How to choose the right digital technologies

22 August 2017, Sophia Woodley

We need QR codes.
We need an app.
We need VR.

...but do you, really?

With a vast range of new technologies grabbing the headlines, it’s easy to think that you need to keep up by adopting the latest trend. Many arts organisations have a story about a board member or member of the senior management team suddenly deciding that QR codes are the latest thing in digital (may they rest in peace!).

So remember that technology alone should never be the driver for innovation. Instead, start with the problem you want to solve and the value you intend to create – for your organisation, for your audiences and visitors, and for the public as a whole. Technology should follow.

But technology also needs to meet the expectations of the public. In 2017, there are a massive number of ‘driver’ technologies that are changing our expectations of what arts organisations could provide.

They include:

  • Broadband 
  • Smartphones 
  • Cloud computing
  • Streaming of video and audio
  • ‘Sharing economy’ and related new business models
  • Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and 360˚ video
  • Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning.

(Though remember that inequality exists in technological adoption, as it does in the rest of life. The 2014/15 National Survey for Wales found that only 78% of households had broadband, and only 60% browsed the internet using smartphones. Arts organisations must bear these structural inequalities in mind to create solutions that will work for their specific audiences – and the audiences they hope to attract in the future.)

Technologies that have shown promise in meeting the needs of the arts sector at a relatively low cost include:

  • Digital film capture 
  • HD digital video platforms
  • More accurate geolocation for mobile/tablets (using NFC, WiFi proximity, etc) 
  • Customer Relationship Management, project and issue tracking software 
  • Data integration using APIs between local systems and cloud-based services 
  • Data aggregation and visualisation including insight and analytics across systems, touchpoints and communications (‘business intelligence’) 

To help you keep an eye on the future of technology, Gartner’s ‘hype cycle’ is a yearly diagram that charts the most significant emerging technologies as they pass through ‘the peak of inflated expectations’ and beyond. Some technologies may be more relevant or more within reach than others (and the forecast itself has its issues), but it’s an interesting look into the crystal ball!

In choosing digital technologies, ask yourself:

  • What is the problem that we’re aiming to solve? 
  • Is our choice of technology based on headlines or the potential for the long-term generation of value?
  • What expectations do members of the public have today, based on their experience of digital? What expectations will they have in ten years?
  • Who might be excluded or disadvantaged by our choices, and how can we mitigate that?

This article is part of a series based on our Nesta report, The adoption of digital technology in the arts :

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