The Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG) is the world’s number one live-theatre company with 45 venues in Britain, the US and Australia. With theatres such as The Savoy in London and The Lyric Theatre on Broadway New York, the group has a vision to become the destination of choice for customers wanting to experience live events. Prioritising the customer journey and embracing digital was identified as a crucial starting point.
We spoke with Malcolm Reid, Director of Product Engineering at ATG to hear how they embarked on this mission – from building the right culture and capabilities that could readily embrace innovation to delivering a top-notch end-user experience that could quickly scale.
Building a sustainable digital business
ATG’s far-reaching digital transformation programme touches all aspects of the ATG organisation, including the drive to bring a strong technology function in-house. This started with the hiring of a new Chief Technology Officer quickly followed by the building of a core technical capability that could readily embrace digital innovations moving forward.
“ATG had made the strategic decision to build up the in-house engineering team in order to deliver on our long-term vision. We’re working to become the place people visit to buy the full experience for any live event, which firstly means delivering a superior customer journey and integrating with other companies’ ticketing systems. To do that successfully, the company acknowledged that it needed to quickly embrace digital and build up its capabilities,” said Malcolm Reid, Director of Product Engineering, who was himself brought in by the CTO as part of the new hiring.
In parallel, their ambition was to kick off the first part of the transformation project delivery at an accelerated pace. This was to be a complete re-imagining of ATG online, together with improved data integration, to offer a superb purchasing experience across multiple digital channels. “This was a very fast-moving project. Essentially we wanted to have an end-to-end platform that would allow us to take full control of all the different parts of the purchase flow. That was absolutely the first thing that had to be achieved – and fast.”
A Rapid MVP using a remote model
The NearForm team worked rapidly to bring the new ATG solution to life, with a purchase flow that gave ATG far more control over the customer experience than ever before. Within eight weeks, they had brought the project through design, build and delivery of the MVP. The user-led design meant a laser focus on the end-user outcomes and on delivering an optimum UI, one that was fast, easy and safe. Using a one-team agile approach and a proven remote model with daily stand-ups and regular sprints, accelerated delivery was achieved.
“It was a very fast process, and NearForm was instrumental in that,” Malcolm said. “It was interesting because, by working with NearForm, we took a true MVP approach. We didn’t just build it in eight weeks, go live and wash our hands of it. We built it very incrementally, managing and optimising as we went. We went live on October 31, 2018, with four shows, we had 60 shows by Christmas, and 700 not long after that. We changed, tested, and optimised the whole time, always analysing the user experience.”
The Result: Fuelling digital transformation with a solid return on investment
Today the vast majority of shows whose tickets are available through the ATG platform offer customers the sleek new purchase flow and new features such as an impressive “show page” which is fully mobile responsive. Regardless of the device customers use, the overall effect with the new website is a clean, modern, and customer-oriented experience, along with impressive visuals that give a taste of the live-show excitement they’ll experience at the venue. The underlying technology NearForm enabled also gives ATG the power for further customisation in future.
That’s an important first step towards ATG’s long-term goal of delivering a complete and packaged experience to customers: one where customers can book not just tickets but all the extras to support that night out, from taxis to hotels, plus the ability to share a booking and collaborate with friends.
The good news for ATG is that the new purchase flow rapidly proved itself in terms of return on investment. “The chief benefit for us has certainly been that we now have control over the purchase flow, but another important benefit is our conversion rate: the number of website visitors who follow through to complete a sale,” said Malcolm. “We’re seeing a 25% improvement in conversion rate for the new website compared to the old website and sales of upsells have also increased.”
Building the Culture & Capabilities to Transform
Today ATG’s own engineering team is in place, and handover from NearForm ensured a smooth transition from a consulting engineering team to permanent staff for ATG. ATG’s new head of engineering worked well with NearForm and quickly got into the driving seat, Malcolm says.
The partnership approach throughout the project enabled NearForm to share learnings with the ATG team, highlighting common pitfalls that they had experienced in the past and overcoming risks using best-practice standards. The NearForm team provided guidance on architecture standards and consultancy on process improvements and on the policing of technical debt. They introduced agile working practices, further optimising ATG’s development processes for the long term.
Read our Case Study in full here.