Principles for a successful technology refresh

This resource is aimed at leaders of heritage organisations looking to upgrade their technology. It explores best practices in planning and executing a successful technology refresh and details common pitfalls and how to avoid them.

This resource is available in English and Welsh
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Image courtesy of Matt Wilson ©

Principles for a successful technology refresh

1. Introduction

As a leader of a heritage organisation, you know that having the right technology is key to achieving your strategic aims, whether that be engaging new audiences or preserving heritage for the future. Yet it’s unlikely you have the resources to upgrade to the latest systems in all areas of your organisation. How can you decide between competing priorities? How can you avoid too much disruption to your staff, services and operations?

Technology refresh refers to the process of continuously assessing your IT systems to make sure that they still align with your organisation’s needs. The aim is to plan for proactive improvement, rather than wait until ageing technology becomes a risk, cost burden or barrier to realising your vision.

In this guide, our expert, Elissa Truby, an independent consultant to the heritage sector, explains the principles for achieving a successful technology refresh that minimises costs and disruptions. There is also a checklist of questions for you to consider when planning a refresh.

2. Why you need a technology refresh

Technology is fast-paced and constantly evolving. Many of the assets in your organisation’s care may be hundreds of years old and have deteriorated little over this period. In contrast, in just a few years, your systems can become:

  • difficult to use
  • expensive to maintain
  • vulnerable to cyberattack or sudden failure
  • unable to deliver the functionality you need.

For organisations such as yours – responsible for looking after history and cultural memory – the risks of data loss are especially worrying.

Modernising technology can be disruptive, so it’s tempting to ignore the issue until it becomes urgent. But the costs, risks and effort involved in the upkeep or recovery of outdated systems will far outweigh those needed if you schedule routine upgrades. You will also miss out on opportunities to improve audience experiences and drive productivity.

Signs you need a technology refresh

  • Your IT team spend much of their time fixing old systems
  • Your equipment runs slowly, shuts down unexpectedly or experiences regular connectivity issues
  • You’ve seen an increase in cybersecurity incidents
  • Your equipment isn’t standardised across the organisation
  • Your systems aren’t compliant with current data protection regulations
  • Your staff and volunteers seem frustrated that they no longer have the tools they need to work efficiently
  • Your visitors, donors and other stakeholders aren’t engaging with your organisation as much as you’d like due to technical barriers.

3. Principles for a successful technology refresh

1 – Survey your technology environment

To plan for a technology refresh, you first need an accurate picture of what you already have and how old it is. The aim is to create a list of systems that you can regularly review, update and use to identify quick wins, high-risk areas and opportunities for improvement or cost reduction.

2 – Prioritise and consider value

It’s impossible to replace everything all at once. Decide where to invest your time, effort and money by weighing up the benefits and risks of repairing, retiring, retaining, or replacing each system. Make sure you’re being realistic and only do what’s achievable with the resources available.

Don’t overlook the systems that support your core operations. The benefits of replacing outdated HR, finance or file storage systems aren’t always easy to measure, so you’ll need to consider factors like the value of data and the level and frequency of use.

3 – Aim to simplify

You may have bought products from several different suppliers over the years, or you may be paying for multiple systems that perform the same function. Identify opportunities to consolidate and standardise your technology to reduce support and licensing costs. You can explore new systems that offer automatic updates to free up your IT team.

Remember that customising new systems too much will only mean more work for your IT team in the long run. You can avoid complexity by choosing off-the-shelf products, even if that means slightly adapting your ways of working.

4 – Pick your timing and communicate

Timing is key! Look at what’s happening across your whole organisation, not just in IT. It’s likely you’ll need to involve staff outside of IT in activities such as needs analysis, data cleansing, testing and training for new systems. All these tasks can take them away from their day-to-day responsibilities. There may never be an ideal time, but you need to be sure that staff can tolerate the disruption right now. You could always consider a phased introduction to ease the burden.

5 – Test before you invest

Replacement systems are rarely a like-for-like fit, so proofs-of-concept and pilots are a great way of seeing whether new technology is a good match for your organisation without committing too much money upfront. Speak to potential suppliers; they will often help with proofs-of-concept at low or no cost to heritage organisations.

6 – Prepare for the unexpected

Set aside budget for hidden costs, including future upgrades and ongoing support and licensing fees. You should also allow for extra time in your plan to deal with potential roadblocks.

7 – Remember the data

A ‘refresh’ is exactly that – a chance for a new start. When it comes to planning, make sure you get your data in order before moving to a new system. You may not need to take everything with you, and you should be particularly aware of security and legislation if you’re moving sensitive data types. You’ll also need to consider backup and testing during migration to avoid data loss.

4. Next steps

Now you’re aware of what you need to consider when planning a technology refresh, download this checklist (PDF file, 152kb) to reflect on each of the points above before you put your plan into action.

More help here

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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: "Principles for a successful technology refresh (2022) by Elissa Truby 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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