Can apps save the arts?

How Tees software firm Sapere is working with the arts, hospitality and leisure industries…

The arts, hospitality and leisure industries have been particularly badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.

As all three rely on face-to-face contact and large gatherings, most such businesses have been closed for long periods over the past 12 months, with some never to reopen.

However, the pandemic has also focused the industry’s mind on how technology can be used to support it – both now and once restrictions are lifted.

Paul Drake, operations manager at Teesside-based software firm Sapere, points to the work he has been doing with Teesside Music Alliance (TMA) to ease the pain of lockdown.

He said: “TMA approached us after Covid-19 restrictions forced it to put a stop to its live events, which provide the organisation with its main source of income.

“With traditional streaming options being too expensive, the team at TMA were looking for a cost-effective solution to allow them to share concerts safely, without the need for costly equipment or running costs.

“We created a solution that uses an innovative streaming camera with 150-degree viewing angle, combined with software to give the illusion of different camera angles.

“It’s early days, but this will enable them to stream live music to paying customers and generate much-needed revenue for the business.”

However, as well as the streaming of live performances – a necessity which will hopefully not be long term – the Sapere team also came up with software to manage and simplify the booking process.

Paul added: “We designed and built a bespoke platform to manage the secure signup and management of tickets and payments. This has integrated all the elements, providing a seamless, secure, cost-effective solution.”

It is solutions such as this which have a much broader application that Paul thinks could be used more widely across the leisure industry as a whole, even once lockdowns are lifted and venues can reopen.

“Think how much more time a business could have or how much more money they could make if the booking system was digital, the payment mechanism linked to the booking system was digital and the payment mechanism automatically created an entry in the accounts package,” he explained.

“When it comes down to it, this is the essence of software is all about; automating a time-consuming, traditional manual process.

“When you think of it, most businesses in all manner of industries need some form of booking, payment collection and invoice-raising solution.

“If time and money is freed up through automating these processes, it allows businesses to concentrate their efforts on their key services, which is better for both them and their clients.”

However, while the technology to automate such processes has been around for a while, many elements of the leisure industry have been slow on the uptake – although Covid has changed this to some degree.

Paul said: “While there are pockets of the industry that have been onboard with this type of technology for a while, such as cinemas, tourism and the larger hospitality chains, it’s not universal by any means.

“The culture and heritage market, such as museums, smaller restaurant and pub chains, and sport-focused organisations do tend to be behind the times.

“And while Covid has certainly made the bigger food and pub chains put more digital platforms in place to manage elements like bookings and table service, the smaller ones don’t appear to have embraced this revolution yet,

“While in some ways this is understandable – they’ve been in survival mode after all – it is a bit of a lost opportunity.

“There are plenty of cost-effective, off-the-shelf digital platforms they could be using to make their businesses more accessible and more efficient, ready for when the industry starts reopening.”

For TMA, the results have been the difference between survival and going under – with the benefits also able to be harnessed once life returns to normal.

Chief executive Paul Burns said: “Our work on this project probably wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for the pandemic, as it’s a solution to help tackle reduced, socially-distanced audience numbers.

“Before Covid, the priority was getting people packed into a room together. Those days are possibly gone for some time to come; but this is a way of adding to our numbers in a safe way.

“What’s more, if shows start to get back to selling to our maximum capacity, then the pay-per-view is a great way to increase numbers, and it will allow audiences to see our shows from anywhere in the world.”

With a year of financial struggles for many leisure and hospitality businesses, investing in software – however cost-effective it may be – is unlikely to be top of their priority list.

However, finance is available for these types of projects, both locally and nationally.

Tees Valley Business offers eligible businesses up to 55 per cent funding for capital and revenue-based projects that lead to business growth.

Meanwhile, the government’s Help To Grow: Digital offers money off software that can be used to help firms save time and cut costs.

With a focus on getting the hospitality trade up and running as soon as possible, could now be the ideal time to move into the 21st century?