Three reasons why a custom made database no longer pays off

Almost all of our customers started with a self-built system, made by a specialist, in which they kept their festival database. This sounds logical. Every festival is unique, with its own work processes. The database is therefore annually updated, with sharpened processes or additional fields. All forms on the festival website are also modified almost every year, and the database must be adjusted accordingly.

Do you recognize these yearly changes in your festival database and website? And are you wondering if you need to make some changes? We like to give you three reasons why we believe a self-developed database no longer pays off, based on true stories we heard from other festivals (plus a bonus!).

Standard is the new custom

1. It takes a lot of time to add new things.

Three months before the festival, the program department of a big international festival devised a new theme for the festival. Let’s call the theme “discover”. “Discover” had to be created in addition to the three existing themes in the database – “listening”, “seeing” and “creating”. The developer of the database indicated that it was way too late to add “discover” as an option to the database. A new theme three months before the festival? His response: that needs to be adjusted in at least eight places and there is so much other work to do … that really won’t work anymore! That self-built database suddenly isn’t that flexible as you thought it was.

2. The database becomes a jungle of fields and buttons to wield through.

An intern from the guest department received training in the festival database to learn how it works. With the manual included, the intern and the guest coordinator went through all the steps together. On page 3 of the manual, there is a screenshot of one of the steps, with a large red cross over a button. “NEVER CLICK HERE !!!” is written in capital letters. The intern asked why this is the case. Nobody knew what this button did anymore. Even the developer of the database could not give a satisfying answer. That is why everyone had to stay away from the button as far as possible. If you can’t fix the problem, just try not to break it?

3. The costs for development and maintenance are increasing each year.

To make the invitation process for the opening run smoother, a new checkbox was added to the database called “invite every year”. That worked pretty well at first, but … isn’t it more convenient to have a field called “just invite this year”? Two years later everything, a new coordinator of the opening thought it would be smarter to call the option “usual suspect”, which is basically the same as “invite every year”, so back to the first option again. The developer says “you say jump, we say how high” – which is great with a customized system! – but due to misguided decisions, the costs for development are increasing.

Bonus: 4. When the system developer no longer wants to / can work for you, all knowledge about the database will be lost.

Self-developed databases become more complicated over the years, with a growing number of fields and options. The developer of your database knows the ins and outs of the software, but he/she also lacks comprehension of all the functionality built over the years. If this developer leaves your organization, then you have a major problem. Who can still access the database? Who understands the structure of the database? What do all fields mean? Do you have sufficient documentation of the product? To store all the knowledge of one’s database with one employee can be risky.

What are the alternatives?

The most-heard reason for a festival to create a database themself: we want a tool that is tailored to our unique work. A customized, tailored solution is exactly what we want as well. Something that fits all the work processes and stores all the data of your festival.

While creating Fiona, we talked with the three biggest film festivals in the Netherlands: International Documentary Festival Amsterdam, International Film Festival Rotterdam and Nederlands Film Festival. Although each festival is different, there are also similarities. Festivals all keep track of the same data: information about films, guests, people, companies, shows… The main working areas are also the same: researching films, inviting people, publishing data to a website. And every organization also has the same goal: to create a great festival. Together with these three partners, we came up with a flexible solution. The basis is the same for each organization: a steady database. The flexibility comes with all the options to customize it to your festival with overviews, statuses, templates and custom fields. With the help of our clients, Fiona is always up to the latest standards of the festival industry. Best of all, the costs are predictable each year.

Do you want a no-obligation analysis of your festival database? Please contact us.

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Digna van Nielen

Written by Digna van Nielen

Digna is project manager at Fiona since the start of the company. She worked for various film festivals in the programme department. Digna is service oriented as wel as a problem solver.

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Digna van Nielen
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