Solomon Group Delivers Innovation and Differentiation in Entertainment
Solomon Group Delivers Innovation and Differentiation with the Power of Low-code Development
- New Orleans-based Solomon Group is an entertainment production company, specializing in large events like the NCAA Playoff Kickoff and the Essence Festival
- Already an industry leader in event management tasks like lighting, sound, and ticketing, Solomon Group added custom development to further differentiate itself in the market
- Using Mendix, Solomon Group delivers fit-for-purpose apps that increase their clients’ ticket sales, manage vendors, please VIPs, and improve event navigation
True innovation is the product of having the right tools and frame of mind to recognize an opportunity to solve a new or existing problem.
It was with the right frame of mind that Solomon Group sought the tools it needed to solve an internal business challenge, only to discover opportunities to become an innovator itself, to deliver rich, creative solutions to its clients, and transform itself in the process.
Standardization and flexibility
Solomon Group creates immersive, audience-centric stories that educate, entertain, and engage. When the company designs and produces an event like the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans or Super Bowl XLVII, it handles virtually every detail — booking the venue, coordinating hotel stays, building the scenery in its fabrication shop, and providing the multi-media equipment. It does this across dozens of projects at any given time.
Solomon Group’s transformation started with a need for efficiency. Solomon Group co-founder and partner, Jonathan Foucheaux, recognized the need for standardization and streamlined operations in order to deliver high-quality audience experiences. “Our most important business objective is to provide a quality product to our clients as quickly as possible. We work in a very, very fast-paced industry, and we’re always going a million miles an hour, so the standardization of processes, and efficiencies, is the name of the game,” says Foucheaux. “The entertainment industry is very personal, relationship-based. We have no room for error. When 80,000 people are trying to scan their wristbands to get into the event, it has to work. There’s no option for it not to work.”
To ensure that the firm’s employees and work functions stayed in sync, employees used spreadsheets, Word documents, and paper files to track projects. The company also used a custom application built with Quick Base. However, these processes became unsustainable. Solomon employees found Quick Base very limiting and simply stopped using it. As a result, project managers were wasting hours searching for information.
The team experimented with a relational database product, FileMaker, but quickly realized that it, like Quick Base, wouldn’t meet the firm’s requirements. “It didn’t offer enough flexibility or customization to accommodate our processes. We knew we wanted to do this ourselves. We’re pretty technically savvy, but by no means are we coders. So, we started to look at low-code software development platforms,” Foucheaux says.
Using sound judgment
While researching low-code platforms online, the team came across Mendix.
Low-code development provided the power and flexibility Solomon Group was seeking. “We chose Mendix because the product is both powerful and very easy to use,” says Foucheaux. “That’s what we were looking for. We needed something that was easy to use but would allow us to dig in and do almost anything that we wanted it to do.”
After sitting with the Mendix team and learning the platform, Foucheaux and his team were ready to get developing.
Within four months, Solomon Group built a custom ERP application on Mendix. “Going through the process of building the application and seeing it handle everything we wanted was pretty cool,” states Foucheaux.
In the past, ordering services for different facets of an event was an arduous process that involved multiple phone calls, order slips, looking up of prices, and comparing specs of materials. The new application organizes all of the project information in one system and links department workflows to each other, eliminating endless searches and saving employees hundreds of hours per month. Now, Foucheaux says, “Thanks to our ability to easily build sophisticated process logic with Mendix, you click on a project in the new app and it brings you exactly where you want to go. Instead of 30, 40, 50 clicks in our old Quick Base app, it’s just two clicks in our Mendix app.”
What started as a means of achieving efficiency turned into a vehicle for innovative outcomes. The application even impressed Solomon Group’s clients. “Some of our clients were working at an event and our folks were in the system on their laptops,” says Foucheaux. “The clients asked what software we were using, and we told them we made it ourselves. They were like, ‘Whoa, that’s amazing.’ That’s when we started thinking that maybe there’s something we can do with Mendix on the service side for our clients.”
Around the same time, Solomon Group was managing a large music festival, and it needed a solution for festival management. While there are commercial-off-the-shelf solutions, Solomon Group found them to be too rigid for its needs. “We literally made a platform for one event,” says Foucheaux. The project has been a success, entering its second year in production. “It’s pretty spectacular what we’ve been able to do for the client thanks to Mendix.”
Meeting safety regulations — and business objectives
It became clear that Solomon Group was equipped to solve complex business problems when the firm began working on an event at a convention center.
Citing capacity issues at previous events in the same venue, the local fire marshal decided that once a predetermined number of people entered the building, no one else would be admitted. This limitation severely impacted the ability of Solomon’s client and their sponsors to meet their business goals.
Foucheaux needed a way to accurately calculate the number of people in the venue at any given time. He recalls the fire marshal doubting Solomon’s ability to monitor attendance: “The fire marshal posed the question to us: ‘How are you going to monitor how many people are leaving so that you know how many to let in? With clickers?’”
That’s when it dawned on Foucheaux and his team: “What if we build sensors that can track people walking in and out of a lane, and post that data into a new Mendix application?”
And that’s exactly what Solomon Group did. Sensors on optical turnstiles fed data to a Mendix-built application, allowing event managers to see in real-time the number of people that entered, the number that exited, and available capacity in the building. The fire marshal allowed Solomon Group to implement their IoT-enabled turnstiles. As a result, the event garnered a 50% increase in ticket sales.
The project was so successful, Solomon Group invited a fire marshal from another municipality to see the system in action to solve a similar problem for another event. “Because we could monitor where people were inside the venue — room to room, and inside and out — that client was able to convince the fire marshal to let them sell 2,000 additional tickets to their event,” Foucheaux says. At $350 per ticket, this added an additional $700,000 in single-day ticket sales to the client’s revenue.
The system had another unexpected benefit, according to Foucheaux: “We didn’t realize how many metrics we could get out of the data these optical turnstiles generate. We can chart how many people attended an event, when they left, the entrances and exits they used, the most popular room in the building at any given time. And the clients are super thrilled about it.”
We’re coders now
Foucheaux himself had no previous experience in application development prior to Mendix. “Solomon Group is a very tech-savvy company, but none of us are coders,” Foucheaux says. “That didn’t stop us from quickly learning how to build apps on the Mendix platform.”
When talking to clients who don’t want to invest in existing commercial-off-the-shelf solutions, Solomon Group can now offer an option of building a solution for them with Mendix. In one instance, Foucheaux told a customer, “Yeah, we can do it. We’re coders now.”
Solomon Group allows its clients to make changes to their applications, as well. “It’s important for us that stakeholders at an event can go into the app and make changes on the fly. Mendix allows them to do something that’s very technical in a very easy way. And that’s the huge value that we see that it brings us.”
While ease-of-use has been critical to Solomon Group’s success, the applications it builds are only useful insofar as Mendix is scalable and reliable.
If an application doesn’t work, Solomon Group doesn’t get a second chance to get it right. “It’s critical that everything works and is reliable. It’s really hard to test that when you have a spike of users from four or five at the beginning of a week to 150,000 in the middle of the week and into the weekend. It’s critical that our apps are reliable and scalable on a moment’s notice to keep up with the demand so that everyone can have a great experience,” Foucheaux says.
In an industry where success is measured on whether or not the audience is entertained, Solomon Group can now ensure that for their clients. “The reliability and the scalability that Mendix delivers assures us that the application will work, it will be rock solid and everybody’s going to have a good time.”
Building business by building apps
The business benefits Mendix delivers have exceeded the firm’s expectations. “When we first got into Mendix, we were literally just looking for something to build our internal system on. And now, every week, it seems a new need comes up, and someone says, ‘Hey, let’s go to Mendix and build an app for that,’” Foucheaux says.
“Mendix has really been a game changer for us internally and externally. It’s allowed us to differentiate ourselves from our competitors that are primarily focused on the production aspects of events and use off-the-shelf management systems,” Foucheaux explains.
Solomon Group currently has 20 applications in production mode, two of which are internal-facing and 18 that are customer-facing. The growing opportunity to build custom applications is even driving Solomon Group to expand its team. The firm is hiring people specifically to manage their Mendix application portfolio.
“We bring stories to life. That’s what we do for our clients every day, and Mendix is a key tool with helping us do that by allowing us to build applications quickly, make changes quickly, iterate through different ideas with our clients, and really bring what they’re looking for to life in a very quick and efficient way,” Foucheaux says. As a result, Solomon Group has become singular in the entertainment production marketplace for the types of problems they can solve for their clients.