October 24-26, 2007
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Paper: Modeling ICT Deployment At Heritage Sites: A Mechanism For Impact Assessment

Jim McLoughlin, Jaime Kaminski, and Babak Sodagar, Brighton Business School, University of Brighton, UK


This paper forwards a dynamic holistic ICT investment appraisal and deployment model. This model can be used by heritage sites and museums to both guide ICT investments and provide a framework for impact evaluation. The model considers what factors are likely to influence impacts and outcomes associated with the deployment of information technology at museums and heritage sites. More importantly it considers what issues heritage professionals need to consider when making investments in ICT.

Keywords: socio-economic impact, economics, evaluation, economics, business process, methodology

1. Introduction

The impact of an ICT deployment on heritage sites, museums and their visitors is an incremental impact.  That is to say, it is an impact that occurs in addition to, and as part of the wider impact of the site.  Therefore, any changes to the dynamics of the site could affect the impact that an ICT deployment has.

ICT does not exist in a vacuum divorced from the heritage system.  ICT is part of that system.  The incremental impact of an ICT deployment cannot be viewed in isolation from the non-ICT impacts and outcomes associated with a particular heritage site.  The success or failure of a particular ICT project is, more often than not, a function of factors outside of the realm of IT.  Politics, design, and location amongst others play important roles in the success and failure of an ICT deployment.  The success or failure of a project determines its socio-economic impact as much as the technology itself.  It would be a gross simplification to think that technologies can be studied in isolation from these external factors.

This is why it is necessary to understand and conceptualize the dynamics of the heritage site being studied.  The model shown in Fig 1 highlights some of the factors which affect impacts and outcomes at museums and heritage sites.  This provides a site ‘context’ for the following model which is specifically oriented towards the deployment of ICT (see Fig 2). 

Figure 1Fig 1: A holistic model for impact evaluation at cultural heritage sites
(McLoughlin et al. 2006b: 111)

Also, when studying the ‘impact of technology’ it becomes apparent that any analysis is meaningless without consideration of what makes each site unique.  Different sites and museums have different strengths and weaknesses – strong brands, exceptional collections, extensive financial resources, etc.  Different sites also have different rationales and objectives for deployment.  If the ‘impact’ of ICT is divorced from these contextual factors then the result of any analysis can lose its full potential.  This is why the model is so essential.  It allows those studying sites to place them in the same conceptual framework (McLoughlin et al., 2006a, 2006b).

This research is based not only on examples of ‘best practice’ but also on the analysis of examples of failure.  As much, or more, information can be derived examples of technology failure as from the examples of success. 

Figure 2

Figure 2: A holistic investment contingency model for technology impact evaluation at cultural heritage sites (CHS)

2. The Technology Impact Context

Changes to the non-technology elements of the heritage site and its wider context can have wide ranging effects on the impact and outcomes of an ICT deployment.  Considerable resources are devoted in the holistic site model toward determining the wider impact context that a heritage site exists in.  The information derived from the holistic site model can be applied to this element of the ICT model.  In this element the ‘macro technological’ context is also studied in order to establish how this affects the deployment of ICT.  A number of factors affect the technological impact context, including:

  • Development of ICTs: The ICT deployment in heritage sites exists within a wider ‘ICT and technology’ context.  At the most fundamental level, what ICT is available is dictated by developments in the spheres of science, industry and commerce.  Heritage sites do not have the resources or expertise to drive change in ICT.  But the availability of ICT is the principal determinant of what can be achieved.
  • Cost of technology: Global economic forces have acted to drive down the price of ICT hardware and software.  This contextual factor affects both heritage sites and their visitors:

    Lower costs have made ICT technology more accessible to heritage sites which do not tend to have buoyant finances (the increasing use of touch-screens and large LCD screens at heritage sites is an obvious manifestation of this). 

    ICT has become a commodity item in society.  As more consumers have to opportunity to have increasingly sophisticated ICT in their homes, more people are becoming familiar with technology.  Furthermore, many visitors will have access to technology in their workplaces.  Visitors are therefore becoming increasingly familiar with ICT and so the accessibility has increased.  This can also lead to increased acceptance of technology (see below).  The visiting public are driving demand.

  • The acceptance of technology: The acceptance of technology is determined by socio-economic factors.  The widespread use of ICT is the result of complex interactions between economic forces and user needs.  Acceptance of such technology is often dictated by the penetration of ICTs in society (the internet, digital TV, mobile phones, PDAs).  Acceptance of technology is relevant to both the site visitors and the site interpreters.
  • Reliance on exiting technology solutions: Some ICT technologies and standards are well-established (the Internet, PC hardware, HTML, XML, etc), but others are still in the process of gaining market acceptance.  Sites with potential ICT deployments that rely on cutting edge/bleeding edge technologies/standards could run the risk of the technologies used failing to gain long-term market success, however, if successful these sites could have a market leading advantage.  Deploying technological solutions at the appropriate time is crucial).

3. Strategic Rationale For Technology Investment

There has to be a strategic rationale for technology investment.  This is usually closely linked to the mission and vision for the site.  Strategy needs to underpin the management decision making at a heritage site.  Two principal components are suitability and feasibility:


Vision for investment: All investment decisions usually involve some intended innovation to enhance the cultural product offer.  The vision is eventually a strategic view of where the site should be and what it should offer.  Once this is clearly defined the exploration of the appropriate ICT for the vision can take place.


  • Strategic logic: there must be a strategic logic for the deployment of ICT.  At its simplest a heritage site’s strategy revolves around three questions: where is the site positioned now, where does it want to be positioned and how will it achieve that goal.  An ICT-based solution may, or may not, be the most effective use of resources for achieving that goal.  There have been many examples of technology-led solutions that have been deployed at heritage sites for no other reason than the technology was available. 
  • Site mission: another key question is does the particular use of ICT fit with the mission and values of the site? It is crucial that the deployment fits the mission and values of the site.  For example, the type of ICT deployed at a site whose primary aim is education might differ from one where visitor numbers are required to support the revenue stream.
  • Stakeholders:  all investments involve opportunity costs.  The potential funds that may be devoted to an ICT project can alternative uses.  It is therefore essential that stakeholders support the deployment of resources.


  • Risk assessment: The installation of ICT can hold considerable risk for heritage sites.  For many it is an area beyond their traditional sphere of experience so they are reliant upon external sources of consultancy and services.  A typical risk factor is cost outweighing the benefits
  • Budget: Sites have to consider if they have the budget for ICT installation and maintenance and/or the resources and capability to support such an installation. 
  • Resources and capability: The introduction of ICT requires numerous new skills.  Heritage sites need to establish what resources and capabilities they have for such a deployment.  Do they have any skills in house or will the entire project (or part of the project) need to be outsourced?  Furthermore, ICT requires maintenance.  Hardware items which requires a high level of manual interaction such as touch-screens, trackballs, and keyboards all require upkeep.  Purely electronic hardware such as processors, motherboard batteries, disk drives, can all fail.  Bespoke software may have bugs.  Sites have to allow for these contingencies and set aside resources at the outset for maintenance.

4. Management Decision Making

The management decision-making element is another key component that influences impact.  There are three components within this element; technology management, the financial and business models, and the marketing strategy.

Technology Strategy

Cultural heritage sites should have a continuous review of technology strategy (e.g. Web strategy) that can support the cultural offer.

Technology Management

Technology management is a multi-faceted area:

  • Technology project management: There are numerous considerations to be made when managing a technology project.  For example does the project meet the heritage site's vision?  Is there a clear objective?  As Soren (2005: 143) notes “clear objectives and values help curators take ownership of a project, and feel responsible for whether it succeeds or fails.”  It is necessary to liaise with external partners and with internal players (i.e. using human resource management for managing change).  Not all heritage sites have the luxury of having full-time staff devoted to ICT management.  Some have to share IT staff between sites or have staff that do IT-related tasks in addition to other jobs.  These sites may have to purchase these skills from outside consultants.  If the heritage site is for some reason unable or unwilling to maintain their ICT deployment then its impact may change from a positive to a negative.  Furthermore, deploying ICT at a heritage site is not the end of the story.  Information technology, as with all technology requires maintenance.  Many sites do not have the skills to keep ICT projects running if the technology breaks down.  This of course then requires external consultancy to fix any problems – but, needs to be factored into the running costs of the original business and sustainability model.  The following factors are also integral with technology management:
  • Management ‘buy-in’: Much work has been conducted in the commercial business sector that shows that the lack of senior management buy-in is one of the biggest reasons for the failure of technology projects.  This is extremely important in the cultural heritage sector because there can still be reticence to the use of information technology in what is still a sector with traditional origins.  Without management buy-in projects could fail before deployment or could have insufficient resources for successful deployment, leading to negative impressions by visitors. 
  • Leadership: Closely related to the above is leadership.  Leadership for an ICT deployment at a heritage site exists at two levels; the strategic leadership that drives the overall conceptualization, and the IT project leadership that manages the actual day-to-day running of the project.  Strong strategic and project leadership can greatly enhance its chances of success. 
  • Design, installation and implementation: When visitors come face-to-face with front-of-house ICT at heritage sites their first impression is a function of the design, implementation and installation of the technology.  The design of ICT applications is a complex area that is usually beyond the experience of heritage site personnel because so many different skill-sets are required (ICT development, graphic design, ergonomics, etc).  As heritage sites have become more likely to deploy ICT to enhance the visitor experience this has created a market opportunity for organizations who design and install ICT solutions (and those who co-ordinate the various project specialists).  Although, even today few enterprises can rely solely on the heritage sector for their business.  Still heritage sites deploying ICT are now making a contribution to the business sector.
  • The quality of the implementation drives the potential impacts: An exceptional use of technology can be let down by poor design, location, and implementation.  Alternatively, lack of funding may result in poor design because shortcuts were made.  This is important because considerable evidence points to cultural tourists as being increasingly sophisticated visitors.  This does not imply that all visitors to heritage sites are classified as cultural tourists, but there is a tendency for museum and heritage site visitors to come from higher education backgrounds.

Financial And Business Models

Financial/business models: In the past many heritage sites have been caught out by the lack of coherent, sustainable business models.  Capital funds and grants have been devoted to projects but less consideration has been devoted to the sustainability of the project.  There is evidence that this is slowly beginning to change – many funding bodies now require evidence of sustainability and business planning before they grant capital funds to projects.  For example, in the UK funders such as the Heritage Lottery Fund and English Heritage now require sustainability plans for the projects they fund.  There are numerous considerations for financial and business models, such as charging for specific exhibitions, developing exhibitions with the potential to tour and so gain extra revenue, or more imaginative models such as sharing development costs in return for a percentage of the revenue.

Marketing Strategy And Target Audiences

  • Marketing strategy: ICT deployments do not exist outside of a business system.  If visitors are not motivated to go to the physical or virtual heritage site in the first place then the impact of the ICT deployments can be reduced.  A significant investment in ICT might form the basis of a marketing campaign.  This certainly increased the awareness and therefore had a considerable influence on the scale of the impacts and outcomes. 
  • User evaluation and research: Heritage sites have a long tradition of conducting research on their visitors to determine user satisfaction.  Visitor surveys or interviews are and well understood by heritage sites.  There is also considerable external consultancy available to sites.   There is therefore a well-established mechanism that heritage sites can use to determine the socio-economic impact of technology at heritage sites.  Furthermore, user evaluation can be used to support marketing research.

6. Specific Objectives And Appraisal Of The Technology Investment

Purpose of technology investment:  This is fundamental for understanding the impact of ICT.  ICT investment reflects cultural product innovation and can provide a basis for a ‘new offer’.  There can be a wide range of reasons for the deployment of visitor-facing ICT at heritage sites.  These can include:

  • Enhancing the user’s experience
  • Increase visitor numbers
  • Increasing accessibility
  • Enhancing educational impact, or
  • Some combination of the above. 

A key question that sites often want answered is, ‘Has the investment achieved this aim?’  The objectives of a project are key to determining what impacts should be assessed.

  • Type/use of technology: The purpose for a technology investment is a key determinant for why a specific technology is chosen?  This of course is tempered by the anticipated costs and benefits of such a deployment.  The type of technology chosen is crucial for impact assessment.  Different technologies have different potentials for impacts and outcomes.  Technology that is connected to the internet may have a greater impact because of the potential for access to a larger number of people.  Site-based visualizations may have a considerable impact to the visitors, but this may not be translated to a broader impact because of the localized nature of the impact.
  • Anticipated costs and benefits: This is the essence of appraisal.  The initial capital cost outlay can be estimated as can the potential social returns and benefits.  The anticipated costs may be assessed through the use of Return On Investment (ROI), and Net Present Value (NPV) calculations.  It is essential to consider both the capital and operating costs for a deployment.  These assessments can then be compared to the potential anticipated benefits that the use of ICT may entail.  Once a project is running the impact measures can be used to provide data on the actual return.

7. The Strategic Context For Effective Deployment Of Technology

Strategic decision making and effective implementation drives a heritage organisation to achieve its mission, objectives and its desired impacts.  The following conceptualization of the model shows how the three elements of heritage site strategy are encapsulated within the model – leading to the creation of a heritage strategy triangle (see Fig 3).

  • The ‘site impact context’ provides information on where the site is currently positioned.
  • The ‘strategic rationale for the investment’ in technology is the key indicator of what the site wants to achieve.
  • The objectives and the management decision-making are the areas where sites can work on achieving their goals.

In this strategic context the socio-economic impacts and outcomes validate the strategic decision-making framework for the heritage site.  These impacts can be used to verify if the objectives of a strategic change have been met.  They are integral part of a holistic management information system which can be used to determine which strategies work and which do not in the heritage site context.

8. Conclusions

The above model highlights the limitations of assuming a simplistic relationship between deploying technology and its impact.  It is apparent that many factors influence social and economic impacts simultaneously with any technology impacts.  The break down of the model into elements allows users to conceptualize the process of investment.  This way of thinking could be called ‘heritage systems analysis’.  This is to say a consistent theoretical model for heritage sites that allows the internal and external factors that influence impact to be conceptualized.  If the heritage sector were to understand how various components of the system are interlinked and affect impacts and outcomes then this could become the basis for understanding impact.  In this context understanding impact becomes the basis for positively influencing impact. 

Figure 3

Fig 3: The ‘strategy triangle’ in the holistic ICT decision-making model

The underling strength of this model is its versatility.  The underling strength of this model is its versatility.  Although the model is oriented towards the investment in, and deployment of, ICT at heritage sites it is fundamentally about understanding the process of investment and so could be modified for many investment decisions. 


EPOCH’s socio-economic impact research has been supported by the European Commission’s Framework 6 Programme (IST-2002-507382).


McLoughlin, J., Sodagar, B. and Kaminski, J. (2006a) Dynamic socio-economic impact: a holistic analytical framework for cultural heritage sites, in McLoughlin, J., Kaminski, J. and Sodagar, B. (eds.) Heritage Impact 2005: Proceedings of the first international symposium on the socio-economic impact of cultural heritage. Archaeolingua: Budapest, 43-57.

McLoughlin, J. Kaminski, J and Sodagar, B. (2006b) ICT investment considerations and their influence on the socio-economic impact of heritage sites. VAST 2006 proceedings, Eurographics/ACM. 109-16.

Soren, B. J. (2005) Best practices in creating quality online experiences for museum users. Museum management and curatorship 20, 131–148.

Cite as:

McLoughlin, J., et al., Modeling ICT Deployment At Heritage Sites: A Mechanism, in International Cultural Heritage Informatics Meeting (ICHIM07): Proceedings, J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds). Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics. 2007. Published October 24, 2007 at http://www.archimuse.com/ichim07/papers/mcloughlin/mcloughlin.html