CIO interview: Julian Payne, head of ICT, Science Museum Group

The Science Museum Group has just completed a merger with the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester. Beginning in 2012 and took two years to integrate all business and IT functionality with the group

The Science Museum Group has just completed a merger with the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester. Beginning in 2012, the project took two years to integrate all business and IT functionality with the group, which also includes London’s Science Museum, The Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, National Railway Museum in York and the National Media Museum in Bradford.

Head of ICT, Julian Payne, was in charge of the IT integration, and began the IT side of the merger in April last year. He chose Huddle for external collaboration between the Manchester and London sites, which enabled him to create many workspaces that could be accessed by the large integration team including various project managers.

Payne says Huddle allowed the team to control the project and ensure each of the seven projects was going according to plan. In the past, Payne’s team would have collaborated via email and lots of different storage folders, but Huddle’s cloud-based application allowed staff access to necessary project files at any time of the day on any device.

“It was very simple and intuitive to set up on Huddle,” he says.

Huddle also provided an element of flexibility and allowed the team to start working on the project using mobile devices to oversee the creation of new access paths between the Manchester and London.

“We’re not a very mobile rich organisation,” says Payne. “But we did start using devices such as tablets, which was really handy.”

Because the Science Museum Group had no external collaboration tools existing in-house or any time to develop a tool of its own, Payne had to research the market. He initially looked at trying to utilise SkyDrive and Google applications, because the organisation had used them already for different solutions, as well as We Transfer and Dropbox for moving documents, but Payne saw Huddle as the most flexible option.

Payne says Huddle still complements the group's existing tools, and it provided the project managers control of inviting known people into the workspace, which saves IT a job of controlling access.

Payne also liked the startup feel and enthusiasm from the Huddle team. “They were happy smiley people,” he says. Huddle set up the product and provided face-to-face and over the phone training. “It felt like they were more agile,” he says.

Moving forward, Payne says Huddle will remain the solution for any external collaboration. Due to the nature of the Science Museum Group’s work, it has to partner with a number of sponsors, investors, designers, and developers, which all work towards creating the exhibitions and galleries.

“Email is unfortunately preference for internal information,” he says. And the group also has a SharePoint implementation in-house, as well as using the intranet. “What we haven’t been able to do is use that for external access.”

We felt Windows Phone was a better fit with our desktop strategy

But some teams are using Huddle internally to pass information around a group. And Payne also says it is important to have a copy of important information in the Huddle cloud, as it would help to manage a crisis of disaster recovery.

While the group is a public body and 98% of its information is available to the public, on some occasions Huddle’s security measures are needed to pass around sensitive information. For instance, a recruitment campaign might wish to remain private so as to ward off competition, and Huddle was used to manage a recent hiring of a senior role within the group. “People and money are the things we need to keep safe,” says Payne. “It’s secure up to IL2 and that’s all we need at the Science Museum Group.”

Infrastructure development

Part of Payne’s roll is to maintain and develop the Science Museum Group’s IT infrastructure both front of house and for staff use internally.

The group has just completed a Cisco wireless network roll out across its four museums, which allows the public to use mobile devices through free public access Wi-Fi points.

The networks spanned the four major museums as well as other sites including the Northumbria Railway Museum, and two storage facilities in a second world war airfield in Wiltshire.

“85% of the collection is in storage most of the time, and we need to look after the collection and make sure the inventory is maintained.”

Increasingly, Wi-Fi is becoming available for staff use in museum back of house, but due to the old buildings, this makes Wi-Fi difficult to extend everywhere.

But Wi-Fi isn’t required for most of the staff, as the organisation doesn’t have a mobile workforce. For managers such as Payne himself who travels around the different museum locations, he will use a smartphone with a management wrap and his personal iPad.

The management team consists of around 60 employees, and Payne says IT is currently piloting Windows Phones to replace its BlackBerry contract which is about to end. “We felt Windows Phone was a better fit with our desktop strategy,” he says. “And it was also more cost effective.”

Front of house innovation

While Payne’s role does not include the technology developments for the exhibitions in the museums, the infrastructure he upkeeps has a crucial role for engagement visitors digitally.

The recent Wi-Fi role out will help to support a new iPad app which was developed with a small supplier. The app provides a journey around the Science Museum of 50 iconic objects. “It’s probably a more rich way of viewing the objects than coming into the museum,” says Payne. “Because information is written around those objects.”

The app can be download and used it from anywhere in the world, but it can also help enhance a visitor’s experience of the museum. The app helps the museum commercially as it is a paid-for app at £1.99.

“But we feel there will always be a need for a physical location,” he says. “We’re using technology to compliment how we get our message across.”

He says visitors will always want to see the Apollo 10 capsule and stand next to the real objects, but having digital access to these objects is also highly important. “When you want more information, the object is dumb and can’t talk to you.”

The museum has also recently featured QR codes on physical information placards dotted around the museum, which was launched with television presenter, James May.

“We’re always exploring new ways of digitally connecting people to those items and it will complement the traditional delivery of museums and galleries.”

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