Reader ROI\n\nSee how an IT champion can influence an organization\n\nLearn how one museum\u2019s IT projects save time and money in procuring and managing works of art\n\nExplore how museums use technology to bring collections to patronsDeep into the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA), past the main exhibit hall, past the special exhibit of Impressionists, beyond the famous armor court, Chief Registrar Mary Suzor inspects a diminutive statue. Hunched over an antique mahogany desk, Suzor works in the shadow of a series of huge oak file cabinets that line the back wall of her office. More than 100 drawers across, the cabinet contains nearly 45,000 fading index cards with information about every item the museum has owned since it opened in 1916.Collections managers of yesterday referred to these cards 20 to 30 times a day, constantly updating information by hand as it became available. Today, however, the catalog is more of a museum relic, thanks to a new, Windows-based collections management system and museumwide strides in information technology. The system, named after the Greek painter Apelles, enables Suzor to manage data\u2014details about a work\u2019s provenance, its artist and materials used\u2014about every museum object electronically, with some keystrokes and a few clicks of her mouse."My job has changed dramatically over the last few years," she says with a hint of nostalgia and a touch of relief. "Technology is responsible for it all."IT is transforming the museum experience around the country (see "IT on Exhibit," Page 252), from the venerable CMA to the Experience Music Project, a newmusic museum in Seattle. Once remarkably low-tech institutions, these nonprofits are turning to IT in record numbers to streamline processes and cut costs across the board. At most museums, IT efforts are led by someone in the finance department or by a technologist who reports to a vice president. Yet at the CMA, IT falls under the auspices of CIO Leonard Steinbach, a frenetic, fast-talking, ponytail-wearing transplant from, as he says, "big, bad Noo Yawk." Fresh off a three-year stint at his hometown\u2019s Guggenheim Museum, Steinbach is regarded by many industry bigwigs as a champion of IT in the nonprofit world. One year into his tenure at the CMA, he\u2019s proven himself with innovative initiatives that include a spanking new website, a highly regarded distance education curriculum and a grandiose effort to digitize every object in the museum\u2019s collection. Though the 48-year-old insists that technology isn\u2019t essential for museums to survive, he sees IT as a catalyst for moving museums into the 21st century and beyond."Art, not technology, is a museum\u2019s core competency," he states dryly. In his view, museums should use technology to make art accessible to everyone. "IT is an enabler, something we can use to bring people and art closer together. Can a museum exist without technology? Sure, most of them have done it for years. But how can a museum use technology to play more of a role in people\u2019s lives? That is the question I\u2019m here to solve."The CIO in His StudioSteinbach\u2019s basement office at the CMA is a museum in and of itself; he displays more gadgets and gizmos than a child obsessed with Pokemon. There\u2019s a pair of TOMY hoppers, a model 1964 Chrysler Turbine, a plastic pinball machine and, of course, some Star Wars figurines. These items have followed Steinbach everywhere in the past decade, and as recently as last September, they lined his shelves at the Guggenheim, where he was hired in 1996 after two years as the National League of Nursing\u2019s vice president for IT. Back then, the Guggenheim\u2019s IT infrastructure consisted of disparate local area networks running off DOS computers. As Steinbach remembers today, the institution was so behind the times that its "fax machines didn\u2019t even work right." During the next three years, he converted the museum from DOS to Windows, consolidated a half-dozen LANs into a wide-area network and partnered with Novell to establish a virtual private network that bridged the Guggenheim with its sister institution in Bilbao, Spain.Across the industry, these accomplishments did not go unnoticed. In the spring of 1999, CMA officials approached Steinbach to come to work for them. The museum had never employed a CIO, but after rewriting their strategic goals that winter, museum officials and other members of the board of directors were eager to establish the position for the future. According to Assistant Director Stephanie Stebich, museum officials knew exactly what they wanted their CIO to do, and they knew they wanted Steinbach to do it."We decided technology is a tool and a vehicle for us, that it wasn\u2019t just about bits and bytes, but instead about getting our message out and bringing people closer to art," Stebich explains. "In order to do that, in order to do it right, we needed an equal partner who would be working on technology full time. We needed Len."Steinbach was flattered but skeptical at first. Despite the museum\u2019s reputation as one of the foremost encyclopedic institutions in the world, he questioned the organization\u2019s commitment to technology and wondered aloud whether he, a die-hard New Yorker, could "stomach" a move to Cleveland. Finally, after Stebich and her colleagues institutionalized the museum\u2019s goal "to become a national leader in the use of new and emerging technologies," Steinbach climbed aboard. On a bright but chilly day last September, he packed up his trinkets and moved from Forest Hills, N.Y., to Cleveland Heights, Ohio. It was time to start anew.Drawing On a Large CanvasNever one to ease into anything, Steinbach launched himself into his new digs immediately. With an IT budget of just over $900,000, he knew he\u2019d have to be creative if he wanted to accomplish big changes quickly. By the end of his first month, he had performed an exhaustive analysis of the museum\u2019s IT infrastructure and recommended minor improvements to many of the basic business systems, such as the applications used to organize membership and business development. He tinkered with Apelles, installed a new credit card processing network and replaced the museum\u2019s telephones. Then he turned his gaze on a larger project: the website (www.cma-oh.org).Back then, the CMA\u2019s site was nothing spectacular\u2014a few images here, a little text there, and some static information about hours and membership. But Steinbach had big plans, and he hired Boston-based Keane to help turn them into reality. Keane consultants came in, interviewed museum representatives about what they wanted in a website, then worked with website designers at Columbus, Ohio-based Motivo to redesign the site from top to bottom. They added content and digitized more than 350 of the museum\u2019s most popular objects for a virtual gallery to exist only in cyberspace. When the site relaunched this spring, industry experts hailed it as one of the most sophisticated of its kind."Theirs is one of the most well-designed sites I\u2019ve seen," says Leslie Johnston, editor of eSpectra, the monthly newsletter of the Museum Computer Network. "For those people who might not be able to pass through Cleveland to see the art in person, it provides a wealth of images and information. Other museums do this, but few of them offer as many images as [the CMA]."Impressed with the overwhelmingly positive response to the digital images, Steinbach decided to take the project a step further and in March announced plans to digitize every object in the museum\u2019s collection. He dubbed the effort the Digital Imaging Initiative and outlined a five-year plan to create digital facsimiles of more than 40,000 objects and 450,000 slides. He commissioned museum technologists to begin the effort right away. By Aug. 1, they had digitized more than 2,000 objects.Believe it or not, creating digital images of these items is as easy as it sounds. Curators in the museum\u2019s conservation department photograph the objects with sophisticated digital cameras, tinker with the images in Adobe Photoshop, and upload them to a Sybase database for storage and easy access on the Web. Over the next few months, Steinbach says, the process will only get more complex: Technologists will soon go beneath the surface of many objects, using spectography and X-rays, to create a living record of how the object has deteriorated over the years.Throughout the museum, news of the initiative has art fiends giggling like schoolchildren. Stebich and other officials are touting the project as "the next big thing," and board members are already sizing up a marketing plan. Bruce Christman, the CMA\u2019s chief conservator, says the digital images should make his job easier, greatly prolonging the life of every object the museum owns. "If you have a good digital image, it cuts down on everyone\u2019s need to handle it," he says. "From my perspective, that\u2019s great news." Still, with so many digital images, the CMA runs the risk of inadvertently altering an object\u2019s natural colors. Experts such as Johnston warn that the digitizing process dulls colors to the point where a trained eye cannot match them to those on the original. To eliminate the possibility of color or image distortion, Steinbach has signed a partnership with E-Color, a San Francisco-based company that uses electronic cookies\u2019 to produce color-corrected images so that objects appear exactly the same from one computer to the next. While Steinbach says this technology does not reproduce the experience of viewing art in person, he notes that it can make "quite a difference" while viewing art online.Modernist Looks Ahead Listening to Steinbach talk about E-Color and his Digital Imaging Initiative is like listening to a teenager talk about his first love. Steinbach considers digitizing the CMA\u2019s collection his "pet project," and never being one for modesty, he rarely passes on an opportunity to discuss it. Still, he is equally animated when outlining some of the other IT projects on tap for the future\u2014further improvements to the website, exhaustive systems integration, expanded distance learning and trailblazing research in the area of cognitive science. The first of these efforts is the next step in a constant plan to improve the CMA\u2019s presence online. Already, Steinbach has created a special New Media Initiatives division within the IT department. And in September, the museum was scheduled to broadcast its first live Web event, a series of lectures at a memorial conference for former CMA Director Robert Bergman. Later this fall, technologists plan to launch a special section, which Steinbach says will take Web visitors on a virtual tour of behind-the-scenes hot spots such as the restoration room, the conservation department and collections, where Suzor and her colleagues rely on the Apelles system to catalog information about objects themselves."To the casual eye, we have a bunch of hooks with paintings on the wall," says Steinbach. "In reality, there\u2019s much more to a museum we feel people should know."Once the website changes have been made, Steinbach vows to focus on other efforts. Within the next year, he hopes to integrate the museum\u2019s retail, finance and ticketing systems. By early 2001, he plans to revamp the museum\u2019s distance education program, expanding its videoconferencing curriculum for students who cannot visit the museum.Last, Steinbach boasts idealistically about unveiling a new initiative to invest in technologies that attempt to bridge the gap between art and its observers. Everyone sees artwork differently, he says, and eventually technologists should be able to use their craft to customize the museum experience for every visitor. When pressed to explain how this might work, Steinbach is surprisingly at a loss for words; he knows it can be done, but so far, he hasn\u2019t figured out how to do it. That, he says, is precisely why he plans to raise awareness through a symposium and other research forums."IT gives us so much. Someday we\u2019ll have to be able to figure out how to use it to make every person\u2019s visit different," he says. "Do I know how to do that? Not yet. But that\u2019s the beauty of technology. What we don\u2019t know today, we will know three years from now. There was a time when digitizing paintings seemed nuts. The fact that that\u2019s now in our [stable] of talents is a testament to the kind of role technology will play in the future of museums as a whole."