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Episode 12

Sylvain Moreau - Digital transformation in cultural institutions

Posted on: 06 Nov 2023

Sylvain Moreau is the Chief Sales Officer of Drupal projects at the French digital agency Axess, and he specializes in large Drupal websites for institutions.

In this episode, we discuss how cultural institutions approach digital transformation. We start off with some of the key considerations of main benefits of digital transformation for these institutions, then Sylvain talks more in-depth about the numerous French cultural institutions they've worked with and the main trends they've seen, such as the digitalization of artworks. In the final part of the episode, we focus on their collaboration with Paris Musées, for whom they've recently completed one part of a major project.

Links & mentions:


"Right now, the COVID crisis means that they have to completely reinvent the way that they create their relationship with their audiences and how they fulfill their mission to bring culture to everyone."

Intro:Welcome to the Agile Digital Transformation podcast, where we explore different aspects of digital transformation and digital experience with your host Tim Butara, content and community manager at Agiledrop.

Tim Butara: Hello everyone. Thanks for tuning in. I’m joined today by Sylvain Moreau, Chief sales officer for the French digital agency, Axess Open Web Services which specializes in the Drupal CMS. In this episode Sylvain and I will be talking about Digital Transformation in cultural institutions with a special focus on the recent project for Paris Musées. Welcome Sylvain. It's great to have you with us. Would you like to add anything to the introduction?

Sylvain Moreau: Hello, Tim and thank you for this introduction. I’m really happy to be with you in this program and be able to share my experience with your audience. Maybe I could add that I’ve been working in the internet industry since 2001, when I completed my studies and created a company with my close friends. We were four at this time and now this company makes 25 people live and we specialize, as you said, in big Drupal sites for institutions and we are also now part of a bigger French group named, Axess Groupe, which employs 300 people specialized in many fields of Digital Transformation for companies. So, thank you for the introduction. Sorry I can’t say that word clearly.

Tim Butara: It’s okay. No worries, Sylvain and thank you for the extended intro. So, you definitely have quite a lot of experience working in the digital right and you probably have quite a lot of interesting digital transformation insights for us today. So, let's talk Digital Transformation in cultural institutions and my first question would be: what are the key things that cultural institutions need to consider when they decide that they want to digitally transform?

Sylvain Moreau: First of all, I think the key factor to success in digital transformation for these institution is vision and benchmark. Because before going through all these processes, that we know and that we will discuss later, first of all these institutions need to question themselves about what is their vision for their institution in five years, ten years. It may sound obvious but, if you do not have this vision, especially in the cultural field, you can go nowhere.

And second thing is the benchmark. Because these institutions, they are not alone and there are many museums, there are many cultural institutions and many cultural medias and things are moving fast. So, the best way to get the digital transformation right is to benchmark your competitors in the cultural fields… you can't say competitors, but the people who do like you, and then decide what, where do you want to go. The second thing maybe would be to list your actual resources; all the things that you have and that you want to share with your audience and your elements inside your information system. Because, we are talking about digital transformation, but it's a transformation and there always is something already digital when it comes to museums, to cultural institutions. So, you must make a list of these and see how you can use them and you can broadcast them, and this is the second thing. And then the third point would be the most important one is to think about the user experience. What we call UX. That means questioning yourself about, who are your targets? When you are cultural institutions. When you are a museum, it's obvious that the main target is your visitors but it can go beyond that.

Then you have to ask what a visitor needs from us before his visit or during his visit or after his visit. You must think about all the experience he will have with your digital resources. And then you must think about which online resources like artworks, educational resources do we want to offer to our audiences and how do we produce them, how do we protect them, because you have copyright concerns when you are working with artworks. So, all these kinds of questions need to be asked and they need to be asked from the direction point of view, but also from the user experience. It's very important to… when you think about digital transformation, when you are a cultural institution, to think about what your users want to have like services, like information, like products and then you can go through this process.

Tim Butara: Wow, that does sound like there's a lot of details that you have to be conscious of, a lot of things that you have to plan in advance. And basically, it's like… what it sounds like is that cultural institutions need to take into account basically almost everything else that a typical company would have to. But then, in addition to that, also stuff like copyright for artwork as you mentioned and probably that balance between the stakeholders, kind of the direction, the management of the museum and the visitors or in the example of museums, this balance is probably a really important point here, right?

Sylvain Moreau: Yes, and they also need to think about their mission because what is difference between a company and a cultural institution is that a cultural institution, it's not a business; it is a business because we have to have figures and KPIs, but it is also an institution which has a mission. And they have to think about everything about this mission and what it means when it comes to digital experience.

Tim Butara: Yeah, thanks for adding that. That's a really good point. Thank you. And how do such institutions, so cultural institutions, benefit from undergoing digital transformation?

Sylvain Moreau: I think that the main point, from my point of view, is that they are making culture in general more accessible to their audience that they would never have thought of. Because you can see that in many ways right now, museums for example, because they are the main cultural institutions that we can think of, they come from another century. Let's say the 20th century to be, to be nice. But how do they benefit from digital transformation? We can quote some examples, like they can put all their resources online. And that means a lot because before that you had to go to the museum, you had to go to its library to have access to all this knowledge and to all these resources. Now they can just broadcast them online. It's very important.

Another main point is being able to offer a digital experience at every moment for the visitors; and that's what I said before. Every moment is like, before going to the museum you can consult the website and see how do you access. What are you planning to see? Are you going to eat? Are you going to transport yourself over there? And then you have to think of the user experience, when a visitor is on site that means virtual reality, information about the artworks. You can have an interactive map that you can follow. Everything you can think of about digital experience. And then you have to think about digital experience after the visit; when you've come to the museum, you've seen the artworks and then what will you do when you come home. How do you keep the link between the museum and the visitors? That's another important point. And the last thing, maybe the most obvious one, is managing people flow easily. You can think of online ticketing. And this is now a real trend which has been going on for a few years; like two years ago you could buy… when you went to the Museum Louvre, Musée de Louvre, you could buy your ticket online or you could buy your ticket on site.

And since last year, they stopped selling tickets on site and the only way to go to the Louvre Museum would be to buy the ticket online, because they were not able to manage their people flow anymore. So... and now it's the same with the COVID and with the limitation of visitors, but every museum and every cultural institution now is able to manage its flow because every visitor has to go through an online process to book their visit. So maybe you can think it's a bad thing, but for the museum and for the cultural institution it's a good thing because you can really handle the people you have on site and you can maximize the sales you make from one hour of opening.

Tim Butara: Well, but also since people have gotten more used to purchasing stuff online this year because of COVID, I think that even for the users, you know, we will soon come to a point where when purchasing tickets online will be more convenient and the user experience will probably be so good that it won't be a problem anymore for visitors.

Sylvain Moreau: Yeah. It's like the poor side of a digital experience in a museum, but it is mandatory. So you don't have a choice. But every museum is working on improving its online experience for buying tickets. Right now, it's really crap as we can say.  Even for the Louvre or big museum in France, they are very late about online ticketing, but they do not have a choice so they will improve that very fast.

Tim Butara: Yeah. As you said, they do not have a choice. If the pandemic and the lockdown continue for some time, you know, that's pretty much the best way and the only way for them to go forward.

Sylvain Moreau: Yeah. True.

Tim Butara: Since we already started talking about COVID, let's just jump ahead to the COVID related questions. So, how would you say that the COVID crisis, everything that we've experienced this year, the mass digitalization, the move to digital experiences, how would you say that all this has affected the need for cultural institutions to digitalize, to undergo digital transformation?

Sylvain Moreau: Oh, I think it has made things obvious. They need to digitalize or they will close. Because before COVID, they were asking themselves about when do we go, when do we put our resources online, when do we accelerate our online ticketing process, all that kind of stuff. But now they know that if they don't do that in the, in the coming years and I’m not talking about the decade, I’m talking about one year or two years, they will die. Because right now is a period of uncertainty, so we don't know when it will end. So maybe they have a few months to think about the digital strategy because right now the visitors are limited, but they need to do that now because otherwise when everything reopens, the world will have changed a lot and for them it's really true. For example, I was just this morning on the French radio there was the director of Musée d'Orsay, which is the other big Parisian museum with the Louvre, who was interviewed and she was saying that since the COVID crisis they lost 70 percent of the visitors. So, it's very huge when you think about it as a business, it's horrible.

So, you can think, they lost all the revenue which is generated by the entrance, but they also lost and we do not think about that, but they also lost the fees for on-site restaurants and shops. And for certain museums, I can think of one of my customers which is the Cité de l'Architecture which is located just near the Trocadéro in Paris, they make money from the entrance but they also make money from the restaurant that is located inside which has a nice view on the Eiffel Tower and if people don't come to this restaurant, they don't have enough money to make investments. That's the fee from these restaurants that are used to invest. So, it's a really sad situation for the institutions.

So right now, the COVID crisis, it means that they have to completely reinvent the way that they create their relationship with their audiences and how they fulfill their mission to bring culture to everyone, because it's really their first mission. You know, the Louvre museum, it was created to bring the culture to everyone. And it's the case for almost every museum; they want to show the art work and share them with many people. So right now, the best way, the best way for this institution is to figure, how do we accomplish our mission? And it's not only selling tickets for on-site visits; it must be greater than that. We have to think about many ways to bring the culture and after that, we will think about making money on it. But I think that if they don't have the way of generating people and relationships with them, they won't be able to make money at any point.

Tim Butara: Yeah, it's also a bit paradoxical, right? Because you probably need a certain budget if you want to properly digitally transform. And since-- seeing how they lost a lot of revenue both from their visitors and the extra fees which you pointed out, that probably makes it much harder for them to like properly digitally transform and to implement any new technology that they might ascertain as kind of optimizing the experience of their users.

Sylvain Moreau: Yeah, that's true. But you need also to think about these institutions, companies that are too big to fail. It's not because they are too big, but because they cannot fail. Especially in France where culture is a major part of our country culture, you cannot think about the Louvre Museum getting closed or any museum getting closed. But for small private museums, yeah this is really annoying because these ones, they don't have many public money and they have to think really fast and they maybe need to invest on some digital transformation that they cannot afford. So, it's really a problem for small private museums.

Tim Butara: Yeah, that's a good point to add because I also don't really picture the Louvre going out of business because of COVID. So yeah, good point.

Sylvain Moreau: Yeah, and maybe even if MoMA in New York, I think, even if it's private and it's an American museum and it's in the land of capitalism, I think the MoMA will never close. But it's also a good example because the MoMA, like many American museums, is ahead of many European or at least French museums. The digital experience offered by major museums in the USA is better than almost every digital experience offered by a museum in France.

Tim Butara: Well, but you seem to be doing quite a lot of work, right? You've worked with cultural institutions a lot and you've probably helped in a lot of their digital transformation efforts and probably also seen a lot of kind of recurring DT trends throughout your work.

Sylvain Moreau: Yes, that's true. We have many customers in the cultural field and we've been working with them for many years, the first category of them being museums. So, we work with an institution, and we will talk about this particular project later, which is called Paris Musées, which is a group of 14 museums in Paris that are public museums and that are free to access. They have many artworks. We also worked with one museum called the MNHN, which is the museum of natural history. So, it's natural science and this is, in France it's a reference and it's really a beautiful museum. We also work with Cité de l'Architecture, which is the museum for architecture. So, we have this museum for customers. We also have institutes.

Our main customer in this field is Institute français, which is a French government institution whose mission is to broadcast French art abroad in every part of the world and which also is to help foreign artists to emerge and to be known in France. So, it's very…. it works on both sides and it's really a nice mission and they have bureaus in every country in the world. We also work with national centers for art, which is, the main one is called CNAP, it's for modern art. We work with French architects, and we also work with public medias with cultural mission. You can think of RFI; It's an international radio broadcaster. Maybe you already listened to it in Slovenia.

You can think of France Culture, which is the national public radio with only chat and cultural shows. And also with Arte; Arte is a French/German public TV channel. And finally, we work with also public libraries, big ones like the BULAC. I think that you will give every link on the podcast details. These are really nice institutions. And you've asked me about the major trends. What I can quickly think of is the first thing and it has been going for like 10 years is the digitalization of artworks.

So, it's a long process because you have to go in every museum and to take high resolution pictures. You have to make the inventory and to transform it into high-definition data. But it's really what needs to be done to put all this culture online; the digitalization of artworks and resources. And when you have done this the new trends are, you can develop new online experiences. New online experiences, the field is very vast. You can think of virtual museums. I’ve talked about CNAP before, they have a website called which is a virtual museum. You can enter keywords and it will bring every artwork that you can think of online and you will go through a virtual experience just like you would walk through a museum, so it's really nice and it's a digital experience. You can think of high-resolution panels for like masterpieces and museums, they are very highly defined-digitalized and you can see them on your screen and just you can see many details from the paintings or sculptures and it's very fascinating. And then you have these online experiences, but you also have open data and this is really the next step because all these artworks, they need to be accessible to everyone, whether it's free or not free, but you need to put it online.

And open data is really a great movement in museums around the world. Also, the next step of open data is open content and I will talk about that for Paris Musées just after talking about the digital trends. Another digital trend I’ve seen is online selling, ticketing. It's really nice. But also, online selling of newspapers, of books, of art books, of catalogues for exhibitions, and also museums are going through online fundraising and crowdfunding. Like for example, when they want to restore an old artwork, they can put some online campaigns just like you see on these big digital platforms of crowdfunding and you can pay money to restore the artwork. So, this is really working and now main museums like the Louvre or other big museums, they did some campaigns which worked to restore some major artworks. I can also think of digital link with the audiences because when you talk about art, it's really about the emotion that people are feeling when they are seeing this artwork.

So, you really have to think about the link you create with your online visitors, with emotions, so this is the main part of the major trend; bringing emotion to the websites or to the applications with art. The last thing which is evolving very fast is, I don't know if it's a French work or it's translatable in English, it's called Phygital; it's a mix between physical and digital…

Tim Butara: Oh, yeah. Okay. That makes sense.

Sylvain Moreau: Yeah, right now these cultural institutions we are developing Phygital experiences like, for example, for sculptures they are digitalizing artworks and then you can download the 3D print and print some major artworks on your 3D print printer. So, it's really cool and it's really the link between the digitalization of the works and the visitor. Right now, they are developing virtual reality experiences. You can put a virtual (VR) helmet and then you can go through a virtual exhibition of artworks. So, this is really cool. And you can think also of moving museums, that means museums that are coming to you when you are living in the countryside, when you are living in a remote place - now you can have a museum experience going into small cabins that are located in remote places.

We have experiences like this in France and it's really cool. And recently I’ve discovered a foundation which is called Art Explora and whose mission is to bring art to everyone. And they have some cool ideas that can sum up what I’ve just said. It is like they are building a boat, a race boat, a catamaran; I don't know if in English it's called catamaran, but it's a race boat and then inside this boat you have a digital museum with major artworks, like paintings, which are very highly digitized and you can visit this museum when you are living in a small fisher town maybe in Morocco. And this project is to… they are building this boat and two years from now it will be sailing across the Mediterranean Sea and going in every single small place where people have never seen a museum and they can, they can see artwork just staying in their village. So that kind of project is I think is the next digital trend in the cultural institutions.

Tim Butara: Oh, that does sound super interesting and super cool and it kind of really epitomizes their mission, right? It's making culture accessible to everybody no matter where they are, no matter how they interact with culture. So, it really seems from these examples that you’ve just pointed out, really seems to me like cultural institutions are one area that's really taking great advantage of all modern technologies such as AR, VR, 3D printing and kind of this mixing of physical and digital spaces. Really cool. Okay, now let's talk more about the project that you've already mentioned that was your recent project for Paris Musées, so Paris museums, can you describe it a bit more in depth? Can you maybe talk about some of the key requirements and some of the goals and maybe some of the main outcomes of the project?

Sylvain Moreau: Yeah, first of all it seems like a recent project but we've been working with Paris Musées for five years now.

Tim Butara: So, it was recently completed if I understand correctly?

Sylvain Moreau: Yes, one phase was recently completed but to complete that phase we did a lot of work before and I can say that Paris Musées is our favorite customer because it’s an ambitious customer. They have a very high ambition and they already had it when we met them five years ago, but they also had a realistic digital strategy. That means, they knew where they wanted to go but they knew that they were a cultural institution and that it can take a bit time at that time to go from no digital transformation to a complete digital transformation. And they also have a culture of hard and productive teamwork with us. So, it's very nice working with them. But anyway, we answered an RFP five years ago or six years ago, and the project was to make the collection portal - that means they had 300,000 artworks that were digitalized; they had data and they had software for that and they wanted to put all these artworks online with a great search engine. The first goal of that was to give the researchers in the field of art and culture access to all this data that they can do their researches.

So, we had to build that portal, first of all in terms of a data structure and the information architecture for artwork is very complicated. Because you have many taxonomies like maybe, hundreds of them and this work was very important. Then we had to import all that data from their information system, which is a bit archaic, to the website and then we had to develop the UX and the UI of a website so that it was usable and it was attractive. I think we did a good mission on that. Then we launched this portal which is called Paris Musées Collection and then you can search in 300,000, and it's growing every day, artworks. And that means a lot because you can access all the artwork for free, but when you think of that you also think when a museum is closed and it was the case for the Musée Carnavalet which is a one big Parisian museum and they have like 30,000 artworks or more.

The museum was closed for one year or two years, but all their artworks were accessible online. So that means a lot because the mission, it can go on and it continues even when the museum is closed and it goes on like 24/7. It was really challenging for us to be able to offer an online experience and to bring all this data very simply for the end user. Then we opened it to the public, not only to researchers, and after we've done that the customer wanted to go further and he said, okay we have this search engine but I want to go open data and I want to go open content, and which was really the big challenge that we completed just before the COVID in January of this year. The cool thing that for this project they said, okay we have a like 150,000 artworks, we are sure that we can put them under the Creative Commons CC0 license and then we put them online and everybody in the world can use them for commercial and non-commercial use for free. So, we needed to build an API for open content and for open data and we needed to handle all the downloading aspects of the end users’ agreement.

Now you can go on the Paris Musées collection portal and you can search an artwork and there are new cool features like, you can search an artwork by its color… if you want to have a blue, red and pink images and you want to use them to build a pixel art picture of your girlfriend for example, to make her present and then you can print some big pictures on a wall, you can do that. And you can do that not having to worry about the license because it's under Creative Commons. So, we are very proud of this work because it's in France, it's a premiere and worldwide we are among the first ones. So, we are really proud because we share the values of our customer, which is to bring the artwork to everyone for free and art is for everyone and you have to share it. We also did the main institution portal which is like a normal website saying of exhibitions going on with an agenda and job offers and something like that. So, this is really normal work for us like an institutional website, but the main project is the Paris Musées Collection portal and it's really something we are very proud of even 4 years after its launch.

Tim Butara: And what technology did you use? Did you use Drupal for all the functionality that you talked about earlier?

Sylvain Moreau: Yes, I forgot because we stayed very big picture, but we built the collection portal on Drupal 7, because at that time there was no Drupal 8 and it still is on Drupal 7. And when we started working on open content and the API open data and open content API, we decided to move to Drupal 8. So right now, we have a situation where half of our work is on Drupal 7 and the main portal, the Paris Musées Collection, is on Drupal 7 and the technical new stuff is built upon Drupal 8.

Tim Butara: Oh, nice. Drupal is probably a very good choice for such a project where you have a lot of, you mentioned previously, a lot of complicated taxonomies and like the need for really good data handling… and I mean from what I know about Drupal, Drupal is just the perfect tool for that.

Sylvain Moreau: Yes, true and it's also a perfect tool for bringing user functionalities, because as I said before this portal is opened to researchers. So, then they can create an account and they can bookmark their researches; they can make notes on artworks and so all this is included in Drupal and it's more scalable and you can develop new user functionalities that needs to be authenticated on Drupal. And this was really the two main key decision makers; the ability of Drupal to handle very large and complicated data structures and also its ability to bring user personalized features.

Tim Butara: Yes, very good points right there at the end, thanks for adding that to Sylvain.

Sylvain Moreau: You're welcome.

Tim Butara: Well, that's all for my questions. Is there anything, any closing remarks that you'd like to give before we finish?

Sylvain Moreau: No, I was very happy to be interviewed about these cultural projects because I think it's the root of internet missions if you think of it. Because cultural institutions, their mission is to broadcast the knowledge to everyone and that was the goal of the internet at first - you would go to the internet and you could access every part of knowledge you wanted to and that is really exciting. When we are doing our commercial job, like every day job, we are a company we have to make money and it's normal, but when you remember what is the mission of this museum and cultural institutions, you are very proud to work with them because it adds sense to your work. Everyone in our team is very happy to work with these customers.

Tim Butara: Yeah, great point Sylvain. Thank you. If people want to reach out to you or if they want to learn more about you where can they do that?

Sylvain Moreau: I think that the simplest way is to contact me on LinkedIn. Will give you my LinkedIn account.

Tim Butara: Okay yeah, I’ll make sure to add that in the notes. Thanks for speaking with me today Sylvain. It's been really great learning more about Paris Musées and all your extensive expertise when working with cultural institutions. That's all for this episode, have a great day everyone and stay safe.

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