Approaches for digital transformation

This guide focuses on three approaches to digital transformation and what they can mean for your heritage organisation. Case studies explore how other organisations have embraced digital transformation, their experiences and the strategic pathways they have taken to change how they engage with their audiences.

This resource is available in English and Welsh
A path through a garden surrounded by a wide variety of trees
Image courtesy of VisitBritain © Sam Barker

Approaches for digital transformation

1. Introduction

In this guide, our expert Dr Amelia Knowlson presents some examples of how other heritage organisations have successfully used digital to transform what they do.

Digital transformation is about changing how you do things, challenging traditional approaches, and creating new value for new audiences. The way that you approach this will differ depending on your organisation and its goals. Regardless of the approach, digital transformation should provide the opportunity to do something unique and employ technologies in ways that offer a new way of seeing and experiencing heritage.

Amelia focuses on three approaches which are related to what Osterwalder and Pigneur (2010) refer to in Business Model Generation as infrastructure management, product innovation and customer relationship management. She explores how each of these approaches might relate to the digital transformation efforts of your heritage organisation and how you can support them by emphasising certain aspects of your business model.


2. Infrastructure management: A connected approach

The business model canvas

Below is a diagram of a business model canvas, a visual representation of a typical business model, highlighting three key areas of infrastructure management, product innovation and customer relationship management.

A diagram of a business model canvas highlighting three key areas of infrastructure management, product innovation and customer relationship management

If your digital transformation efforts are mainly for the purpose of creating efficiencies and helping you to do what you already do, but better – the focus of your efforts will be related to the left-hand side of the business model canvas. This represents a focus on:

  • The knowledge and skills of your staff and volunteers
  • The technological resources that you might be able to make use of
  • The partnerships and community of peers that you might develop to gain support and provide guidance.

Together you might gain additional support and help through online connectivity to other heritage organisations globally. Being connected to other organisations will help you deliver a service that perhaps you may not otherwise have the resources, knowledge or technical skills to achieve in-house.

Case study: Europeana

Europeana describes itself as promoting “European cultural heritage to be used and enjoyed by everyone for learning, for work, or just for fun”. Through connecting the archives, resources and materials of institutions across Europe it provides central, searchable access to millions of cultural heritage items such as artworks, books, music, newspapers, archaeology, fashion, science and sport.

It also offers additional access and institutional functionality for members of the Europeana Pro network. This network connects cultural institutions, galleries, museums and other professionals with educational institutions such as schools and colleagues to deliver a powerful cultural educational resource.

A screenshot of the landing page of the Europeana website
A screenshot of the landing page of the Europeana website. Image courtesy of Europeana

Another example of this kind of approach is the 50s in Europe Kaleidoscope project that brings together heritage photography and new technology. This website supports the sharing and reuse of photographic images, user generated commentary and co-curation.


3. Customer relationship management: An immersive approach

Perhaps your motivation to engage in digital transformation may be to offer a new kind of audience experience. You may want to open up new platforms and channels through which your audience can experience your collections. In doing so, you can appeal to different demographics and different segments of the population. If this is the case, then your strategic emphasis will focus more on the right-hand side of the canvas. This is where the focus is on offering new places (physically or online) for your audiences to engage with you, and new segments to understand and attract. As such, your efforts will emphasise great audience experience and reaching new people.

Case study: Van Gogh – The Immersive Experience

The Van Gogh experience was launched in 2017 and so far has received over five million visitors across the globe in its 30 locations. With the latest in virtual projection technology, the audience is placed directly in the world of Vincent Van Gogh to experience a unique sound and light show immersing participants within the familiar images and motifs of the artist. The exhibition helps to engage audiences in offering a very different sensory and experiential appreciation of art.

Screenshot of the landing page of the Van Gogh immersive experience website
Screenshot of the landing page of the Van Gogh immersive experience website. Image courtesy of Van Gogh Expo

The Coventry City of Culture Trust is employing a similar approach in the Reel Store, creating the UK’s first permanent immersive digital art gallery.


4. Value proposition: A co-creative approach

For some organisations, the use of technology may support the development of a completely new product or service. Perhaps what your audience appreciates is that you can innovate and come up with new initiatives and ideas. You are regularly trying to be at the forefront of what’s going on and you might want to use technology to involve your audience in idea generation. Co-creation can offer some unique opportunities to pool knowledge and resources and enrich the experience of all those involved. Digital technologies offer a great medium through which to manage this process.

Case study: Art UK

In 2003 Art UK was launched at the National Gallery with the objective of creating a photographic record of the nation’s collection of publicly owned oil paintings.

Since then, the charity has expanded its remit to cover public sculpture, and now contains digitised works from over 3400 venues across the UK. In 2014, Art UK launched the Art Detective service which is a free-to-use online forum for specialists and the general public to collaborate as a community and resolve questions about the works included in the database. This approach uses an ‘open source’ investigative approach to pool knowledge and help curators fill information gaps about their collections. This is also a great way to build connections with audiences as communities.

Screenshot of the landing page of the Art Detective website
Screenshot of the landing page of the Art Detective website. Image courtesy of Art UK


5. Next steps

Establishing which direction is perhaps most relevant for you is a critical part of developing your digital strategy and your approaches to managing potential change. Getting the motivation for transformation and change clear at an early stage will help you make that case to stakeholders, too.

Step 1: Assess your current mission and organisational aims – where are you now and what do you want to achieve?

Step 2: Along with your team, consider which of the three approaches described above seem to best suit your direction.

Step 3: Start to map your organisation’s digital transformation with the business model canvas resource.

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Published: 2022
Resource type: Articles

Creative Commons Licence Except where noted and excluding company and organisation logos this work is shared under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 (CC BY 4.0) Licence

Please attribute as: "Approaches for digital transformation (2022) by Dr Amelia Knowlson supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, licensed under CC BY 4.0


More help here

Digital Heritage Hub is managed by Arts Marketing Association (AMA) in partnership with The Heritage Digital Consortium and The University of Leeds. It has received Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and National Lottery funding, distributed by The Heritage Fund as part of their Digital Skills for Heritage initiative. Digital Heritage Hub is free and answers small to medium sized heritage organisations most pressing and frequently asked digital questions.

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