Apologies to English grammar and the original Apple ad, but in the same way that Apple intended, I think PatronBase defies convention, and ‘does it different’. A string of new developments prove that to me, being no way conventional.  I acknowledge that other system suppliers defy convention to a degree – Tessitura and Spektrix are examples – but the particular emphasis of PatronBase is intriguing.

 chief evangelist

I first saw the PatronBase system at the Fortune Theatre in Dunedin, New Zealand a decade ago, asked by Creative New Zealand to informally evaluate the system. I was on a speakers’ tour of the major cities with Tim Roberts. John Caldwell, the proprietor and “chief evangelist” of PatronBase, turned up at every one, not only taking notes but talking to us about how he could further develop his software. At the time I dubbed it as “the Databox of the Southern Hemisphere” because it reminded me of the refreshing innovative approach of Jonathan Hyams – always exceeding expectations – and his commitment to empowering arts organisations at an affordable cost.

Clearly proprietors/founders have a significant influence on the businesses they set up, not just Jonathan Hyams, but Richard Leggatt at BOCS then Galathea STS creating ENTA, and more recently Michael Nabarro at Spektrix, and in a different way Jack Rubin at Tessitura.  So when John Caldwell decided to introduce PatronBase into the UK, encouraged by Stuart Nicolle at Purple Seven and myself, this was a welcome addition to the available ticketing, marketing and CRM solutions, meeting a need from those arts organisations who simply could not afford many of the systems on the market. He said recently “the system does not have a higher price, perhaps commensurate with its features and its competition, because that would take the system outside of the price bracket of the very customers that we are committed to serve”. But PatronBase goes further in defying convention.

 published tariff

First PatronBase surprises people by having a published tariff, which is inclusive of upgrades and “continuous improvement”, supplied at relatively very low cost, without any fees or charges, just a modest annual software support and maintenance charge. Second PatronBase selects who should be customers, preferring to work with creative, usually producing, arts organisations that share their philosophical commitment to delivering the arts effectively and to developing audiences. Third it goes an ‘extra mile’ in implementation in making sure users can fully utilise all the opportunities of the system, without charging extra.

In September 2013, PatronBase was celebrating over 100 users in New Zealand, Australia, UK, Ireland and Spain (more than 160 now), and I was invited to meet their development team, drawn together from around the world to Christchurch, NZ, to talk about the future. I saw some exciting ideas being brainstormed, and, as ever, had my views on what the next generation systems should offer. So in February 2015 I was looking forward to seeing the outcome being presented to users in Auckland and Christchurch.

 what constitutes a “new” system

Afterwards, I found myself debating with David Martin, an experienced and knowledgeable ticketing consultant in NZ, exactly what constituted a new iteration of a system, or a new version, or a completely new product. Because what we had seen confounded our expectations, by defying the conventions.

For a start, we had seen a new browser-based “front-end” to the system – called the Web Hub – which offered a completely different ‘look and feel’ and user experience, with specific functionality, with touch screen capability and a breath-taking ease of use. Yet this was additional – the whole of the existing system with all its functionality and screens was still there to be accessed – this was almost as an alternative to the core offering, with a focused set of tasks. On top of the dashboard for senior management, running on Macs as well as PCs, and a ‘chat’ solution available locally or across a community of users, this felt like a new system.

 ship in a bottle

This was the core of what John Caldwell presented as his “ship in a bottle” upgrade, as in drawing together a large number of parts all working together to create the finished item, and he quoted Buckminster Fuller: “You can’t change the way people think, all you can do is give them a tool, the use of which will change their thinking”. The focus of this release was entirely on “the patron” and their interface with users’ organisations, and the means to reach them based on deeper knowledge and understanding of their behaviours, and to make sure for example that the loyalty points scheme was part of all the customer’s spending and purchases.

Back in 2013, John Caldwell had been keen on the next generation of integrated CRM functionality, going beyond what in practice many venues use, and accommodating the demanding needs of audience and fund-raising development, multiple ways of segmenting and profiling customers, with as much customisable functionality as possible, so venues could manage their specific needs. The emerging Patron Attributes tools, not quite complete because of the decision to incorporate Culture Segments natively into the application and not just for individual users who signed up, extends the suite of tools and the content of customer records to combine/create that 360 degree view of customer relationships from all their inter-actions, recording all the factors relevant to their record. There are then great tools to deploy, manipulate and utilise the results.

Combined with significant additional functionality for memberships, to track multiple memberships, people can also be linked together in groups, if necessary making group membership visible on customer records.  This is ideal for family or workplace groupings and greatly adds to the potential for what I call ‘US-style ‘task-based’ CRM’.  My late colleague Tim Roberts, who always questioned whether ticketing systems were true CRM, would have been impressed.

Also back in 2013, John Caldwell had referred to developing a “merchandise module” to extend the PatronBase ability to manage inventory and sell items other than tickets, part of a strategy discussed with Chapter in Cardiff and ONFife in Scotland to provide a “one-stop-shop” solution for customer-facing inter-actions such as purchases of food and drink, ice creams, programmes, merchandise, etc., helping join up the thinking by “following the patron” through all their F-o-H and purchase experiences.

Having evaluated epos, retail and catering systems for venues, where the software costs are significant factors, I was well aware of the wrinkles that make such solutions challenging, and too many fall short. So it seemed realistic to expect a cut down simplified solution. No, that is not what was revealed, but a full stock control inventory management solution, right down to handling items bought in larger units and dispensed in smaller ones such as bottles and glasses of wine, coping with stock and re-ordering, and deliveries and stock in multiple locations. And of course this functionality surfaces soon in the Web Hub and the Internet Ticketing engine for customer pre-orders with advance payment, all in the one shopping cart. What is there now is a QuickPOS front-end with catalogue, size, style and colour options, all reconciled back to both the customer and the stock control, right down to refunds and exchanges, optimised for various screens. What’s not to like?

 tools to ‘join-up thinking’

There were general managers, producers and directors as well as marketing and ticketing staff in these user sessions, and I was struck by the strong reaction of those senior managers to the tools to  “join-up thinking” that they were seeing. Some updates for the Venue Manager module nearly got a round of applause, since they confirmed that this was not some cut-down tool as a bolt-on, but a key co-ordinated module enabling them to manage resources and usage, room bookings and events across multiple spaces, completely integrated into the ticketing system.

I was surprised to hear John Caldwell talking about the “steady stream” of customers signing up to the “hosted version” of PatronBase in New Zealand, with existing customers migrating to the hosted solution, since this was news to me. Yes this is in the Cloud, but not a SaaS (Software as a Service) model, in this case with PatronBase handling the server hardware, inter-connectivity and software management for the users for a set annual charge. This is already an option in the UK. Once again PatronBase are offering this for a much lower cost to venues.

It was this that ultimately reminded me that ‘PatronBase does it different’. The PatronBase commitment to supplying low cost fully fledged solutions to arts organisations, joining up their tools and saving on having multiple software solutions for different functions, not charging for upgrades as such, and genuinely delivering continuous improvement, is remarkable.

the M.E.A.T. principle

I know some people in venues in the UK struggle to understand how such a highly developed system could be a modest cost, and effectively ask why doesn’t it cost more? It almost seems some people don’t want to be thought they are buying a low cost solution – “Cheap?”.   Clearly, it is the PatronBase philosophy to ensure the cost is modest.  Charity Finance Consultant Steve Mahon pointed out to me that Finance Directors of charities are supposed to follow the M.E.A.T. principle – the Most Economically Advantageous Tender – and secure certainty with containment of costs. Perhaps we need to remind cash-strapped arts organisations of this principle?

not just for profit

The philosophy of the company is part of the product: not just for profit say PatronBase.  Has PatronBase delivered a new version of their system, or just confounded us all by doing something different, which ironically presses the very buttons that many arts organisations want?