Historic Met museum puts new technologies on display (video)

The Metropolitan Museum of Art faced a legacy challenge few organizations have to worry about. It needed to improve the visitor experience without disrupting the culture of the 145-year-old museum. In this video report, CIO.com’s Lauren Brousell looks at how the Met combined iPads, kiosks and mobile apps with Rembrandt and Monet.

iPads, smartwatches and Google Glass weren’t around when Van Gogh created his iconic self-portraits in the 1800s. So how does an institution like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which has been around for 145 years, integrate new technology? That’s the question CTO Jeff Spar and his team asked themselves as they tried to reduce visitor wait times, speed up the ticketing process and enhance the museum experience without disrupting it.

Metropolitan Museum of Art Lauren Brousell

“We had to find the right balance between being able to introduce the technology [without changing] the culture of the museum,” he says. “This is a place where the art is the number 1 experience, so we didn’t want the technology to take away from people coming and enjoying the museum.”

Before rolling out any new technologies, the museum had to consolidate its siloed IT systems, paring them down from six to two. Now it has customer data housed in two main systems, one for ticketing, and one for fundraising. The goal is to combine those two systems into a single environment by 2016, something that the IT team is currently working on.

[ Related: How big data helped the Norman Rockwell Museum grow revenue ]

“This institution grew up as a series of siloed, curatorial departments,” says Spar. “When we started this project, we had to take data from several different systems. So we built an API layer in order to connect with all the existing systems, and bring all the information together.”

Adding kiosks to a venerable entryway

After the consolidation, Spar dealt with the main pain point for visitors: the long lines to enter the museum. The first step was to install a set of kiosks in the museum’s Great Hall entryway.

Many museums in the U.S. have kiosks among galleries and exhibits to provide information and additional content. Some museums -- such as Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and Museum of Science -- have also installed them to make it more convenient for visitors to purchase and/or pick-up tickets or memberships. Overall, museums are feeling the push for the inclusion of more technology. One example of this is Bloomberg Philanthropies’ 2014 donation of $17 million to six museums for interactive devices and mobile apps.

The Met adds Kiosks and Mobile Apps Lauren Brousell

At the Met, kiosks now allow visitors to purchase or print tickets to the museum, concerts or events as well as buy a museum membership. As the second part of the rollout, the museum deployed iPads to be used by representatives in the Great Hall as a complement to the kiosks. Both technologies run on homegrown applications, which serve as extensions of the point-of-sale system.

Spar says the iPads, “allow the membership department and the visitors’ services department to sell admissions, sell memberships and service their customers from an iPad. They can use them either in a fixed state, at a membership desk, or they can roam through the whole museum.”

But in order for the iPads, the Met’s mobile app and its mobile website to work onsite, the museum deployed public and private Wi-Fi, not an easy task for the two-million-square-foot property. The IT department installed 700 access points across the 27 buildings that make up the museum and estimate that they have around 95 percent coverage.

All of these new technologies have helped the museum learn more about its customers, reduce paper processes and almost completely eliminate data entry. Now approximately 71 percent of the museum’s memberships are sold through the kiosks and iPads.

How the Met can compete with the Mets

Bruce Temkin, managing partner and founder of Temkin Group, a customer experience research firm, says these efforts need to go beyond bolstering the front-end sales experience and work towards competing with other companies in the events and entertainment space, like Broadway shows and New York Yankees and Mets games, for example.

“The Met needs to take that brand and business strategy and appeal to a younger generation,” he says. “They don’t want to introduce technology that takes away from the experience of the art but if you think about a younger audience, they already use technology to integrate with the in-person experience.”

Temkin also cited the museum’s mobile app as a significant area of potential. The app currently offers information about art and exhibits but isn’t integrated with its mobile website, which allows customers to buy tickets or listen to the audio guide. “They need to rethink the in-museum experience and how to use digital technology and other things to help people find and be inspired by the art there. The app gives them an opportunity to give people a dramatically different experience.”

The Met’s ultimate goal is to create a single customer view and a continuous museum experience, before, during and after a visit, something that the chief digital officer’s (CDO) department has been helping with.

“What we’re doing at the Met is to make a virtuous circle between what’s physical and what’s digital and what I’d like to do is say ‘let’s make the online experience so fantastic that people want to come in person,’” says Sree Sreenivasan , the Met’s CDO. “And then once they’re here we make it so terrific that they want to stay in touch with us via email, via social, via our app. Those are all possible because of the very close relationship we have between the CTO’s office and the CDO’s office.”

Next, the museum is working on leveraging the iPads for mobile merchandising so visitors can buy prints of their favorite art right from the gallery, for example. They are also experimenting with iBeacons to transmit information on a piece of art to your smartphone as you view it and exploring applications for wearables like Google Glass and Oculus Rift.

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