The Australian Ballet keeps on its toes with Peggy

The Australian Ballet recently launched its new intranet named Peggy based on Microsoft's SharePoint to break down file sharing silos that previously existed.

For over five decades, The Australian Ballet has been bringing to local and international stages recognisable performances including Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet, and The Sleeping Beauty.

Currently, the organisation has 300 staff sprawled over two states and four sites, much of the time a majority of them are touring six months a year. Damien Calvert, The Australian Ballet IT manager, said while there are four permanent offices in the country, any performance venue is considered an office for the team, and that comes with its challenges when trying to encourage staff to collaborate on the road.

He explained that a core part of putting a performance on stage together requires extensive paper work and communication between departments to bring casting, media information, show plots, light designs, and costumes together. However, according to Calvert, a key logistics challenge they previously faced was that file sharing was siloed, as many people would share files via email, and sometimes personal email addresses of dancers and orchestras, and the information was not accessible by mobile.

"We needed to find better systems of working. We had this realisation about four or five years ago but didn't have the right guidance from the executive at that time. Our current executive director [Libby Christie] came in and looked at business processes across the business to see how we could do things better with less paper, streamline the process, and to stop and ask what we do what we're doing," he said.

Consequently the company began transforming its business processes 12 months ago by introducing Microsoft SharePoint and Office 365 to its environment. Calvert said the appeal to use SharePoint was because the software was suitable for use by people with different skill levels, and it was a lot quicker to spin up than if anything was created on-premises.

Additionally, the company partnered with Rhipe to use LiveTiles to help improve the design of SharePoint.

"SharePoint does not necessarily look like the world's prettiest [platform], so we were looking for something to inspire our staff to use it, to make it easy. With those 300 users, we have a lot of people sitting in one office, but we have probably half the workforce now that we don't provide them with any kind of corporate device. They're probably working on a mobile device. We needed to build a platform that was finger friendly so they can interact with it.

"This is where we saw LiveTiles as a good addition to the SharePoint platform. We have created some mobile specific interfaces as well as using the LiveTiles tools."

In bringing SharePoint into the company's environment, The Australian Ballet built an intranet called "Peggy" -- named after the company's founding director Peggy van Praagh -- which went live last month. It replaced the previous intranet portal, which Calvert said was "static and uninspiring".

Calvert said the idea behind Peggy was to eliminate any silos within the company and enable for easy file sharing in one place.

"The way we have designed Peggy is largely around our seasons, productions, and venues because that's really what the information is about," he said.

Dancers of The Australian Ballet are now also able to access rehearsal material through Peggy via the Office 365 Video portal, something that was not previously possible as it was restricted to being physically viewed at the company's head office in Melbourne.

By putting rehearsal footage on Office 365 Video, Calvert said dancers are now able to review the footage and learn the ballet from any office or at home.

Calvert highlighted that giving dancers access to video footage via Peggy also addressed a copyright concern the company had when people were accessing material directly off a file share.

"A lot of the footage we have permission to use, strictly for rehearsal purposes or for record of archive. It could be very damaging for the company if that footage ends up on YouTube or in the public space, so we need to keep control.

"The way it was being handled off a network shop and handing DVDs around wasn't very good. We couldn't tell where that content was; we had people leave who had been with the company for 15 years and would drop a box of VHS and DVDs back on my desk. But when you go into the digital space you get infinitely more control over that."

Calvert added that appropriate access will also be given to touring staff such as guest actors and production staff to Peggy. This will form part of a larger project where all dancers and orchestras will be provided a corporate identity hosted on Office 365, while Calvert said those who work in the company's offices will have their emails remain on-premises.

"They will have a work email account. In the past they've been left out in the cold a little bit. It has kind of been them and us, and another part that we're trying to do across the business is make it less them and us; it just is us.

"This will allow them to liaise with people outside of the company and do it in a professional manner like we do; they don't have to use their Hotmail account. Likewise it's how we'll start communicating internally with them as well," he said.

Aimee Chanthadavong travelled to Microsoft Australia Ignite 2015 as a guest of Microsoft.