Digital twins can transform how museums are managed. Source: Shutterstock

Digital twins can transform how museums are managed. Source: Shutterstock

Can Asia learn from the UK Natural History Museum’s use of digital twins?

ASIA is home to scores of museums — and cover art, natural history, law enforcement, prisons, and so much more, and with the help of technology, museum administrators are breathing new life into museums.

Recently, Tech Wire Asia spoke to National Museum of China Director of Data Management and Analysis Li Huabiao about how technology is helping a small team of 100 specialists maintain and manage more than 1.4 million artifacts.

While that was fascinating, the reality is that outside China, not many museums are leveraging technology despite being home to millions of interesting items of great historic and cultural value.

Museum administrators need to start thinking digital, not just to protect the items in their charge but also to make administration as well as access easier. The London Natural History Museum’s recent efforts provide some inspiration.

According to a specialist media organization that interviewed the institution’s interim CIO Ian Golding and Head of Enterprise Architecture Richard Hinton, there are about 80-odd business systems at play in the museum, controlling everything from pest control to enterprise.

In order to better manage its artifacts and optimize its technology infrastructure, programs, and investments, Golding said that a state of the art digital twin is being developed that will bridge the gap between real-world data and the various systems that can leverage that data to create meaningful insights.

“The really interesting thing for me about digital twin technology is the convergence of operational and information technology,” said Hinton.

The museum’s representatives said that there are about 15,000 sensors at play in the museum’s 100,000 square meter estate, collecting data about temperature, humidity, vibration, light and so on.

It is believed that getting the digital twin up and running will help stitch the museum’s various divisions together onto one pane of glass, allowing staff to quickly identify and rectify problems.

“Ultimately the museum is working towards having a dashboard view of what is happening in the museum at all times, but also have a historic view of how things change. This will allow us to pick up on trends and become a more efficient and sustainable organization,” explained Hinton.

While the interview with the museum’s representatives paints a futuristic image, the reality is that digital twins are the next natural step for museums looking to go digital.

How museums can journey to and benefit from digital twins

A digital twin is basically a digital representation of an ecosystem created by collecting data, in real-time.

Given the small size and varied types of sensors in the market, it is possible to create digital twins of everything — from cars and cranes to warehouse and supply chains — and even museums.

The benefit of creating a digital twin is that a small team collecting the data can throw it all onto a dashboard with drill-down capabilities, allowing managers and administrators of various departments to ask new and interesting questions and closely monitor (and even predict) events that are specifically interesting to them.

At the Natural History Museum in London, for example, Hinton believes the dashboard view will enable administrators to drive the museum better pursue its sustainability goals.

Given the sprawling properties that host the artifacts in some cases, digital twins might also be of great help when it comes to security and safety — of exhibits as well as visitors.

Here are the three things that museum administrators might consider when hoping to leverage the digital twin:

# 1 | Start with sensors

The first step to going digital in a museum is to map its space, factor in the needs of its artifacts, and invest in the right number and kind of sensors to capture the right kind of data.

While this is the first step to going digital, in many ways, museum administrators should bear in mind that although the prices of sensors have fallen in recent years, it is important to find high-quality sensors if the investment is meant to pay dividends in the long term.

# 2 | Get the right coverage

Collecting data from the sensors once they’ve been installed might not be a challenge, especially for museums in small spaces.

However, for those that span several square meters or maybe expect to ultimately harness the data from sensors to better protect the exhibits and visitors, in real-time, it might be important to consider a smarter network.

In China, museums are working on private 5G deployments as well as exploring the use of private splices of public 5G deployments — both of which will be able to provide robust network solutions to the museum’s data and analytics team.

# 3 | Build a platform with a simple UI

Ultimately, when building a digital twin, the reality is that the system must be useful to the many managers that run the many operations within the museum.

Educating everyone — upskilling the staff — is a good medium to long-term goal, but in the interim, the system’s user interface (UI) must be designed keeping simplicity in mind so that it can be deployed and used immediately without any resistance or challenges.

Museums tomorrow will be more digitally savvy. Those that get started today will, however, have an advantage in terms of experience and ability to manage specifically-directed funds/donations from stakeholders.