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How IT helps the National Theatre to stage productions

It may seem like it’s all last-minute, but theatre production is a process and IT can make day-to-day operations go smoothly

The National Theatre (NT) has deployed Freshservice to manage support and service across the organisation.

Freshworks worked with the National Theatre team to redesign its processes for service delivery and deploy collaboration services that could support the organisation’s complex mix of user requirements.

The team implemented a central helpdesk service to manage requests and tickets and introduced new self-service tools and a request portal. Alongside this, the team has now centralised reporting to demonstrate workloads and efficiency savings.

George Tunnicliffe, head of IT operations at the National Theatre, led the selection of Freshservice. He says: “Freshservice allows us to become a team where people can interact with us in the way they work to provide a new approach to delivering service. We wanted to implement a new approach to service that would help our users and our internal agents to work together more effectively.

“Previously, we had very little collaboration support under our old system. There was no portal available for users to select service requests, and there was no ability to review agent performance internally, either.”

Using Freshservice, the National Theatre’s IT team has implemented a new, more conversational approach to IT service requests that has improved turn-around times and improved staff efficiency.

Explaining how IT has become more aligned with how the National Theatre works, Tunnicliffe says: “The way in which people interact with IT has moved on. As head of IT operations, I want to make the IT team more dynamic and more aligned to the NT. We needed to empower the organisation so that people could have a two-way conversation with IT, and tell us what they would like us to do.”

Tunnicliffe says the IT operations team spent time visiting the various parts of the NT to understand what people involved in a theatre production required from IT. “We know how the theatre works,” he says. “We’ve learnt about how the organisation works by visiting the team, understanding what they do and their business cycle. We are now in a better place to understand to see how we fit in.”

Discussing one of the takeaways from meeting the NT’s people, Tunnicliffe says: “We found that the NT is a highly mobile operation. Less than half of the people here have a dedicated PC.”

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The need for collaboration led to another significant piece of technology to support productions, says Tunnicliffe. “We understand that a show production takes 16 weeks, and there is an intense eight-week period when the people involved in the production just want to collaborate. We need to provide this in the easiest way.”

From a Freshservice perspective, this means that everyone, from carpenters and sound technicians to actors and actresses and personal assistants, are all on the platform. The NT uses Microsoft Office 365 for collaboration, but only the people involved in a production can review video and documents on Office 365.

Tunnicliffe says: “We get a list of people and create accounts for them, and they get assigned a space on Office 365 and can collaborate on videos, scripts and stage management with the whole stage team.”

Also, personal assistants at the NT can manage helpdesk tickets on behalf of people involved in a production. Knowing how the NT works means the IT team can service helpdesk requests in advance and provide better prioritisation, which is particularly important when the pressure is on during an opening night, says Tunnicliffe. “On opening night, the curtain needs to go up at a specific time,” he says. “It eases the workload if helpdesk tickets can be submitted in advance.”

Understanding production schedules and when rehearsals are taking place means IT can provide equipment at the right time, he says. For instance, if a computer is needed to write up notes in a rehearsal room, knowing when that rehearsal is taking place means the IT team understands how quickly the PC is needed.

“If someone has just got into the rehearsal room, we have time to fix it,” says Tunnicliffe. If the ticket is raised at the end of the rehearsal, the helpdesk request may be more urgent, because the PC may be needed to write up notes from the rehearsal.

For this to work, the production team works closely with IT operations, says Tunnicliffe. “We meet with production teams, who show us their process and share their timelines. We also meet with costume, makeup and the retail and catering teams.” These conversations help IT operations improving planning, he adds.

Beyond Office 365 collaboration and helpdesk IT support for theatre productions, the NT is also looking at using technology as part of productions, says Tunnicliffe. For example, it has been running a trial with Epson and Accenture on how augmented reality glasses can be used to give members of the audience access to subtitles.

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