When Jason Oliver joined Science Museum Group, ICT was an insular support function that lacked confidence and was looked on as inflexible and bureaucratic by the business. Minimal strategic investment over a prolonged period had led to piecemeal design, which undermined user experience and confidence. A year after his arrival, it is a completely different story. He introduced a joined-up CRM/ticketing system and data analytics to gain a better understanding of visitor needs, trends and behaviour. And infrastructure improvements have improved network reliability and performance, offering better ways for customers to connect to SMG. It’s all part of a highly successful turnaround story.
Head of ICT
Science Museum Group
How are you influencing the products, customer experience and services your organisation offers to its customers?
Significantly. As with all free museums, the vast majority of our visitors have historically been anonymous. Shortly after my arrival at SMG in August 2015, we acknowledged that we were behind the curve on visitor relationship management. By replacing five independent systems with a joined-up CRM/ticketing system and by introducing a data analytics package as part of our wireless improvements, we have developed a new approach that gives us a better understanding of visitor needs, trends and behaviour, allowing us to improve their experience of SMG. This work is accentuated by infrastructure improvements that have made our networks more reliable and performant, meaning we can provide better ways for our customers to connect to us. These are all elements of my ICT strategy to improve our customers’ experience and the services we offer to our audiences.
Define the key business outcomes that you have delivered over the last 12 months and their impact on your organisation’s performance
During his first press conference from space, Tim Peake said that he ‘saw the wonderful pictures from the Science Museum in London and thought that was incredible, absolutely spectacular and phenomenal support’. That support was not only generated by the 11,000 visitors who attended the Science Museum to watch his journey into space that day; it was also made possible because of the significant efforts by my team (among others) to enable a fantastic public event that the BBC broadcast live. These efforts were repeated when the legendary steam locomotive Flying Scotsman made its long-awaited return to the tracks, kicking off our National Railway Museum’s Scotsman season.
Part of SMG’s remit is to inspire and enrich lives, and my ICT team have started to understand that they play a fundamental role in making that happen. Where historically, ICT would have just been around these events to make sure everything on the network stayed up, we have now transformed into a fundamental part of the planning and delivery process, working with numerous partners to make sure that these events are a massive success. Our focus has moved from back of house support to front of house enabler, and this in turn enhances SMG’s output and our reputation for staging world-class events.
What has been your involvement with innovation at your organisation – in particular, with products, business model and technology – over the last 12 months?
The first phase, and a key element, of my ICT strategy (Dec 2015 to March 2018) has been to rebuild the foundations of the technology estate, which has afforded us the opportunity to innovate.
Over the past 12 months we have started relocating to a datacentre with private breakouts to AWS and Azure, which will allow us to all but retire the on-premise server rooms and legacy storage appliances in each of our five national museums. We have moved the DAMs element of our collections systems into AWS to allow us flexible, scalable growth as we digitise 200,000+ objects. We have implemented new high-performing LANs in all sites across the group and a new WAN that offers not only resilience but a 400% improvement in performance. A move to Office 365 has also provided staff with modern tools aiding their ability to collaborate and become more mobile. Enhanced innovation will be possible now as we have modern platforms and networks on which to build, and this allows us to start the value-added aspects of phase 2 of the ICT strategy.
More strategically, I have been part of the steering group for our Collections Online project, which is an AWS-based, open source export management system and collection search engine – a crucial element for our digitisation ambitions. I have also helped drive forward the CRM programme, which is a major step towards connecting better with our audiences.
How have you delivered cultural and behavioural change as a CIO within the IT department and/or more broadly across the organisation?
When I joined SMG, ICT was an insular support function that lacked confidence and was looked on as inflexible and bureaucratic by the wider organisation. While there was talent, there was limited direction. Minimal strategic investment over a prolonged period had enforced piecemeal design, which negatively affected user experience and confidence. 12 months on, ICT is seen in a completely different light.
By gaining the support of senior stakeholders within the group through increased dialogue, appreciation of our customer needs and the introduction of a new ICT strategy, the department was restructured to enable many more touch-points with the wider business. This helped garner trust in ICT’s ability and a series of modernisation projects have been undertaken. It is not an overstatement to say we have transformed in the past year, and it is now commonly recognised that we have a part to play both strategically and operationally.
As a project-driven organisation, ICT now has representation on the steering groups of most major business programmes (even where there are limited obvious ICT aspects) from the conceptual stage, which allows us to influence direction at every level. This can range from capital build projects through to policy and governance changes, and has helped SMG recognise that ICT underpins nearly every activity that we carry out as a group.
How have you worked with your CEO and/or board to communicate whatever ‘digital’ and IT means to your organisation/sector and improve digital literacy at the highest levels of the organisation?
Because a substantial part of the past 12 months has been about rebuilding the foundations, most ICT engagement with the board on digital has been through educating how everything is joined up. Digital to many is about the visible outward-facing aspects of our organisation – our digital partnerships with BBC or Google, and the accessing of our collections through online catalogues – but for digital to be successful, I have been highlighting the necessity of the underpinning technology and processes.
Our priorities for digitisation have been determined through many forum and we will be digitising 250,000 of our objects over the next several years. That simply would not have been possible 12 months ago due to the deteriorating condition of the on-premise technology estate. A move to cloud-based storage provides us with the ability to scale exponentially at an increased velocity but in a sustainable manner. Meanwhile new integrations between our collections systems and enhanced search functionality will allow far greater efficiency in making our collections available for public consumption.
Working in partnership with our digital director, we have been able to deliver joint messages about the symbiotic relationship required between digital and ICT, and how we rely on each other to flourish. There is vast potential to extend our digital reach, and for much of our audience the digital visit may be their only visit. It is our challenge to make that experience the best it can possibly be.
How have you worked with the technology and IT vendor market to achieve your business goals? How have you been able to influence IT suppliers and successfully manage your partnerships/relationships with large IT companies, SMEs and startups?
When I joined SMG there was very little in the way of strategic ICT relationships with technology vendors. We had recently engaged in a project around hosting IP telephony and some other managed services, but that really was the extent of it – everything else was really just purchase and supply. From day one, I set about changing that. My ICT strategy set out plans to forge strong external relationships with technology innovators and we have done that. This is crucial for any organisation in the public sector given the existing climate and I firmly believe that it is these blossoming relationships that have allowed us to transform at such a significant rate.
Over the past 12 months we have developed an outstanding relationship with Cisco, who not only advise us on direction but also support our internal governance arrangements by providing an independent voice on our IT strategy group. Incidentally, this is crucial to make my plans credible since the group is formed of peers from across the wider business, and without a counter-voice it would be more challenging to provide critique/validation to what I put forward.
We have also developed our relationship with smaller but really agile companies such as ONI and Think S3. We are happy to regard them as key strategic partners and have collaborated with them on several enterprise projects – they have proved themselves over and over again. Without their support our modernisation and cloud journey would have been vastly more problematic, and we could not have avoided all of the potential pitfalls of going into the unknown (for the vast majority of my team). The past year really has been a combined team effort and the aforementioned organisations form part of that team. It is not them and us, as can so often be the case with IT suppliers; it is a joint journey and they are helping us form and deliver our goals and vision as we progress.
How have you tried to develop the diversity of your team?
This has been a real priority for me personally. Over the course of the year I have tried to customise my department’s values and recruitment campaigns, and turn a male-dominated ICT function into a more balanced department. We have had some success – for example, female representation increased by 500% – although there is much more to be done to get to anywhere near a satisfactory position.
As a geographically diverse group (museums in five locations across the UK) we need to recognise that demographics vary across the country and try to attract employees who understand the communities the museums reside in. To this end, I set up the first apprenticeship scheme within SMG to encourage local IT talent across the country to join the organisation and develop their skills with us. This has proved very successful.
Diversity of skills within the team has also played an important part within my strategy. Prior to my arrival there had been no holistic investment in ICT staff development for around three years. After investing in a skills licence, we have worked hard to try to widen the core and technical skill base of the team, which in turn has had a very positive effect on increasing the confidence and self-belief of the team members. A number of members of the team have been successful in earning internal promotions as a result of their development, which has also had a positive effect on staff retention.
Describe how you organise and operate IT and how this aligns effectively with business strategy and operations
Collaboratively, consultatively and decisively. I would never claim to be the most technical IT leader and therefore building a management team stronger than me in my weaker areas has been crucial. I am fortunate to have some great colleagues around me (both in and out of ICT), and we have structured the team to align with the business needs. As such we engage, consider and prioritise demands, design, plan and deliver before moving products into operation, and this fits with most requirements given that we are a project-driven organisation.
I do not micromanage. I empower team members to think for themselves and drive innovation in their own specific areas – I believe this is a fundamental part of seeing your team develop confidence. I trust the team around me to make sensible, considered decisions, but they all know I am there any time they need me. Ultimately, though, I am accountable for ICT and I have the conviction to stand up for my team, provide strong leadership, and take responsibility for the actions of the department.
What strategic technology deals have you made in the last year and who are your main suppliers and IT partners?
2016 has been a crucial year for us in determining the future direction for ICT within SMG. We have entered into new deals for CRM/ticketing, IP telephony, LAN, WAN, Wi-Fi, hybrid cloud (AWS, Azure and Exponential-e), HR/payroll and ITSM (ServiceNow). This has allowed us to strengthen the spine of our infrastructure and platforms – in essence laying our foundations.
Tessitura, Cisco, ONI, ThinkS3 and Civica have contributed significantly to helping us formulate our plans. They have been major partners for us over the year and will be for years to come.
What are your key strategic aims for next year?
My key strategic aims over the next year will be to continue to develop our collections systems environment to enable the digitisation works, to continue to transform our technology estate so that the wider business can grow and exceed our audience expectations, and to contribute wherever I can to help SMG meet its core priorities and objectives.
How are you preparing for any impacts Brexit might have on your organisation?
From a purely ICT perspective the major impact is on the strength of the pound, so we are actively benchmarking costs and keeping the dialogue open with our suppliers. At the current time I have not experienced any significant impact in resourcing or anything else as a result of the vote, but obviously I will be being vigilant over the coming 12 months.
When did you start your current role?
What is your reporting line?
Director of corporate services
Are you a member of the executive leadership?
Are you a member of the board of directors?
What other emerging roles does your organisation have and what is their relationship to you?
Digital director – we work in partnership. Whereas most of his role focuses on the areas that have the greatest impact on audiences, my role focuses on business efficiencies, performance and enabling.
How often do you meet with your organisation’s CEO or equivalent?
We have fortnightly SMT meetings.
How many people at your organisation does your function supply services to?
What is your annual IT budget, or your spend as a proportion of the organisation’s revenue?
Circa £2.5m, plus project costs.
What percentage of your budget is operational spend (ie keeping the lights on) and how much new development (ie innovation, R&D, exploratory IT)?
The £2.5m is all operational spend. New dev is bid for on a case by case basis as projects are needed.
Rank the following sources of advice/information in order of importance:
- CIO peers
- Analyst houses
- Industry bodies
Has your organisation detected a cyber intrusion in the last 12 months?
Are you expecting an increase in budget specific to security in order to tackle the cyber threat?
Does your organisation have a designated security professional – CISO or otherwise – and what is their relationship to you?
Are you finding it difficult to recruit the talent you need to drive transformation?
Has recruitment and retention risen up your agenda as a CIO?
Does your IT organisation operate an apprenticeship scheme?
How many employees are there in your IT team?
Are you increasing your headcount or planning to bring skills and the ability to react to needs in-house?
Which technologies or areas are you expecting to be investing in over the next year?
- data analytics/business intelligence
- enterprise applications.
Which technologies or areas are you expecting to be investing in over the next one to three years?
- data analytics/business intelligence
- enterprise applications
- machine learning/artificial intelligence.
What emerging technologies are you investigating or expect to have a big impact on your sector or organisation?
AR has the potential to impact us both in front and back of house.
Does your organisation do a significant amount of trade with the EU?
Does your department include technology staff from the EU?
Are you or have you been looking to the EU to recruit key skills?