Success Story | The National Arts Centre’s Long and Winding Road to a New CRM System
“It was so beneficial to have JCA as a partner on this project through the many twists and turns of the past several years. They lent their expertise and experience throughout the complexity, which has helped bring us to the point where we are implementing a new CRM system.” – Shannon Urie, Director of Marketing for The National Arts Centre
The National Arts Centre (NAC) is the foremost performing arts centre in Canada. The NAC collaborates with artists and arts organizations across Canada to present, create, produce, and co-produce programming of various types—the NAC Orchestra, Dance, English Theatre, French Theatre, Indigenous Theatre, and Popular Music and Variety—and nurtures the next generation of audiences and artists from across Canada. It has increased its focus on education and public programming, and it is rented for concerts, events, and touring shows. The NAC is the only bilingual, multidisciplinary performing arts centre in Canada, and one of the largest in the world.
The NAC’s vision is to become the best-in-class, customer-oriented performing arts organization in Canada, but the organization realized that its digital infrastructure did not support and maximize business operations as well as it should to achieve that vision. Some systems were outdated, and none of them were integrated, so customer data was siloed into a dozen separate systems. The NAC needed a technology platform that would allow it to manage constituent relationships more closely.
The Journey Begins: Understanding the Issues
JCA started working with the NAC in late 2014 on a CRM Needs Assessment to understand the NAC’s needs, focusing on ticketing, fundraising, digital engagement, marketing, and reporting and analysis. JCA interviewed 35 staff members from across the NAC. The interviews helped to identify each group’s needs and business processes, as well as their pain points and areas for improvement.
JCA then wrote an Assessment Report, which included a set of observations and recommendations for improvements to business processes and replacements of some systems. It documented a comprehensive set of requirements, and it included a list of systems to consider for a new CRM. It proposed options for how systems could be integrated in the future.
The NAC was interested in adopting the recommendations, especially in replacing its core legacy CRM system so it could integrate constituent information. The NAC has many touchpoints with its audiences, donors, and stakeholders. Bringing that information together would help them better understand and serve these audiences. The NAC and JCA teams put together cost and revenue projections to make a case for a new CRM system, and with NAC leadership’s approval, prepared a Request for Proposal for vendors of potential solutions.
At the same time that JCA and the NAC were working on the Needs Assessment and Request for Proposal, the NAC was also working on a two-phase, capital project ahead of its 50th anniversary to be celebrated 2019: an architectural rejuvenation and a production renewal of its performance venues and equipment. This project became a major company-wide effort that involved many of the same staff involved in the CRM initiative. The demands of two major institutional projects were too great. Consequently, the CRM replacement project was put on hold in the summer of 2016.
Back on the Path to a New CRM System
Once the major renovations of the NAC were completed, the organization was ready to restart the CRM project in 2019. In the intervening three years, many things had changed at the NAC. The architectural rejuvenation had transformed the physical building and opened the way to a new set of public programming. The NAC had adopted some of the business process recommendations from the assessment, and their existing systems had received some enhancements. The NAC also had a number of new people in leadership positions, and these new leaders were strongly committed to adopting CRM practices and upgrading technology at the NAC.
The NAC and JCA determined that the previous needs assessment needed a refresh. JCA went onsite in the fall of 2019 to interview key staff about the changes to the requirements and produced an updated needs assessment. The refreshed needs assessment included an updated requirements list. The new assessment refined the NAC’s key CRM objectives to reflect the current situation:
- Integrate customer-centered operations to gain a more complete view of constituent behavior
- Develop and implement customer-centric offerings and processes
- Maximize relationships with new and existing constituents
- Enhance operational efficiency
- Adapt and embrace innovation
Next, once the NAC secured necessary funding to undertake a major modernization of its digital infrastructure, including a new CRM system, JCA and the NAC began to prepare a business case for the Board of Trustees to approve the investment in the CRM project. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March 2020, and the world went into lockdown.
Unexpected Curves from COVID
The COVID-19 pandemic radically altered the ways the NAC presented performances and interacted with audiences. Almost all performances and programs took place online, whether livestreamed or recorded. Since Spring 2022, the NAC is welcoming audiences back for in-person performances and events, but it will maintain a rich variety of online and free programming. The NAC needs the technological infrastructure to support digital interactions, to capture engagement with online performances, to store constituent histories, and to use them to enhance visitor experiences for its audiences, both online and in person.
The pandemic turned the NAC’s desire for improved systems into an absolute necessity. The COVID-19 crisis starkly highlighted the need for technology solutions that centralize and integrate data, streamline processes, and add automation when possible, thus enabling staff to work more efficiently. It demonstrated that staff need a modern CRM system to support their work.
COVID and the challenges of remote work slowed down the work on the business case, but the team continued. The business case was presented to the Board of Trustees in the summer of 2020, and they gave it their support, so JCA began preparing for the procurement process.
Steering through Procurement
The NAC is a Crown Corporation, a part of the Canadian federal government under the Ministry of Canadian Heritage. As such, the NAC must follow a strict procurement process. JCA adapted its system selection process to fit within the NAC’s procurement guidelines. The questions to vendors about their company, their proposed solution, and their implementation approach were merged into the NAC’s Request for Proposal. The needs assessment and requirements checklist became a part of the proposed Statement of Work. It described to vendors what the NAC sought in a new CRM system, and the vendors were required to respond how their system could meet each requirement. JCA also adapted the Vendor Evaluation Grid, our scorecard for evaluating each proposal, to incorporate it into the NAC’s framework for scoring.
The final Request for Proposal for a new CRM system was issued in the summer of 2021. The NAC’s procurement process included a public posting and a lengthy open period for submissions. After the submission period closed, the NAC team evaluated all the proposals, and only those that met a minimum overall technical score were invited to provide a demonstration of their system to the NAC. Demonstrations were held via video conference in Fall 2021.
In advance of the demonstrations, JCA and the NAC team had prepared demonstration scenarios related to the NAC’s specific business requirements. The vendors were sent the scenarios prior to the meetings, to give them the opportunity to prepare. Stakeholders from across the NAC attended the demonstrations, as did JCA. After the demonstrations, JCA guided the NAC team to update the vendor scoring, to reflect the knowledge they gained from the demonstrations about how well each system could meet their requirements.
Arriving at the Destination—A New CRM System
At the end of the evaluation process with pre-determined criteria, the NAC selected Tessitura to be its new CRM vendor. Tessitura wowed the selection committee with their product, in addition to meeting the greatest number of criteria established prior to the selection process. Implementation is in progress now, and the NAC will go live with ticketing and web sales in phase 1, planned for early 2023. Their goal is to integrate additional NAC databases in the coming years.
“The NAC was so well cared for by JCA,” said Robyn Gilchrest, Senior Director of Visitor Experience. “From truly getting to know the NAC and our business, the thoroughness lent to our needs assessment, their adaptability in aligning with our rigid procurement process—all the way through to the selection of the system, our hands were firmly held. We felt confident that JCA had our best interest in mind every step of the way. JCA will forever be known as friends of the NAC!”
It has been a long and winding road from the initial needs assessment that started in 2014, but the NAC is approaching its much-anticipated goal of a new CRM system that can support its vision of putting constituents at the heart of all they do.
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