The better the question. The better the answer. The better the world works.

Going back to the future to improve the visitor experience

We helped the British Museum embrace digital technology to better protect, preserve and exhibit priceless artifacts.

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The better the question

How can digital bring history into the 21st century?

Archiving the British Museum’s vast collection – and making it more accessible

The British Museum houses some of the most important artifacts to have shaped history, from a stone chopping tool nearly two million years old to the Rosetta Stone, the object that unlocked the secret of Egyptian hieroglyphs. Roughly 80,000 objects are on public display at any one time, but that number encompasses just 1% of its overall collection.

The museum has always been about both preserving knowledge and making it accessible, to intrigue and inspire future generations. But doing so successfully is a hugely complex challenge.

The museum needed to catalogue a vast archive of priceless cultural and historical objects, using the latest technology. At the same time, it wanted to upgrade the visitor experience and make sure that all visitors could see the best the museum had to offer.

It is a challenge made all the more difficult when budgets are tight and resources stretched. In 2010, the museum’s grant was cut by 15% following a UK Government spending review.

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The better the answer

Putting our knowledge and experience to work

We worked with the museum to make knowledge and history more accessible

So how does one of the world’s most well-known and respected museums maintain its high standards in the face of these cuts? This is where private enterprise can make a huge difference in supporting public institutions – not just through providing financial support through sponsorship or donations, but through partnerships that use corporate knowledge and experience to help institutions overcome the challenges they face.

We were keen to work with the British Museum to make knowledge and history accessible to all. By working closely with the institution, our team was able to help the museum manage its budget cuts and address some of its most complex challenges.

Around the time of the grant cut, the British Museum had begun one of the largest redevelopment projects in its 260-year history – the creation of the World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre (WCEC). The complex would house a new public exhibitions gallery, state-of-the-art laboratories and a world-class storage facility.

The museum previously stored its collections across three sites in London: at the main complex in Bloomsbury and in two off-site locations. It now needed to move more than 8,000 priceless objects to the new environmentally controlled storage facility – a huge logistical and auditing challenge.

Many of the artifacts hadn’t been unpacked in more than 75 years, and so as part of the move, museum staff had to open each box, carefully take out the object, and then label and photograph it as part of the digitization process. This was a hugely time-consuming and costly task, and the grant funding for the project came with strict conditions.

Maintaining its standards, broadening its reach

We helped the museum plan for the long term in a changing world

We provided the museum with project management advice, reviewing the archiving program with a team that included auditing, procurement and logistics specialists. Together they developed ways to simplify the process and keep the contract cost-base as low as possible. Our teams also produced a five-year operating-cost model for the museum’s World Conservation and Exhibition Centre..

How can analytics improve the visitor experience?

While conserving, examining and analyzing cultural objects from across the globe is a vital part of the British Museum’s work, exhibiting them to the public is even more important. The museum attracts nearly seven million visitors a year, so managing crowds and maximizing the museum’s physical space is vital to creating a first-class visitor experience.

Using their experience from creating flow models in a variety of industry sectors, our Valuation and Business Modeling team built a digital visitor flow model that used algorithms to map and predict the footfall in the museum. It identified congestion hotspots and made suggestions as to how the crowds could be reduced and how to improve the visitor experience. It also forecast how footfall and visitor flow would change with increased visitor numbers and changes to the layout of the museum. As a result, the museum is changing gallery layouts to reduce bottlenecks and improve the visitor experience.

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Democratizing access to culture and learning

Using private enterprise skills to benefit public institutions

Private companies can play a crucial role in helping important public institutions work better and more efficiently. By using the software and analytical skills essential to the new digital economy, private enterprises can help to optimize the way museums manage their resources and better democratize access to knowledge and our collective cultural heritage.

“We have benefited enormously from the collaborative approach and from the range of skills at EY, including business process analysis and operational modeling,” says Christopher Yates, Deputy Director of the British Museum. “EY’s ability to think through complex challenges and provide strong data-backed evidence for its recommendations is helping us to develop robust long-term plans for the museum in a changing world.”

Summary

External digital and analytical expertise is essential for public institutions to maximize their resources and further democratize access to knowledge and our shared heritage.