IT: The less-fun, crucially important foundation of digital heritage evolution

In 2017, I was faced with an interesting choice: the cultural site I had been serving as a digital strategy consultant was willing to make my contracted position a full-time one. The catch is that I would have to manage the IT function too. My specialty and focus has historically been audience engagement and not the nuts and bolts of what makes everything tick. Additionally, I would have to supervise the institution’s migration from a County managed services model to a total new, internally managed IT infrastructure.

I loved the site and thought it had great potential, but didn’t want to drift off course of a career I both enjoy and have mindfully charted for the past 20 years. It was during this time of internal struggle a chance meeting with a guy named Matt Tarr at a Museum Computer Network conference cleared my mind on the issue. In response to the dilemma, he told me “if you control IT, you’re set with the rest of what you want to do.”

My mind knew what he meant. Struggles with IT departments past really took the wind out of my sails when it came to interactive development. Still, it took a while for my heart to catch up. A while meaning two years of getting the right people and partnerships in place, and then going through the mindboggling process of establishing and then actually migrating every conceivable communications system — radio, telephone, network, internet, etc., while with no service downtimes.

A year past that harrowing event, I can tell you Matt was absolutely right. Having systems that we can control and scale have made a recent grant project funded by the Knight Foundation much easier than it would have been otherwise. Having wireless access for visitors for the first time has made developing bring-your-own device experiences that we all pretty much now have to offer much easier. We also have servers we can scale and policies we can tailor to our needs. Thanks to that process, remote work platforms were already in place before the pandemic hit.

Sure there are pain points. Cybersecurity issues loom large in an era when even Microsoft and Solarwinds are getting hacked. I worry about it everyday. But that’s a fair trade off for gaining a greater knowledge of what makes tech tick, and the boundless creative possibilities that then present themselves.

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