Learning to speak the same language at the Royal Opera House

8 May 2017, Sophia Woodley

The Royal Opera House is one of the biggest arts organisations in the UK, employing over a thousand staff in addition to thousands of freelancers. And it is deeply immersed in the riotously international and multilingual worlds of ballet and opera, where a singer and a répétiteur might rehearse an aria from an opera seria in preparation for the first sitzprobe. It’s no wonder that they understand the importance – and the challenge – of speaking the same language!

Since last December we’ve been busy helping the Royal Opera House (ROH) to do just that.

Our work with the ROH started a year ago, when we reviewed their management of still and moving images. While the initial impetus for this work was to assess their pilot of a digital asset management system, it soon became clear that much broader issues were involved. These intersected with their wider Information Flow programme, which aims to eliminate information silos by facilitating information sharing across the organisation.

Should film and video be stored in the same system as still images, or should they be stored in different systems? Although we tackled this topic in our report, we soon realised it wasn’t the fundamental question.

We recommended that the ROH should take a step back before procuring new systems. Instead, it should focus on developing ‘horizontal’ standards across the organisation, creating a common foundation for the development of future systems and allowing different systems to work together. More broadly, this would mean the creation of a commonly understood vision of the universe of the ROH – ensuring that information was stored in ways that faithfully represented how the ROH worked and the knowledge it held.

This would turn content into a valuable asset by allowing it to be effectively searched for, managed, reused and exploited. It would allow the ROH to:

  • Bring its creative works to new audiences
  • Protect its ability to revive and hire its productions by effectively documenting their content
  • Faithfully record and acknowledge the contributions of its artists and staff
  • Preserve knowledge of its work for future generations.

The consequences of this work would reach across the organisation, making it far more than just an ‘IT project.’ Managing the information in IT systems is important, but speaking the same language is equally important in enabling collaboration between human beings. Through other projects, we’ve learned that no more than 20% of any given solution is technical. 80% of the effort and cost in any major transformation – digital or otherwise – is about people and how they work and communicate. It’s about knowledge management, not just information management.

Since December we have been working with the Royal Opera House to create draft versions of fundamental architectures:
  • An Information Architecture – which provides a common language for the information stored in and exchanged between systems
  • A Rights Description Language – a structured way of representing the rights people or organisations may have in creative works

In the words of Hazel Province, the Director of Planning, the Royal Opera House is now coming to ‘recognise that information – about its work, its relationships and its creations – is an asset as valuable as its buildings, its technology, and its performances.’ And we are thrilled to be a part of that process.

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