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Excerpts of a conversation of a live interview with Rose Sherman and Nik Honeysett by Tim Grove from the AASLH conference in October.

They discuss the risks of not having a institutional strategic plan to participate in current technologies as well as future technology trends.

Columnists offer advice for formulating one of these plans, as well as suggestions of ways to allocate staff and resources.

Part 2 of this interview is located in History News Winter 2013; Volume 68, #1; pg. 5-6.

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To read the full article, you can purchase this issue of History News. The following is an excerpt:

Strategic planning for technology is crucial in today’s landscape where technology seemingly changes at the speed of sound and technology resources are constantly squeezed in all directions. Since this is a challenge for most history organizations, I decided to pick the brains of two people who constantly think about the topic and work at organizations considered leaders in the history/museum/humanities worlds. They are decision makers at two very different organizations: Rose Sherman is the Director of Enterprise Technology at the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul and Nik Honeysett is Head of Administration at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. While they represent large institutions, their advice works anywhere. Below are excerpts from my conversations with them about this important topic. 

The 2011 Horizon Report, Museum Edition stated that “creating a digital strategy is critical for institutions today.” Do you agree?

Honeysett: I think I would classify it as foolish not to have one rather than critical. The business of the institution won’t grind to a halt without one. It definitely depends on scale. If you’re a small historic house with no staff or resources, a digital strategy may be unrealistic outside of a commitment to Facebook. If you’re a large institution and you don’t have a defined strategy, that is problematic. Not to have a strategy, basically says you don’t think this is important and if that’s true, you will have an increasing issue with relevancy.

Sherman: I do agree. A digital strategy is the game plan, or course of action, for how you will prioritize projects and investments in information and communications technologies. Without a plan, you won’t know where you’re headed, how much it will cost you to get there, and what it will cost to maintain your technology environment.

How would you define a comprehensive digital strategy? Does it include electronic marketing and/or philanthropy, revenue generation, digitization, etc.?

Honeysett: The question that most institutions struggle with is what the strategy looks like. A digital strategy does not have to be an all-encompassing document that describes everything, but it should be detailed enough to provide a framework of where the institution is heading and maybe state some pre-agreed guidelines for technology adoption, containment, development, or response. A fifty-page strategy may not be useful, but a one-page social media strategy that describes what platforms are important to the institution, a commitment of update frequency, and maybe some benchmarks about when to drop them or when to adopt an emerging platform would be very helpful. The question to ask oneself is: what’s the most effective way to reconcile institutional memory loss? For me, a digital strategy is the framework for things like e-marketing and e-philanthropy to happen within. I think it’s a mistake to separate out electronic marketing from “regular” marketing. E-marketing is an aspect of one’s marketing strategy—the same is true for e-philanthropy and e-commerce. We have to be very careful not to lead with the technology or the digital aspect of an initiative because it promulgates the technology/non-technology divide and that is one of the major problems with successfully embedding technology into cultural institutions.

Digitization projects are classic examples. The focus is so often on the digitization itself, with the implication being that it is a project with a start, middle, and end. Digitization should be embedded into your collections management strategy, where part of the acquisition process is digital capture. Sure, there may be some backlog, but separating it out as a specific strategy is problematic. To specifically answer the question, I would much rather see separate marketing, revenue, development, and collections strategies, which included embedded digital strategies, than an institution’s “digital strategy.” 

Sherman: A digital strategy consists of the technology infrastructure of hardware (including massive data storage capabilities, phones/VOIP, and mobile devices or tablets), software, networks (e.g., Internet, LAN, and WiFi), security and disaster recovery options; back-office business and productivity applications such as collections and membership/donor management, finance, human resources, email, calendars, facility management, and digital asset management; customer facing applications such as e-philanthropy, retail point of sale, ticketing, group scheduling, interactive videoconferencing, websites, e-publications, customer relationship management, social media and mobile applications; collaborative tools such as file sharing, intranet sites, wikis, project management tools, content management systems, and desktop videoconferencing; and technology and digital marketing professionals to support all of the above.