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EXCLUSIVE - Enhancing visitor experience at the National Museum of Australia through data collection and analytics

OpenGov sat down with Mike Webb, Chief Information Officer (CIO) at the National Museum of Australia to understand how ICT innovations are aiming to enhance visitor experience and drive business growth. Mr. Webb talked about better data collection and analytics to understand visitor behaviour and integrating Customer Relationship Management (CRM) data sources.

Can you tell us about your role?

I head the IT function, which encompasses records management, typical IT functions as well as the front-of-house IT. I try to align whatever we are doing with business strategy.

I have been in this role just under a year. I was the senior infrastructure architect at the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science in Australia for seven years prior to that.  

Traditionally, how big a role has been played by IT at the National Museum?

         The IT function has always played a big role in the Museum. The Museum has two core business systems. One is the CRM, which is about understanding and managing our relationships with customers. The other is our Collection Management System. We have around 300,000 objects and they are managed through databases.                              

Moreover, during the last few years, we are moving into digital collections. It involves digitising various objects, in the form of images, video, 3D models.

I am fortunate to work in an organisation, where IT is seen as a critical partner to the business. In our case, the legacy left behind by previous CIOs has been a very positive one and we could hit the ground running.

What are the projects and initiatives you are working on right now?

         We are working wireless replacement project for the galleries, where we are replacing end of life hardware but we are also looking to leverage the analytics that modern hardware can generate, to be able to give us an understanding of visitor behaviour.                              

It includes information about where people go when they visit the Museum, what objects they stop in front of, whether they go to the shop and the cafe, any galleries they miss or skip altogether. This helps us to understand visitor behaviour and develop mobile applications that can give visitors supplementary content, such as short curated videos about particular objects and enhance user experience.

It’s a big building. There are only so many objects that we can put in there at a time. But we can supplement in the digital space and we can give users the ability to track and say I want to go on a particular type of tour.

Another project I am working on is consolidation of our customer relationship data sources. At the moment, we have got a handful of different systems managing customer data. We are trying to aggregate and consolidate it and thereby, get more use and greater value out of that data and simplify the system for the users.  

Aerial view of the National Museum of Australia (Photo by Percita Dittmar / CC-BY-SA-2.0)

What are the challenges you faced in implementing the tracking system?

The Museum is a magnificent building. But it is very complex for wireless. It’s not like a hotel or a shopping centre, where you have square walls and open areas.

         So, it’s a complex exercise to provide a quality wireless signal, to change the wireless design from what it is at the moment and implement one that provides location. That’s a case of lots more access points, that are able to track, assist in locating and triangulating wireless enabled devices.                              

We also need very detailed and accurate floor-maps, so that the analytics that is capturing that location data off the wireless network can fingerprint and have an idea of where you are, based on a bunch of mathematical formulas. We can buy that component and we don’t have to develop it ourselves.

Data on visitor behaviour is going to be invaluable. At the moment, we rely on infrared heat sensors on doors and entryways, which are quite anecdotal. For example, in the Museum there are some galleries where there are 4 different exit points.  It doesn’t tell you if the bulk of visitors that go into a particular gallery exit through one door or whether the exits are evenly distributed over four doors. So, you cannot necessarily track or trend data through particular galleries. You get raw numbers and you have to try to ascertain and assume that potentially that is what’s going on.

The wireless analytics will be a lot more accurate and useful. I will stress though that it’s not designed to or capable of tracking an individual or individual device. It’s about trends, about saying that 80% of people go to all these galleries or aggregate information, such as the average visit duration.  

Additionally, we might become aware of galleries that might need better efforts from our side to help people get there because it is a complex building.

Does a mobile device have to be logged into the wireless network for this to work?

No, you don’t necessarily need to connect to our wireless network. If your device has wireless technology, and has wireless enabled, we will be able to get some basic data around its movements within the Museum, even if you are not connected to the network. It will not be as accurate as if you do connect to the network. The intent is to be able to leverage that network with mobile apps, so that we can more accurately track location.

What is the timeline for this project?

The first phase of the project, which is the hardware replacement, has started. The design phase is all but complete. We have partnered with vendors for the wireless hardware and the analytics engine. We expect hardware replacement to be completed close to the end of the current calendar year. During the following six months, we will be tuning the analytics, the locations, the network. Following that, once we have a good understanding of the accuracy of the network, we will want to look at what use cases we have for some of our applications.

Wireless is part of our mobility strategy. We have got a reasonable sized workforce and limited office space. The wireless network is also used within corporate areas, for back-office functions. And it is used by collection management staff in warehouses as well.

You mentioned integration of CRM data. Where are you storing your data at the moment?

We are using a mix at the moment. We have our own data centres. Most of our customer data is held on premises. We are leveraging cloud services for ticketing and events.

The challenge that we have is around integration of those systems. It’s useful for our marketing teams to be able to understand whether a marketing campaign led to a ticket sale, looking at the full lifecycle. At the moment, we have disparate systems, one managing memberships, another managing  ticketing. It’s really about how we can correlate the data, have a holistic profile of a customer, so that we can provide them a better experience.                              

At the moment, we are in the strategy phase, for the executive to determine the strategic direction with regards to how we want to interact with our customers, visitors in our Museum, and that flows down to initiatives to determine what we need to do in terms of IT.

I expect it to be a phased project. If we are successful, the business will derive huge benefits from obtaining and analysing all the data.  

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