policy in communications and information technology.
    We have only begun to experiment with broadband technologies and understand
    their evolving uses, cultural forms, and the sense in which they rework
    us as subjects.”

    The government keeps telling us Australia is a film-making capital of the world. The government keeps banging
    on how Melbourne is a hot computer gaming software centre. The government keeps promoting Australia’s unique capacity for cultural creation.

    But gee, we were doing those things before broadband came
    along.

    In an article entitled ‘The Future of Work in The Creative
    Age’, the Executive Director of The California Institute for Smart Communities, John
    M. Eger, writing on the Cultural
    Commons
    web site in May this year, talks about the advance of the ‘Creative
    Age’ – highlighted by Richard Florida’s now seminal book ‘The Rise of the Creative Class’.

    Eger suggests there are three things hindering the rise of the creatives [vi]:

    “We also need to begin the process of nurturing “the Creative Community”, one that that fully recognizes the basic shift

    in the structure of the global economy from one based on the production
    of goods and services to one based on the production, storage, transfer
    and use of knowledge or information; and, as such, promotes: 1) connectivity
    to ensure we have the new–broadband, 24/7, wired and wireless–information
    infrastructures for the 21st century; 2) collaboration and civic engagement
    to provide the kind of leadership the digital age requires; and 3) creativity
    in all its forms–in the schools, in the workplace, and throughout the
    community.”

    In his book, Richard Florida calculates the value to the US economy of the ‘creative class’ as “nearly half all wage and salary income in the United States, $1.7 trillion dollars, as much as the manufacturing and service
    sectors combined”.

    Now, if we could resolve the issues Eger raises, and
    if Florida’s numbers are right, that’s a mighty powerful argument for taking
    the lead and resolving the data and information infrastructures servicing Australia’s population.

    Memo to the Australian Government, CC to Telstra: Lack
    of affordable bandwidth is like a tourniquet on cultural endeavour. It
    slows communication; it impedes commercial enterprise; it restricts discourse;
    it adds costs to the creators of cultural content; and it prevents audiences
    consuming the content. And it ensures Australia will remain at the bottom of the global ladder. So much for the Clever
    Country – more like the slow country.


    Click to Start – Campaigning Online

    I’ve recently developed an interest in the use of online in the political

      sphere. Reading a number of books on the subject I was struck at the parallels

      with cultural endeavours. Political parties aim to encourage votes; cultural

      organisations solicit attendance and participation. Political parties operate

      on a combination of government funding and donations (providing they secure

      a minimum percentage of the vote, political candidates receive government support

      for an election campaign); cultural organisations survive on government subsidy,

      earnt income and fundraising.

    Online and politics are relatively new bedfellows. Online political campaigning

      is most visible in the United States , yet it really only became relevant in

      the 2000 presidential campaign. Bill Clinton did have a web site in 1996 prior

      to election (making him the first US President to do so), but it was barely

    relevant to the campaign.

    Fast forward a few years and the John Kerry campaign has just announced it

      has raised $US180 million in the quest to elect Kerry. It’s a huge number – but

      critically, $US56 million of it has been raised online, nearly a third of all

      donations. And the majority of donations are small. “Contributions of $250

      or less made up $100 million, a reflection of the growing importance of small

    donors in the campaign finance world.”
    1

    Why is it that cultural organisations in Australia don’t solicit donations

      online? Many are registered to accept tax deductible contributions. Many organisations

      have their membership programs tucked away somewhere on their web site, although

      I remain amazed at the number of major institutions who still have not enabled

      online membership applications. A year ago I wrote a Click to Start column

      entitled ‘Path To Fulfilment Littered With Obstacles’. 2 In

      the article I went into detail about the link between online and philanthropy,

      and quoted various research supporting the thesis that online should be an

      essential fundraising tool for the arts. I then did a quick survey of major

      arts institutions in Australia , looking at the most basic fundraising transaction – membership

    joining.

    Here’s the results from July 2003:


     


       

       

     

     


       

       

     

     


       

       

     

     


       

       

     

     


       

       

     

     


       

       

     

     


       

       

     

     


       

       

     

     


       

       

     

     


       

       

     

     


       

       

     

     


       

       

     

     


       

       

     

     


       

       

     

     


       

       

     

    Institution

    Online Memberships

    Art Gallery of NSW

    Fill out a form, send it in offline.

    Art Gallery of Western Australia

    No membership form, contact the organisation.

    Australian Centre for Moving Image

    Fill out a form, send it in offline.

    Australian Film Institute

    Submit online form, not live credit card

    Australian Museum

    Fill out a form, send it in offline.

    Melbourne Museum

    No membership form, contact the organisation.

    National Gallery of Australia

    Fill out a form, send it in offline.

    National Gallery of Victoria

    Live, online membership joining

    National Museum of Australia

    Fill out a form, send it in offline.

    Queensland Art Gallery

    Fill out a form, send it in offline.

    Queensland Museum

    Fill out a form, send it in offline.

    South Australian Museum

    No membership form, contact the organisation.

    Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery

    No membership form, contact the organisation.

    Western Australian Museum

    No membership form, contact the organisation.

    And here are the results from July 2004:


     


       

       

     

     


       

       

     

     


       

       

     

     


       

       

     

     


       

       

     

     


       

       

     

     


       

       

     

     


       

       

     

     


       

       

     

     


       

       

     

     


       

       

     

     


       

       

     

     


       

       

     

     


       

       

     

     


       

       

     

    Institution

    Online Memberships

    Art Gallery of NSW

    Fill out a form, send it in offline.

    Art Gallery of Western Australia

    No membership form, contact the organisation.

    Australian Centre for Moving Image

    Fill out a form, send it in offline.

    Australian Film Institute

    Fill out a form, send it in offline.

    Australian Museum

    Fill out a form, send it in offline.

    Melbourne Museum

    Fill out a form, send it in offline.

    National Gallery of Australia

    Fill out a form, send it in offline.

    National Gallery of Victoria

    Live, online membership joining

    National Museum of Australia

    Fill out a form, send it in offline.

    Queensland Art Gallery

    Live, online membership joining

    Queensland Museum

    Fill out a form, send it in offline.

    South Australian Museum

    Couldn’t find anything online

    Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery

    No membership form, contact the organisation.

    Western Australian Museum

    Fill out a form, send it in offline.

    So, 12 months later, instead of one organisation letting your join online

      with a credit card, there are…two! Even more telling are the hoops you jump

      through to find out how to join. No one promotes it on their home page – despite

      the fact this is just about the only activity the web site can actually earn

      revenue from, other than a couple of institutions (like Queensland Art Gallery)

      who have online shops. Then again, those with shops don’t do much to promote

      their presence either. Their home pages are hardly covered with bright notices

      saying ‘yes, you CAN buy something from us online’. In most cases membership,

      donations and other forms of support are the best kept secrets online, usually

    hidden away behind neutral menu titles like ‘About Us’, or ‘Join In’ or ‘Membership’.

    A immensely practical book I’ve just finished reading is called ‘Winning Campaigns

      Online – Strategies for Candidates and Causes’ 3.

      The authors, Emilienne Ireland and Phil Tajitsu Nash, own a company in the

      USA which specialises in working on online political campaigns, and their book

      is chock full of straightforward, sensible advice, rendered in a simple, luddite-comprehensible

      style.

    What if one in every hundred visitors to your web site joined up, bought a ticket, made a donation? How would that help the finances?

    They’ve come up with ‘Ten Secrets of Successful E-Campaigns’ for politicians,

      a list of simple tactics for running an online political strategy:

    Use the site to promote your whole campaign

    What they mean is, make sure your web site promotes everything you do – it’s

      an extension of your organisation and its activities, not just a brochure.

    Your offline campaign must promote your site

    Why is that many organisations still don’t have their web address on their

      printed material? It’s just bizarre to me that an organisation, having spent

      a bundle on its web site, shouldn’t promote the heck out of the site at every

      opportunity. As far as I’m concerned there is nothing you cannot put your web

      address on – business cards, letterhead, your building, your tickets, your

      cars, your uniforms. You get the message.

    Respond to emails within 48 hours

    You probably think it the height of rudeness when someone doesn’t answer the

      phone, or doesn’t reply to your letter. Why should this be any different online?

      Email is now ubiquitous. I’m still amazed when I have conversations with arts

      managers who seem to think email is an intrusion, an ‘extra’ load, something

      to be dealt with when time permits. Get over it. Email is as integral to your

      daily communication as phone, fax and mail. If someone emails you, answer then

      promptly and helpfully.

    Give people a reason to come back

    Oh what bland web sites we weave. Half of them look like they were designed

      by committees of bureaucrats – most likely a true observation in the case of

      the large state institutions; the other half by a 14 year old underground electronic

      game art designer with a degree in ‘cool’ – a pity ‘cool’ doesn’t encompass

      basic forms of communication, like the written word. A good web site is open,

      inviting, and has constantly changing content. A good web site doesn’t hide

      its wares behind bland home pages and illogical and obtuse navigation.

    Learn about your visitors

    When was the last time you surveyed your web site visitors, or looked at your

      web server logs? How many of you know what percentage of visitors (you know,

      those big numbers you trumpeted to the board last month) are actually just

      search engine spiders and not real people. How old are your site users? Where

      do they live? Which pages on your web site are the most popular? Or least popular?

      What? You don’t know? How would you feel if you didn’t know what was the most

      popular of your physical building/exhibition/event/show activities?

    Online donations: the “one percent” rule

    “Candidates in Campaign 2000 found that, on average, one visitor in every

        hundred makes a donation, and the average online donation is quite high compared

        to direct mail.”
    4 Gee. What if one

        in every hundred visitors to your web site joined up, bought a ticket, made

        a donation? How would that help the finances? Why are we so shy? I just did

        a quick tour of the main state theatre companies’ web sites, to see how obvious

        and easy they make it to buy a ticket – surely the most fundamental business

        activity of a theatre company. But, after looking at these sites, you start

        to wonder what they consider their most important business function:

    The State Theatre Company of

        South Australia
    gets my vote, hands down. There’s a great picture of

        Rosalba Clemente, the artistic director, personally inviting you to ‘Join

        us’, and front and centre is the latest production, and a link to ‘Bookings & More

        Information’. I would have liked this to say ‘Buy a Ticket Now’, but you

        do get that after clicking through to the event page.

    As a comparison have a look at http://www.villagecinemas.com.au/

      clear and simple promos for each of their major events, and a whopping big

      yellow button top and centre marked ‘Buy Tickets’. No great big warm and fuzzies,

      just a workmanlike approach focussed on extracting dollars. And it works – we

      always book online for the cinema, to save standing in the queue with our two

      children.

    Make volunteering online easy and rewarding

    If an arts organisation’s first priority is attendance, their next is very

      often recruiting support from the public – through volunteers, friends, supporters

      and the like. I’ve already discussed the issue of membership joining online

      (or almost complete lack thereof). The same comments apply to volunteer recruiting.

      All the major state institutions, art galleries and museums and the like, survive

      because they don’t have to foot the labour bill represented by the input of

      their volunteers. There is a fair variance in quality of information and services

      provided online to volunteers and members – the Art Gallery Society of NSW

      even runs online competitions for members. But yet again overall the web sites

      fail miserably to promote and recruit those people who form the lifeblood.

    Permission campaigning, not spamming

    The Australian Financial Review today is quoting a survey by Permission Communications,

      which has found 80% of 440 companies polled in Australia do not understand

      the Spam Act. I’d be pretty worried if that extrapolated into 80% of Australian

      arts organisations not understanding the Spam Act. If you don’t understand,

      learn, fast. Email is the cheapest, most effective form of one on one promotion

      at your disposal. The notion you don’t know, legally, what is allowed, is scary.

    Viral campaigning: let your visitors help

    The easiest way of achieving this is the simple ‘Send to a Friend’ button

      on a web page. We do this on Arts Hub, and hundreds of pages off our site are

      emailed around each month. It’s free promotion, of the best sort – one friend

      telling another friend about something they’ve found online. Why is it then,

      that, for example, the vast majority of theatre companies don’t have a button

      to send information about an event to a friend? (kudos to Sydney Theatre Company

      who have an Email a Friend link on each event page).

    Don’t keep the genie in the bottle

    In Winning Campaigns Online Ireland and Nash suggest finding a balance between

      allowing unsupervised volunteers build and run a web site, and management micro-managing

      the site to the extreme, cramping the style of those who actually know what

      they are doing. The same applies to cultural organisations online. You wouldn’t

      hire a plumber to design your subscription brochure, so why wouldn’t you hire

      a web development professional to produce your web site? As with everything,

      you get what you pay for. The problem is most arts organisations still seem

      to regard their web site as an extension of their brochure – a static promotional

      tool, reinforcing their traditional marketing channels.

    Newsflash. Web sites can earn revenue. Mine earns lots of revenue – about

      90% of our company’s total annual income. And we have decided we’re too old

      fashioned in our online approach to sales and are about to do a big site update

      to bring us into line with the leaders in our particular industry sector.

    Therein lies the next, and final message for today. The little survey of arts

      institutions earlier in this article highlights a complete and utter lack of

      progress in online deployment by the major arts institutions. Oh, I’m sure

      they’ve been doing lots of things like digitising collections for online and

      so on, and that’s great, and right and proper. But in terms of the web site

    as a revenue earner, they’re standing still.

    If you REALLY want to know how to sell things online, go read about it. There’s

      a plethora of material online – try one of my favourite sites Sherpa – http://www.marketingsherpa.com/ .

      I just finished chewing my way through the 420 pages of proceedings from ContentBiz’s

      4th Annual Subscriptions Summit, held in the USA a couple of months ago. You’ll

      discover how the big boys sell stuff online – it’s thought-provoking and fascinating – mostly

      because so many of their techniques are not difficult. It’s just they have

      the budgets to test, research and play with a multitude of ideas. And small

    players like us can then skim the cream and learn from the masters.

    Campaigning online, whether running for office, recruiting members or selling

      tickets, is an art form. It takes creativity, persistence, imagination – and,

    most importantly, constant commitment, not just an annual review.

    1. http://www.campaignline.com/webedition/page.cfm?navid=51&pageid=348

    2. http://www.artshub.com.au/view/rd.asp?id=45197

    3. ‘Winning

        Campaigns Online – Strategies for Candidates and Causes’

    4. “Winning Campaigns Online” p44

    Click to Start – Eventually disaster befalls everyone

    Once upon a time a wise old computer salesman told me there were only two types of computer owners – those whose hard drives have failed, and those whose hard drives are yet to fail. This sage also told me that as a computer retailer, he expected around 1 in 10 of the hard drives he sold to fail and come back under warranty.

    I received this advice 15 years ago, and I’m happy to concede that advancing technologies, and improvements in manufacturing processes have probably improved the failure statistics. But the fact remains: if you are a business which relies on technological hardware to carry out day to day activities, one day you will have a failure. How that failure impacts on your business is a function of your preparedness for failure.

    Research conducted by security and risk specialists at Ernst and Young found that companies have a 50-50 chance every year of their key computer systems failing for more than two hours.  1

    Despite global governments’ attempts to panic the population following the tragedy of September 11 in New York, in the practical world of business risk, errors by humans in technology development is a greater worry than terrorism. A survey by technology company Veritas in 2003 of disaster recovery preparedness found ‘technological failure ranks highest in the list of perceived threats’, with hardware failure, and software and viruses at the top of the list, followed by fire, hackers and accidental employee errors.  2

    Disaster can be caused by any number of factors, and is not limited to aeroplanes plummeting into tall office buildings. But the results are the same, failure of technological systems, and a flow on effect to the businesses and users which rely on those systems for everyday life. One of the positive outcomes of the terrorist attacks on New York has been a far greater recognition by corporations of the importance of disaster and business continuity planning. Consultancy firm Booz Allen Hamilton surveyed 72 chief executives from firms with revenues of more than $US1 billion just after the September 11 attacks, and, not surprisingly found 90% were reviewing their disaster planning documents.  3

    All this disaster planning is great, but not much help if it is not taken seriously. Ernst and Young in a survey of 459 Chief Information Officers, IT Directors and business executives found 53% of large companies have business continuity plans designed to ensure their company could recover from, and continue to operate after, a disaster. What’s not such a help is that 21% have never tested their plan, and obviously thus have absolutely no idea if it would work. A triumph of documentation over practical implementation.  4

    Our everyday lives are completely reliant on technology, technology which is created by human beings, who make continual mistakes; on behalf of companies which don’t test the human work and which, despite knowing that there is a better than even chance of the technology failing, write a report about what they think they might do if failure were to occur.

    I’ll give you a practical example. We’ve just had a run of dramas in our office, over a couple of months. For a while we’d been experiencing problems with our main corporate server, we’ve had it for several years, and it was running the older Windows NT operating system. Once or twice a week it had a habit of crashing in the middle of the night. No one could work out why, but my best guess is it was related to a virus infection we caught some time ago – despite running anti-virus software.

    Then one morning it crashed, and kept crashing, however many times we rebooted. The problem this time was deep inside the mail server part of Windows NT. Our computer support company couldn’t find a solution which didn’t involve completely wiping everything off the server and starting all over again. Given the age of the machine, and its hardware and software we took a deep breath and ordered a new server. It’s a gorgeous HP box, with the latest Windows 2003 server software and all the gadgets. The changeover took three days, during which we were without email a great deal of the time. Cost: $17,000.

    Eventually everything settled down. Then last week we moved office. We planned everything down to the last 30 minutes with our internet provider, agreeing a specific time when we would grab all our servers from the old office, race down to the new office, they would cut over the internet connection, we’d boot up the boxes, and everyone presumed it would work fine.

    Yeah right. I plugged in all the workstations. One went BANG and a puff of smoke floated up. Scratch one computer.

    We plugged our internet router into the wall – no internet. Called the internet company – they thought we might need a new router. So they couriered one over a few hours later. No dice. So someone came to our office. Couldn’t fix it. Our staff were standing around – as we’re an online company, having no internet access means they can’t work. So we sent them home early.

    By the end of the day we still were not online. I was standing outside the Victorian Arts Centre still on the phone to the computer company at 7.25pm, trying to get into a 7.30pm show. Nobody had a clear idea why, given nothing about our setup had changed except our address, the internet access shouldn’t work.

    Cut to next morning. Still no access. We switched over to our backup internet connection – a standard Telstra ADSL connection. So now the staff could work online on the web, but still no email because that relied totally on the industrial strength internet connection working.

    We wound up with three technicians onsite, and enough combined brainpower to put the space shuttle into orbit. By 3.45pm – 15 minutes before an Arts Hub bulletin publication deadline they got the internet connection working. The solution? A new cable. A cable which, they swear, to all intents and purposes was pretty much the same as all the other cables they had tried.

    Ask yourself these questions:

    1. How reliant on technology is my business?

    2. How would my business be affected if:

    a) One computer died

    b) The server died

    c) The internet connection died

    3. How long can you survive if one or more or all of the above occurs?

    4. What’s my backup plan, what will we do? Do my staff know what to do?

    Will you all run around like headless chooks? Or do you have a documented plan of action, available to all staff, ready for implementation? Does the plan include the contact details for all of your technical support companies, including out of hours numbers (computers normally don’t break down during business hours)? Does it include all the vital information like administrator passwords, user names etc?

    Simulating disaster is easy. Try turning off your file server and internet connection – how long could you last. Two hours? An afternoon? A day? Two days? Eventually disaster will always strike. And like the boy scouts say, you must ‘be prepared’.

    1.  Link

    2.  From “Veritas Disaster Recovery Research 2003”, an independent market research report by Dynamic Markets commissioned by VERITAS Software Corporation, surveyed IT managers with responsibility for their company’s disaster recovery plan in large companies across the United States, 10 European countries, the Middle East and South Africa. Link

    3.  “How Corporate Security is Reshaping the Post-9/11 CEO Agenda”, Booz Allen Hamilton, 2002. Link

    4.  From an Ernst and Young ‘Fast Facts’ entitled “Continuity and Availability Planning are Critical to Mitigating Systemic Risk”, Link