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National Gallery Singapore has long used technology to present visual treats in an array of forms but it’s now using disruptive software to prepare for the new normal.


Over the years, National Gallery Singapore (NGS) has steadily advanced on its quest to explore the benefits of digital innovation. Pre-pandemic, it launched a suite of new services based around smart technology to improve work productivity and enhance guest experiences. From customised visitor suggestions to automated sales emails, artificial intelligence has been central to generating higher revenue, efficiency enhancements and cost savings -- a strategy NGS calls SmartMuseum, a core element of its digital transformation blueprint.

Now, the museum seeks to utilise revolutionary technology to go phygital, i.e. hold events in a hybrid virtual and in-person model. The concept is set to define the industry in the near-term amid preparations for coronavirus-related restrictions to remain in some form. "The pandemic was a major changemaker helping to convince stakeholders to accelerate the transition into the online/digital space," according to Chris Lee, Chief Marketing Officer at NGS.

The benefits of running in-person and virtual spaces are multifold. The ability to engage with Singaporeans at home and visitors abroad can "improve the overall accessibility to art content and experiences," Lee said. "With the pandemic encouraging us to move into online and phygital experiences from our core of physical exhibitions and programmes, there’s greater opportunity and accessibility for citizens and tourists to engage with cultural institutions. This new mindset creates a greater sense of sustainability and outreach for the Gallery."

The necessary building blocks to execute goals

A healthy corporate structure and strategic planning are instrumental to achieving new targets, as NGS' experience shows. That's reflected in their decision-making process. When picking the type of technology best suited for a specific need, the institution first embarks on a biannual work plan exercise where they map out key initiatives. Once that is identified, several teams get involved. 

Since employees share an ingrained appetite for change and experimentation, NGS can fast-track innovation. "Every division is encouraged to try new approaches, reporting to the CEO to green light opportunities, while a humble internal Innovation fund stands ready should good ideas need support," Lee explained. "To help support or disrupt, the CoLabX and Y-Lab innovation teams work cross-divisionally to consult and manage new ideas, employing design thinking and innovation processes to ensure such projects have clear relevance to the Gallery.”

To prepare employees for new tech, "HR, IT, Marketing teams developed a Digital Competencies map and will screen potential training programmes for staff to take on," Lee added. 

The rewards of a clear innovation mindset

Thanks to its emphasis on digital transformation, NGS was able to reset its tech priorities and launch relevant projects to advantageous results.

Last year, for instance, it spearheaded several new digital initiatives that increased online visitorship and engagement. These offerings form a critical part of NGS' SmartMuseum strategy, which can be broken down into several components. The first, Art Experience, "harnesses innovative tools to make art more accessible,” Lee described. Examples include GalleryAnywhere, a section of the NGS website, as well as the Gallery Explorer app, which acts as a personal tour guide to NGS programming. The app initially targeted on-site visitors’ needs but it now serves online and remote audiences as well. These efforts increased traffic to the Gallery’s website, with average online session duration and repeat visits rising 15 percent for key exhibition pages. 

Another aspect of the SmartMuseum plan is Visitor Experience, i.e. the art of personalising museum experiences. "Once visitors were allowed back into the Gallery, we promoted phygital solutions that allowed for social distancing including our self-guided audio tours, our Temi robotic exhibition tour guide at Singapore Gallery, as well as our upcoming seamless ticketing experience which decentralises self-service ticketing and offers mobile and kiosk transactional touch points throughout the Gallery," Lee explained.

Going forward, NGS’ digital blueprint will be guided by its SmartMuseum and phygital strategies. Initiatives such as the Singapore Tourism Board's Tcube hybrid innovation platform, which houses various programmes under its "Learn, Test, Build" framework, provide much-needed support by de-risking tech projects, assisting with funding and programme governance. NGS participated in the Board’s earlier iterations of the Innovation Challenge. When it comes to institutional assistance, operational needs are often prioritised but this kind of support “gives the Gallery breathing room to try new approaches to traditional practices,” Lee noted.

The importance of sharing tech insights

As tourism businesses assess their operations in a post-COVID world, more organisations should share tips and tricks on technologies, NGS suggested. “Adopting a united front" can help the industry "present a more cohesive narrative and experience to the community,” Lee described. Events such as the Singapore Tourism Board's Tcube community programmes help, while "another opportunity is to cross-pollinate industrially through larger conferences".

Given the immense benefits of disruptive technology, it just makes sense to work together. "In the competitive tourism landscape, coupled with the challenge of hiring strong talent and safe management measures as a result of the pandemic, visitor engagement can be better achieved with self-service, automation and related innovations," Lee pointed out. A joint approach with like-minded partners could potentially accelerate greater efficiency and sustainability, making it a win-win scenario for all stakeholders.


If you are keen to find out more about National Gallery Singapore's experiments with technology solutions, head over to the events resource page here. NGS shared their learnings from wayfinding innovations, alongside Republic Polytechnic and Vouch (Digital Concierge) at a Tcube event on 24 June 2021. 


Special thanks to National Gallery Singapore for their support and contributions to the development of this story. 

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