Cirque du Soleil: Setting up a supplier network for a travelling show

The world-renowned circus tour is modernising its business processes behind-the-scenes with cloud-based applications to allow it to source materials locally while on the road, manage its international finances and allow its IT team to focus on business problems, not plumbing.


Cirque du Soleil, the world-renowned circus show which began its UK dates in London yesterday, has its eyes set on a public supplier network using SAP Ariba for the new year, its IT team tells ComputerworldUK. 

Due to a somewhat unorthodox business model, the show needs robust business processes to keep it onstage in the 350 cities it tours every year.

In a normal year, Cirque du Soleil deals with $450 million (£295 million) in foreign exchange, $360 million (£229 million) in royalties for designers, composers and writers, 19 separate currencies as well as 16,000 different suppliers to keep the show on the road.

Speaking at its headquarters in Montreal, chief operating officer Charles Décarie says the show manages this with a “core backbone system in one SAP instance".

He adds: “It’s a company that runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week and things are happening across the planet every single day. SAP bridges languages, culture, exchange rates and employees.”

Seamless order processing across different continents

Unlike traditional manufacturing, where the majority of procurements are processed through a Material Requirements Planning (MRP) system, Cirque du Soleil’s employees make requests for materials, costumes and props on an ad hoc basis, often last-minute before a show.

Nadia Malek, Cirque du Soleil's procurement lead, said: “As you can imagine what we buy is very unique - from yak hairs, to feathers, to rubber ducks. You name it, we buy it.

“We found that SAP and Ariba helps us collaborate and manage this spend centrally even though we are extremely decentralised. Montreal is the ‘manufacturing plant’ and we have plants all over the world. The only difference is they move every few weeks and we need to keep track of that.”

It is crucial that replacement costumes, materials and props are sent as soon as possible not only for entertainment but safety purposes. For instance, a gymnast’s costume must fit perfectly to avoid injuries.

Further, orders come from different continents, Malek explains: “Often it is three people, three time-zones, three languages and one system getting it all done together."

The firm purchased Ariba as a sourcing tool two years ago, but currently operates a private supplier network. It hopes 2015 will be the year it can open up to SAP’s 1.6 billion-strong pool of suppliers so that artists and employees travelling the world can source locally in the event of a ripped gymnast costume or broken harness to ensure the show can go on.

Circus in the cloud

The show has been using cloud-based applications for three years now, Cirque du Soleil’s Bernard Hébert, Vice President Information and Business Systems says. It is developing a Microsoft Azure platform that integrates its SAP Ariba, Concur and Success Factors applications, and it is hoped that “75 to 80 percent of our applications will be cloud-based within the next four years,” Hébert adds.

Productivity gains

The IT team reported zero downtime, cheap infrastructure and boosted productivity in its shift to the cloud. Hébert says: “The time-to-market for projects on the IT side is approximately 30 to 40 percent stronger.

“The focus and value we bring to the business is now quite different as we have less complexity on the technical side to manage so we can focus on business improvements and processes solutions instead of the bits and bytes.”

Now read:

3D printers: Cirque du Soleil 'testing' technology to design its showstopping costumes  

Image credit: © Marie-Chantale Vaillancourt

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