5 reasons why museums need a Chief Digital Officer – by Richella King

Like many organisations museums have a uneasy relationship with digital, it’s viewed variously as a source of novelty and innovation, a low-cost marketing and publishing tool, a platform for education, a minor revenue stream or  more human extension of the IT department.  These views ignore the transformative power of digital thinking and technology that is revolutionising competitors in the broader leisure sector such as, retail and tourism.   Museums need to adopt the approach of these organisations and appoint a Chief Digital Officer, or CDO, to catalyse their transition to a digital world.  Having a CDO on the Executive team will enable museums’ to:

1.    Put digital at the heart of their strategy.  Digital should not be a separate strategy. In this digital age it is the key to reaching, engaging and selling the museums’ products and services to potential visitors, donors, sponsors and volunteers.   Digital thinking can transform the way other business units within the museum think about and transact with their customers increasing revenues and reducing costs.  Having a digital mindset helps build a solid technical foundation from which the museum can be proactively reactive – keeping pace with the significant changes in the ever evolving digital landscape.

2.    Understand the customer experience (of which the visitor experience is a part) to effectively plan and execute the long term strategy around driving customer awareness, engagement, experience and monetisation.  The CDO takes a customer-centric approach collecting and analysing data from customer interactions with multiple on and offline touchpoints across the museum. This can reveal opportunities for product development, experience augmentation and marketing-communications. It can identify gaps in the customer experience that need to be bridged and identify ineffective channels, activities and products that should be culled.

3.    Harness the power of technology, data and automation to drive digital process innovation around new channels, business models, products and services. The CDO spans the divide between marketing and IT because they understand both technology and customer experience. They can streamline internal business processes and drive external operational efficiencies by developing new digital tools for customers that reduce the burden on internal resources – such as moving membership renewal online and automating it.  They can facilitate entry into new markets, for instance genealogy research, by implementing new systems such as micro-payments.  They can drive customer loyalty by delivering a personalised customer experience based on individuals’ online activities and interactions with the organisation presenting them with relevant products, services or engagement opportunities, like volunteering.

4.    Adopt an agile approach that delivers actionable results quickly.  The CDO can work with business units across the museum to identify and use third party tools to rapidly develop lightweight prototypes that can be used to test new products, services or business processes. For example, using a third party online booking system, such as Eventbrite, to test the effectiveness of online ticketing is a quick, low risk, low cost way of testing the impact of managing an online bookings system on internal processes and the customer experience.  The insights gained can be taken on board for future projects and if the test is successful used to finesse and rollout a new business innovation.

5.    Deliver the goods.  The CDO is empowered to build relationships with key internal and external stakeholders across all levels and functions from the Board to the customer service staff at the coalface.  This is really important as those skilled in digital tools often view the world differently from those in more traditional areas of the museum.  They can deliver the goods because they have a 360 degree view of the problem, are data driven and in a position to both influence strategic decisions and advocate for the resources and staff needed to succeed.  The CDO can spot and develop potential in existing staff and attract the talent needed to deliver digital outcomes.  They are adept at managing conflict and working with stakeholders to produce solutions that improve outcomes across for all business units.

The issues discussed in this post are relevant to many organisations wrestling with the transformative and often disruptive power of digital.  Quite a few organisations already have a nascent CDO buried within their business in roles such as Manager of Online Services, Web Manager or Head of Digital.  In these cases the role just needs elevating to the Executive suite so nascent CDO can be empowered to use digital to deliver efficiency, revenue and customer goals.


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