Danielle Savoie can’t fold herself into a pretzel or spin around on her head. But she walks a tightrope every day managing the information systems that make it possible for the Cirque du Soleil to entertain more people each year than the Yankees and Red Sox combined. The circus, which features astonishing acrobatics and Broadway-caliber music and dance productions, started out as a novelty in 1984 with one show and little fanfare. But this year, 11 different shows on four continents will entertain more than 7 million spectators paying up to $125 each to see a circus without animals. Savoie, the company’s vice president of information technology, is struggling to keep pace. Why?
Over the past five years, the number of software applications used by Cirque du Soleil employees has ballooned from roughly 40 to more than 200. Although these tools run a wide range of operations—from handling human resources and finance to making costumes and scheduling performing artists—these applications could not share data. This shortcoming threatened productivity or even the prospects for a show to go on without major headaches if, for example, a spotlight wasn’t delivered to the right place or a performer couldn’t be quickly found to replace someone who had bec0me sick.
Savoie realized the organization needed to install software that would give employees access to these applications and databases without completely redesigning the system’s setup, which she had pieced together on the fly. Consider the logistics that Savoie and the Cirque’s 3,300 employees must track: Six of the 11 shows are constantly in motion, touring North America, Europe, Asia and Australia. More than 250 tractor-trailers haul 700 tons of equipment around the world each day. More than 20,000 performers must be scheduled, transported and tracked for these shows. So must costumes and stage equipment. The database for just the alterations of these costumes has 4,000-plus entries and is growing every day. This juggling act, which combines acrobats, dancers and trapeze artists with elaborate lighting and musical production, has made Cirque du Soleil a $500 million corporation in just two decades.
All of which is great news for Guy Laliberte, the show’s co-founder and a former fire-eating stilt-walker. But for Savoie and her staff, Cirque du Soleil’s fantastic growth and unique culture created an information systems disarray not uncommon to any organization that grows real big, real fast with neither the luxury of time nor the benefit of experience to develop an ideal plan to deploy software to manage the free-wheeling monster. “When I got here in 2000, I was the only I.T. person,” Savoie says. “Now we have 100 people on staff. Because of the way we’ve grown, we have to make up for lost time right now.”
During this boom, Cirque du Soleil added show management software used to make or order costumes and assign artists, as well as point-of-sale systems for merchandise. Many of the applications were developed in-house because of Cirque du Soleil’s unique business. Where did Savoie start? With basic applications to support day-to-day operations in the midst of the growth spurt. The company implemented SAP software for human resources, logistics and finance in 2000 and, later, installed a full-blown version of SAP’s enterprise resource planning software for procurement, costume manufacturing, and event and artist scheduling. But it was using Microsoft Windows 2000 and Office XP for most of its other applications, including the company’s Web site, its intranet, the point-of-sale system, and myriad other programs such as one to track the performers’ medical records. Most of these applications, however, couldn’t communicate with each other.
Moreover, the individual troupes traveling through North America or Europe were running their applications on different operating systems, and as a result, these troupes acted more like independent businesses instead of parts of a larger organization. And the arrangement made it difficult for workers across these different business units to collaborate, Savoie says. “We had data in lots of different places, but could only combine it and analyze or utilize it manually,” she recalls. As recently as six months ago, for example, production managers on any traveling troupe arriving at its destination would begin by conducting an inventory of all the equipment needed for a given performance.
The lights, speakers, stage, decorations and the posts needed to suspend the enormous tent were all tracked with paper and pen. And when the manager realized something was missing, he or she would have to pick up a phone and call back to company headquarters in Montreal to get a replacement. Usually, the item in need made it to the location in time for theperformance. When it didn’t, the crew would either have to buy a replacement locally, scramble to get it from another troupe or just do without. Equipment’s one thing, but performers are harder to replace in a pinch. There is a finite number of people on the planet who can pull off the acrobatic feats that take place during a Cirque du Soleil show.
There are more than a dozen Olympic medalists in the organization. Scheduling performers based on the characters needed for each show is a full-time job. Each character has specific costume and makeup instructions, which are stored in a database. Then there’s the matter of feeding the performers and support staff. In these traveling “cities,” more than 300 meals are prepared each day requiring thousands of pounds of meat, seafood and fresh produce. Getting on the Same Page
To give employees access to data and tools from more than 200 applications running on multiple operating systems, Savoie embarked on a year-long project to install IBM’s WebSphere Business Integration Server Express Plus software to connect her disparate systems. The goal: Organize all the application environments onto a single, standardized platform for access and development. “We wanted to [streamline] our in-house applications with the financial data we have with our SAP applications to create one vision of all our information,” Savoie says. “We needed a common language for all our applications.” The IBM WBI Express software was implemented on IBM eServer xSeries 245 and 355 systems.
The project took just over a year from start to finish and cost roughly $175,000. Savoie and her team, along with IBM consultants, broke up the project into four separate pieces. The first phase took place during 18 weeks in which Cirque du Soleil’s information-technology staff and IBM consultants deployed the methodology of the project. They essentially determined what functions and applications they wanted to integrate into the SAP planning system as well as how they wanted to collect, disseminate and access information from the various applications. “This is the most important part of any integration software implementation,” says Yefim Natis, an analyst at Gartner who tracks IBM WebSphere implementations. “You don’t just plug this in.
You have to think through all the processes and get all the people involved in the same room to discuss what they want and how they want to do it.” Savoie says this part of the project was fairly straightforward. For example, they didn’t want to reconstruct existing connections between applications used in the field by production managers.
They merely wanted to be able to gather all the inventory, sales and performer data into one field and have it accessible to everyone from either a PC or a handheld device. Next, Cirque du Soleil spent four months building the Web interface to the planning system so that information could be accessed, edited and analyzed from the corporate intranet. The project was completed in May. Under the five-month-long third phase, financial information was consolidated. Data on ticket sales, procurement, merchandising and other financial matters that had been stored separately on either the Windows operating system or the SAP system was now connected so that executives could get a snapshot view of the entire company. Finally, the developers spent the last 2 1/2 months integrating the Cirque du Soleil intranet with its online help-desk system so performers, managers and other staff could resolve problems quicker instead of exchanging phone calls about scheduling deliveries or other issues. Now that everyone had access to the same information regardless of the application or operating system from which it had originated, Cirque du Soleil could begin to make strategic business decisions with a global vision.
For example, when a key performer was unavailable to work because of illness or injury, the staff could sift through the database of all performers with that particular expertise from any computer in the organization. Then they could find a replacement who was available and closest to the production in need. At the same time, they could pull up the performer’s work history, measurements and biography to aid the costume designers in making alterations, and the marketing staff who create the programs and advertising materials. All sales conducted at the fixed and mobile sites—T-shirts and the like—are now automatically downloaded to the system and available to executives in real time, rather than an unpredictable and often delayed collection of manual documents from far-flung locations.
When new products are needed to stock the show in Sydney or Seattle, Cirque du Soleil now knows exactly how manyT-shirts it needs by size and style, and can order them in bulk for delivery the next day. “The operational efficiencies are important, but the flexibility our developers now have is just as important,” Savoie says. “Now, when we install another best-of-breed application or develop one of our own, we don’t have to worry about what works with which system. We know that it all can be adapted to one common language.” Efficiency Behind the Scenes
Back on the streets, the production managers are also benefiting from the behind-the-scenes improvements made in Montreal. Now that the integration software has been implemented, production managers use an entirely new system to create an inventory of equipment necessary for the new mobile “city.” Instead of checking off a paper list of all the lights, cameras, speakers and stage materials needed for a production, each piece of equipment is tagged with a bar code that’s scanned by a handheld device connected to the network.
Cirque du Soleil says these mobile devices have cut in half the time it takes to inventory an entire 180,000-square-foot mobile city, and virtually eliminated errors. “It’s something that no one sees because it doesn’t affect the day-to-day performance,” Savoie points out. “It’s too early to say exactly how much money we’ve saved, but I know that going forward, the time we’ll save just on the development side makes it worthwhile.” [pic]
Cirque Du Soleil Base Case
Headquarters: 8400 Second Ave., Montreal, Quebec, Canada H1Z 4M6
Phone: (514) 722-2324
Business: Provides live performances that combine acrobatics, opera and traditional circus performers in 11 different production groups scattered throughout the world.
Vice President of Information Technology: Danielle Savoie
Financials in 2004: Reported sales of more than $500 million.
Challenge: Implement IBM WebSphere Business Integration software to connect all of its disparate systems and applications.
• Grow revenue by 8% to $540 million in 2005, from $500 million in 2004.
• Reduce development time for software connecting business and performance-related applications from eight to six weeks.
• Trim time spent connecting business software applications to corporate intranet from 20 to 16 weeks. ———————————————————————- Cirque du Soleil performs balancing act with CGI [pic][pic][pic][pic][pic] Integrator takes over IT functions for Montreal-based entertainment company [pic] [pic]4/11/2006 5:00:00 PM [pic][pic]by Vawn Himmelsbach, www.itbusiness.ca
| | |Cirque du Soleil has signed a 10-year IT outsourcing contract with CGI, valued at $130 million. Montreal’s world-renowned| |entertainment company, which combines circus and theatre, wanted to offload some of its less strategic IT functions as | |its operations expand around the globe. | |“We have very rapid growth and we wanted to leverage the infrastructure provided by CGI,” said Danielle Savoie, CIO of | |Cirque du Soleil. | |As part of the contract signed last week, CGI is in charge of providing IT operations, help desk and application | |evolution of Cirque’s global infrastructure, including its Montreal headquarters, four permanent shows in Las Vegas and | |one permanent show in Orlando. | |This involves transferring 84 IT positions to CGI from Cirque du Soleil in Montreal, Las Vegas and Orlando. A certain | |number of technicians have stayed on with Cirque to perform more strategic IT roles. | |
CGI is also in charge of the IT infrastructure behind Cirque’s travelling shows. On tours, only one technician is |
|required to set up the IT infrastructure, such as point-of-sale and ticketing applications (since Cirque runs a | |centralized IT infrastructure out of Montreal). | |Cirque will keep IT strategy and direction in-house, as well as global planning and architecture design. “We didn’t want | |to lose this strategic knowledge,” said Savoie. “When we want to re-engineer some part of our business processes, it’s | |important to have this knowledge.” | |CGI will manage its PCs, servers and the help desk, said Normand Paradis, vice-president of business engineering with CGI| |Group Inc. in Montreal. “We will also take over support and evolution of the portfolio of applications.” This includes a | |wide range of applications, from administrative functions like payroll to tour equipment, costumes and merchandise. | |
Over the course of the lifecycle of these applications, modifications are made to respond to new business requirements, | |said Savoie. “Every year we have to make some evolution in this portfolio,” she said, adding CGI is now responsible for | |these modifications. | |“They have over 100 applications of various sorts we will be maintaining for them from strictly administrative to | |(costumes),” said Paradis. | |“They design and build these costumes (and) we provide the IT support behind that,” he said. “But it’s just one of the | |things they do – for them it’s really all about intellectual property.” This includes costumes, music, even the acts | |themselves – all of which are part of the intellectual property they’re managing. And they have to use a lot of systems | |to do that, he said, in order to protect it properly.
In its aquatic show “O” in Las Vegas, for example, costumes | |deteriorate quickly in water, so CGI will keep track of items like costumes, diving equipment and maintenance. | |“On top of that they run a large financial system and large payroll system,” he said. “For a circus, doing the payroll is| |not exactly their core activity, but it better get done because if the guys don’t get paid you’re not going to see too | |many shows.” | |This is the beginning of CGI’s foray into the entertainment and sporting event sectors, which it began last year with the| |World Aquatic Championships in Montreal. CGI expects its partnership with Cirque du Soleil to strengthen its expertise | |within these areas. “For us it’s working with a major player,” said Paradis. “They have a very strategic brand [and] they| |are well known on a global basis.” | |The transition process to outsource these IT functions started last week and will take place over the coming 12 months. |