Technology and Operations Real-Time Notes


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(Leo): You all are actually doing the work! We're packaging it. Today we're talking about operations and technology - not facilities, but technology operations. How are we running the infrastructure. The concept of operations should support the mission and vision.

Q: Everyone understands what the mission and vision is, right?
  • research and education
  • increase and diffusion of knowledge
  • [I detected a certain amount of skepticism in Leo's question, and a certain amount of hesitance from the attendees. I'd assert that there is broad recognition that "the increase and diffusion of knowledge" is our mission, but widely varying ideas about what that really means. We certainly heard that in the Education workshop. M.E. 5/1/09]

Q: How well is the technology ops supporting that mission? How in-line?
  • all over the map. Centers of excellence. not a nice, centralized answer to that question. Work at Natural History is good, web services in OCIO but limited staff. Others haven't had the proper technology to show what they could do. [Action: Identify what technology needs are not being met. And what current technology that is in use should be revisited to see if better solutions have emerged on the scene. PSmith 5/5]
  • There's a big gap in the area of our Interaction with the public in exhibits - how they spend the day, get more info while here. We've neglected to connect with public while on campus. That's when they're focused on SI than any other time. Connect with them, give them a memorable experience. Not just a Google search.
  • (90): pretty solid core IT infrastructure [I'm thinking this means network, mail, security, file, VOIP M.E. 5/1/09], but lacking increasing and diffusing knowledge. Missing dissemination piece. Need to show what SI has, what it's all about. We're missing this technology.
  • (42): pretty good in diffusing the knowledge, building museums. Could be better with how we engage people there. More difficult: the engagement part - what people DO with the information. Increase their engagement. It's very time consuming to put it online, but easy to do it. Question is: what do people do with it once it's out there. We're lacking in engagement part. Difference between digitizing collections and getting it out there, and having them find it. Completely separate issue with how they interact with it.
  • from Peter Schwartz strategic planning meeting, concept of "learning journey". Create an experience that begins at home, comes into the museum, and then continues in the classroom, back at home, mobile devices (not just the Web), etc. Think of technology in the next 5/10 years. Continual loop of learning.
    • [I gotta say, I really like the concept/label of a "learning journey" ...and not just because the person who said this is my boss M.E. 5/1/09]
    • [Wonderful scenario that requires a CRM database to capture the info from the journey taker from the get-go and to serve as the core basis for ensuring the taker is lead along each step of journey itinerary, as well as to provide the proper information, in the preferred medium, at the right time, for the journey to smoothly progress upon its merry way! Smoot, 5/4.]
    • [Action Required: post Ann Speyer/David Allison email about the Learning Journey. M.E. 5/8/09]
  • (88): work at the SI is quality work. Small number of people try to take on large amount of work. Expectation is for SI to do more, both online and offline. Level of staffing and skill sets aren't there yet. We don't have enough people to do what we want to do and what people expect us to do.
  • [Don't really see a question for this, so putting it here. In looking at technology tools and standards as an Institution we need to address the need to provide content in multiple languages, at different age levels, and for those with hearing and seeing challenges. PSmith 5/6]
  • central units aren't supporting units. No extranet to collaborate. They're working on it, but it's not there yet.
    • we should recognize how far SI has come re: central IT. Lack of agility and ability to adapt. Slow moving, partly because we're a government supported institution. It's easy to follow linear path to put collections online, but it's creating meaning and how others respond online.
    • found out last night we got a $3.99 mil gift from Microsoft. CIO: We're working with Microsoft on licensing for SharePoint. License of software and service to help implement Sharepoint. We've done a lot to improve internal communication and collaboration. To point of extranet, we couldn't go beyond that until we had these licenses. First thing that will be up is the new intranet site (possibly Fall).

(break in note taking, logged in as M. Edson but NP typing. TO_DO back-fill notes)

Q: Who's paying for content enterprise management?
  • agree we don't have a charge back system. We don't charge back, we (office of the CIO) host everyone's content. We encourage them to purchase their own hardware, but usually standard. Host applications either by central or unit themselves.
  • observation: I've been here 15 years and I'm still trying to figure out processes and operations. Had tremendous support from OCIO but still surprised when I find out "they can provide that?" I didn't know. Get word out on the types of things that are happening, AND where we want to go.
    • [Recurring theme: people don't know what's happening inside the Institution. M.E. 5/1/09]

Q: Focusing on a Web and new media strategy. How important is technology/Web to the SI, today and in the future?
  • from archive perspective, it's everything. Our front door. It's everything. It's the way people understand what we have, and how we interact. We have a gallery, but just to further show what we have. We push what we do out. I've been here since 2000. Heard message that brick-and-mortar is where the money goes. Web teams have done phenominal work. We went after grant funding for this huge change to go from microfilming to the Web. Didn't rely on federal funding. It's changed our course quickly.
  • regarding Web strategy, I thought it was our presence to the public through sites. But this is about Web technologies. Are we talking about public interface, or Web in general, encompassing applications that are becoming Web based?
    • [I think it's important to think about this very broadly, and when we say "web" we have to think of that as a shortcut for referring to the web as a distribution medium, a medium that connects people, a disruptive and productive set of technologies and business practices, mobile platforms...we need to think broadly about new media, not just the Web as a publishing channel. M.E. 5/8/09]
  • extremely important. iPhones reached 1 bil application this week (after only 9 months). We need to get inline with what's happening around the world. Use technologies to diffuse. Social networking tools can help share the knowledge. (Leo) It's more important than real estate? A: I believe so.
  • we get less from our sites than YouTube (user generated?)
  • learn more from visitors. Need to know who's online and who you're talking to. We're focused on buildings and offices.

Q: Is it interface, or applications?
  • I was trying to get better definition to determine importance level. If web based apps are included, importance rises. Not just talking about interfaces.
  • (M.E.): My assumption coming into this, is that technology is the fundamental enabler of the modern SI. Period. Open up aperature in your thinking as wide as you can get. Even if we don't have visitors, as a knowledge organization, we need to be successful. Don't restrict this strategy to just 1-dimentional public-facing Web sites.
  • (Leo): Probably no one disagrees with what Mike said.
  • Comment: if SI goes all electronic, we lose our strategic advantage. It comes from other things. Can't give up the location on mall, collections. It's leveraging those things that make SI successful. Not just the Web. Everyone needs the Web to succeed. Need to think about what allows us to succeed AND compete.
    • [My take-away from talking with D.A. was that he feels that the bricks-and-mortar and object-ownership is the key to our strategic advantage. he said (paraphrase) "anybody can make web sites: we have the real objects." But, walking away I thought about the spaceshipone example I use in my "commons" talk . We own spaceshipone, but if you want to learn about it, wikipedia and google and flickr outperform us. M.E. 5/1/09]
    • [D.A. replies, via email:You’re making my point. We need to collaborate with others through new media and leverage their involvement. Often they can do more than we can. If all we are is additional contributors to Wikipedia and google and flickr, and not different in some important way, then we can’t compete successfully because we are too slow and too expensive (not to mention too ornery). We need to focus on the strategic advantage of bringing something else to the table that leverages electronic information and experiences in interesting and different ways—both theirs and our own. Otherwise, we get left in the dust. This certainly presumes that we have to be smart and focused on electronic media and its effective use. But if that’s all we focus on, we’re willfully giving up our most important assets. It’s the connections and the new interrelations between the electronic and the real that need to be our particular business, not just supplying more electronic info that anyone could provide. D. Allison via email, 5/1/09]
  • good point, we don't want to lose the prominence. My job gets involved in visitor experience process, Website, etc. Could expand to digital signage, mobile tours, etc. Also talking about collaboration, which improves research. Agree with Mike. You can't understate how integral this is to our success in the future. Might not be the only way, but it's certainly core.
  • [If we don't develop the Web, somebody else will do it for us and visitors will go to their sites versus our own. For example I was surprised at AAM last week to learn that the NY Times is doing panaromic web presentations of the Met's galleries as well as the objects with narrative provided by their art critique. PSmith 5/5]


Q: Shift budgeting and priorities so we're aligned with making this core?
  • fortunately we don't have to convince the Secretary of importance of IT. What's more important - your brain or central nervous system?
  • where do you put the money toward electronic efforts? Decide use of technology that will help us move forward. Need to be strategic. Figure out where to invest.
  • that's why we need leadership. Need experience in museum, but also need to experience online. Need enabling part like Mike said - the technology to get the job done. Need to set priorities and that's a leadership issue.
  • SI is a brand name that encompasses 90+ orgs that want to be on their own, but want to be federally funded, but don't want to follow federal guidelines.
  • (Leo) a marriage of convenience?
  • we forget that others don't know there are all of these separate museums. They just know that it's "the Smithsonian Institution" on the mall.
  • most secretaries have presided, not led. Would like to believe current Sec will lead. How do you make a govt inst. innovative? We're seeing signs of that happening. Should be unification led through strong leadership that's focused on innovation.
  • (20): we have 2 funding systems (fed and trust budgets), which allows entrepreneurial. There's opportunity to get the money (grants). Pursue grant money more heavily. [It would be beneficial to use Federal money for pre-planned strategic technology investments due to the long Federal budget cycle, and use the Trust, donor, and grant funds to be nimble to respond to short-lead time opportunities in Web technology development. Using the two sources of funding together strategically could benefit all of SI. PSmith 5/5]
  • trust funds available to units flex per year depending on what's happening in the market.
  • we can innovate but find way to adapt approval process for new software to keep up pace with development on the outside. Tools should be tested before we go public.

Q: Who should decide whether a tool is appropriate - at unit level where innovating, or OCIO level (standards, governance)?


  • (88): not a one way or other question. Technology is a messy place. There are many solutions and many problems. Typically starts in units at fringes - but requires maintenance to make it work. Central office should become involved.
  • [That's a rather leading question. I would like to think that OCIO is also innovative. What we aren't is as close to individual unit needs (there needs to be a better way to communicate these to OCIO), but OCIO may be better positioned to see opportunities pan-Institutionally for innovating and enabling innovations. PSmith 5/5]
  • "air traffic control" OCIO
  • [Shouldn't this be expanded? Perhaps with a rough outline of steps? Even assigning someone to make a list of the current tools in place would be a start. Smoot, 5/4]
  • [Please remember that standards and governance are necessary for IT security of systems and the information they contain, and also to keep the Federal IT funds that we do manage to get which are tied to both of these as well as other Federal mandates. By law (Clinger Cohen Act) the CIO is required to report and track on many governance requirements for the entire Institution or else it could negatively impact our ability to keep and acquire Federal funds. PSmith 5/5]
  • [Funding common needs centrally also helps to negotiate better prices and services for COTS software and hardware benefitting the whole institution. PSmith 5/5]


Q: How good is SI at setting priorities?
  • depends. Some are happy with what they have, others aren't.
  • been working in computer since floppy disk. Technology sometimes doesn't work for functions in organization. Org needs to be seen as a whole and how technology can help with the mission of the organization. Mission first, then get better technology to help achieve that goal.
  • think of web technologies as how they move us forward internally.
  • you mentioned in 2006 strategic plan, Web was mentioned once. Clearly lack of focus and leadership then. What's happening, going back to units vs. central, without guidance from central leadership, priorities revert to the unit level. I'm here today to support the greater SI good, but when all is said and done I go back to my office and need to get the job done.
  • regarding priorities, who's going to be in charge of electronic outreach? Who's got the better relationship with the director? Comes down to interpersonal relationships, not anything to do with goals. "My nephew says, this is the way to go."
  • (71): maybe not element of figuring out priorities in all cases. Need to redirect resources towards tech tools, rather than paper tools. Brochures, education packages, etc.
  • from research perspective, a driver is understanding the research being done at particular units.
  • [SI is better at defining needs. Every year I do the IT Federal budget call. There are a lot of wonderful projects submitted, normally about $25million dollars worth for IT, but we are lucky if we get $2million in increase for IT which primarily goes to mandatory increases. With $25 million in good ideas its important to align the increases with the priorities and strategies for SI going forward. To date, the priorities are "do it all" with little guidance for execution. We need to do a better job defining priorities and dependencies between projects. PSmith 5/5]

Q: What did you think of SI 2.0?
  • long overdue
  • having been here a long time, it was one of the first opportunities where I felt again it's an exciting place to be - at SI - working together. Yes, we're collegial on an indiv. basis, but not opportunities to get together as a whole. A lot of barriers to break down - unit vs. central. Regarding calendars, content is unique, but functionality (utilities) can be shared. eCommerce, basic communications, etc. Where do we want to innovate? A lot of money is spent reinventing the wheel.
  • Web 2.0 has strong element of user participation. For SI to be successful, we need strong web presence where we can engage users to communicate with us. Remember those who can't make a trip to DC. Technology can help us reach these people. Regarding collaboration in IT world, can't just expect OCIO to reach out to us. Need to involve OCIO from the beginning of anything new that we try to do (like National History is doing now).
  • [Wouldn't it be great if we could start this new media ball rolling by building a networking site that is kind of a hybrid of the functionalities of Facebook and Wikipedia (called Smithsonian Galleries)? Each object in SI's collection (being exhibited or not) has a profile. Our curators, researchers, research projects could have profiles too. SI's curators and researchers could generate "expert" (read: trustworthy) content within each object's profile then the public could have a portion of the profile page (or a tab) where they could add their own content, or reviews after visiting the units in person; each profile could house a photo of the object, description, museum where on display (or notice if not on display, in conservation, on loan, etc.), books about (by SI authors), etc. This type of "comprehensive" site for viewing and learning about our collections would be the answer to so many questions about shifting SI's focus to the web and its future: (1) it would make our collections, even those in storage, available to the world, especially important for those who can't visit our brick-n-mortar; (2) it would allow us to retain control over the "expert" portion of text, so we keep the reputation of excellence and trust, which is a point of resistance by the staff who see moving to the web as an amateurization of the scholarly work done here; (3) it would (and should) involve all of the units and their staffs in an internal institution-wide mission, be they curators or not, which is the type of community building that needed at SI; (4) it would make SI the primary point of information for all of our objects -- which probably currently isn't the case -- information-seekers, be they students or the general public, would know where to go online for research on ALL of SI's objects (and experts about those objects); (5) it defines the Smithsonian for the public, allowing online visitors to visualize and so learn how large and diverse SI is, resolving the "Where is the Smithsonian?" issue that has been voiced in each workshop so far. GS, 5/5/09]
  • I've only been here a year, but thoughts of SI 2.0 was tempered that day. We were letting important people in to critique our organization. A lot of great ideas and the people to do them is HERE. We need authority to annoint someone roles, then commitment from peers to support that leader in this endeavor, even if I have to suffer for my neighbor. Give the annointed our commitment. Give single point accountability to the appointed.
  • SI 2.0 - validation of what's been occurring over the past few years. A lot of innovation has been bubbling under the surface. Once cap was taken off at SI 2.0, there was validation of what we've been doing.

Q: Who will own the policy at SI for user generated content? Should there be a single policy so we can implement tools that support that policy? Or just wait to see what happens at each museum?
  • We don't have anything in HR to describe skill sets needed, in case we find money and can hire someone. We're not sure how our staff can work in this context. We're talking about work flows. We don't have technical staff yet in place to think along those lines - do we retrain, hire new, go centrally for management of the project, etc. Not just for 2.0 user content, but also how to manage technical too.
  • If you said, who's going to run the playground, it's a different notion. Not who's going to run the rules. Reword it. Invite others to come play too.
  • In the budget, if all goes well, we might get 1 mil for Web and 1 mil for digitation, so real positive. But concept of shared services is not in place. Need a Flash expert, web designer, database person, etc... so you go out and contract for those people who are here today, gone tomorrow. Need OCIO to have that body of expertise that all units can use. Then, collaborate internally so we're not reinventing the wheel. In private industry, we've started building this with consulting services. With consultants, you can increase/decrease bodies until you get to the right spot of how to support the units.
  • [Is there a plan document for Shared Services that can be distributed? Not sure we all understand this. Is it only HR resources? What about more applications & applications management? How do charge-backs fit in to this? Smoot, 5/4]
  • [Would it make sense to conduct a quick survey to determine what specific needs each unit would like to see provided by a Shared Services unit? Smoot, 5/4]

(Leo): [with an internal team] Knowledge stays within the organization. It doesn't walk out the door within 30/60 days.
  • An obvious problem - how do you keep expertise on all technologies, constantly changing. (Leo) you choose specific technologies to focus on.
  • Problems if you only have one resource to call on. But, if you have a Flash expert to whom each individual Flash experts in units can report to, then you can manage work centrally. Trying to have all work done in-house makes it difficult to get done.
  • Image problem if you provide resource at central - then units feel like they don't have to pay for web services. If units are contracting out similar applications, work together. Pay for the same thing, with minor differences. Technology today allows flexibility to do similar things with same technology.

(M.E.) Q: Why did the old "SI Productions" unit shut down? In many ways it was similar to what you're talking about doing with Web & New Media.
  • SI Productions - didn't go digital soon enough, got top heavy, relied on contracting.
  • regarding shared services, I had different view of meaning. NMAI had money to put a different calendar in place, but looked at other unit and liked what they were doing. Hopped on board with them.
  • don't forget there's trickle-down to people entering data, depts we're working with to get content online. Took years to do it right. We work with everybody, so takes time.
  • regarding technology and experience required: we had to build our own technology 3-5 years back. Big change lately is that social networking tools are already there. Evaluate those tools to see how best we can use them to engage users (facebook, wiki, tweets, etc).
  • regarding providing services: good because you get the knowledge honed in-house, but OCIO needs to define different positions, and replacement. Carefully plan - define positions and replacement of that position. (Leo) If you don't have an understanding of what you're trying to do, it's hard to create that architecture.
  • regarding policies of using social media: to my knowledge, we don't have any. (M.E.) 2 parts to that: 1) I don't know, which is problem in all workshops. A lot going on in SI others don't know about. 2) there's a draft of policies on wiki. He'll send out link to that in the follow-up.
  • (Leo) GSA just signed deal with social networks - take a look.
  • the way to kill it - highly structure, formalize, structure it. You become just another suit on the network, and no one will listen to you.
  • there's a governance meeting that happens, I asked "as managers, to what how much tweeting, blogging, wiki'ing are you willing to 'tolerate' from your folks/ or committing your time to engage in that mechanism? 2 hours a week / day? How much are you letting it into your lifestyle?
  • good to have detail, but need higher level ways to get essence. i.e. do you want to see everything said in meetings, or just the minutes?- interesting what we can/can't put up there. I don't know if I can take a picture and put it online and talk about it, but my daughter can. You're only allowed to put it on our website, not YouTube, or others. We're unsure what we can do with material. If you're talking about time-sensitive material, you can't wait for internal approvals.
  • we have to remember the people working with these technologies. Others outside might not be comfortable working with these tools. Point at those people, let them know where they're going, how they're going, and most importantly WHY they're going there otherwise, they won't use the tool.

Q: So do we have a digitization strategy, and know what's going on there?
  • there has never been a pan-inst digitization strategy. Has occurred as unit level by available money. Began with Congress saying we have 5 years to build digital collections (create database inventories, which is genesis of everyone using their own systems - vendor driven software that drove unit's unique needs. Each unit has their own repository/database. We're creating an index over them, but not the full content, just what's available on the Web). Last 30 years, museums have tried to go back and enhance [by enhancing this includes adding digital images for originally digitization was putting the information about the collections from paper to electronic. PSmith 5/5]. Need to address uniqueness of units, but we're going there.
  • "digitization" is not just about images. It's a multimedia event. [It also includes digital datasets, and assets "born digital". PSmith 5/5]
  • we always think in terms of dollars re: digitization. What would it take to digitize everything we own? We looked at both money and TIME. It was about 50 years for American Art collections. Need to parse out costs, who can produce the content, and what do we do with it after we created it? Kathy's committee is trying to figure out what to do with what's already been digitized. We're putting value on the objects that we have. All the curator, collector, specialist's work is the value add. We need to be concerned with what happens to that.
  • [Kathy here -- actually the SI Digitization Strategic Plan has as its focus development, preseravation and access to digital content-- what exists, what we collect and what we will create in the future -- content development that is technology independent for internal use and for world-wide audiences now and in the future. Isabel Meyer is leading the effort to more fully implement the Artesia digital asset managemetn system with a current focus on still images -- this is an operational part of the digi strat plan.]
  • I'm involved with digitization process, issue is storage and migration of all of these assets. Needs to be addressed further, pan-institutionally. There are some assets with vintage ties with 10 years back getting lost.

Q: Most important thing you have to do is listen, per Sec. Clough to Leo and M.E. If you could pick just 1 technology initiative,what is it?
  • [These are all good... M.E. 5/8/09]
  • storage, eCommerce, search
  • commons in the middle, innovation around the edges - and meaning-making, experiences, context
  • Web analytics to see how users are interacting today, so that when we envision we know what they're doing today. Help engage them.
  • calendaring was a way to interact with public, but we didn't know who our public was. Need enterprise wide constituent campaign. Know who your users are. Enterprise wide CRM.
  • cloud computing.
  • interface between museums and web. Channel integration.
  • documentation
  • when collections go online, within a day or so, there's interest from public already. Need to share those comments.
  • mobile (M.E.)
  • how do we create a virtual, global community using social networking tools.
  • depends on audience, but for younger audience - online gaming with revenue stream and reference to the physical.

Q: One message to deliver to Secretary Clough to help you be successful?
See Tell the Secretary


Index of Workshops