What's the point of investing in digital technology?

16 August 2017, Sophia Woodley

Why spend money on technology when you could be spending money on art and artists? This is a recurring question – asked by artists, board members and senior management alike.

Many arts organisations see ‘digital’ or ‘technology’ as a separate strand of work, something that distracts from their artistic and public value mission, rather than being integral to them. This is a mistake.

In isolation, there is no point in digital technology or data. They are only valuable in that they allow arts organisations to: better do what they have been doing all along; and/or create experiences, products or services that deliver to their mission, but in a new way.

In making the business case for digital, make sure to define early – and keep your focus on – the ways you expect the technology to improve your work and help achieve your organisation’s mission.

As Jennifer Tomkins, Head of Marketing and Development at Artsadmin, discovered when trying to communicate the benefits of its digital transformation project, “we need a new CRM system” is not terribly exciting or motivating unless you are a CRM consultant – and maybe not even then. A more inspiring take? “We need to deepen our relationships with our audiences, artists and stakeholders, and we’ve found a tool to help us do that.”

Make sure to question your assumptions about the problem you’re trying to solve. For example, when we worked with the Young Vic on a business case for in-venue digital touchpoints, it became clear the case shouldn’t depend on increased ticket sales. Visitors could buy tickets easily at the box office – and most shows sold out anyway. Instead it became clear that deepening relationships with visitors would increase repeat sales and lead to earlier sell-outs – while improving cashflow and reducing marketing spend.

In making the case for an investment in digital, ask yourself:

  • What is our mission and what are our goals? How can digital technology support them?
  • What will our audiences, visitors, customers expect from us in five years? In ten years?
  • What are the costs of going on as we are? How much staff time is wasted because of current inefficiencies? What legal, reputational and preservational risks do we face?
  • What new activities could we support with this investment? What would the benefits be – to our audiences, to our resilience?

Remember that having a powerful case for investment doesn’t just help you internally – it is essential to communicating with funders in an increasingly competitive landscape. Tying digital to your goals – and mapping the benefits to others – will both improve your project and increase your chances of finding funding.

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

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