Q&A: MCA IT services manager, Justin Warren

Warren talks about the Museum of Contemporary Art's (MCA) IT transformation, smartphone apps and his biggest challenges

Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) IT services manager, Justin Warren.

Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) IT services manager, Justin Warren.

Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) IT services manager, Justin Warren, recently sat down with Hamish Barwick from Computerworld Australia to talk about how the museum is upgrading its technology to meet patron's needs and where he sees the MCA heading in the future.

How long have you been with the MCA?

I started work here 15 months ago which was mid-way through the IT transformation project. There were changes I made such as the digital classroom where we implemented touchscreens and projectors. I also increased the back end storage and fibre connections. Most organisations use fibre to connect main silos in a building but we use it to deliver content, such as information about the artworks, directly to rooms where people can access it using the MCA Insight smartphone application.

What are some of the challenges you face in the role of IT manager?

I’m the only internal IT staff member at the MCA as most IT services have been outsourced. We have a series of vendors who we work closely with and each one is a specialist in its own area, be it storage or networking. I use that expertise to glue the museum together. Getting so many organisations working together seamlessly is the challenge but I am lucky that the vendors we do have gel together very well. The companies want the best for the museum and drive their own teams to excel and work with me.

What are some of the areas you’ll be focusing on in 2012?

Wi-Fi will be at the top of that list mainly because in today’s world everything is moving towards mobility. The capability for people to move through the museum and have access to digital art or 3D modeling on their smartphone is critical. The second is the physical hardware. At the end of the day, we are all about the education experience so we have rolled out touchscreen tablets for school students in our National Centre for Creative Learning (NCCL). They can create their own works of art or research art history projects using the museum’s digital collection. The third area is infrastructure. As we are an art museum, it’s all about network, bandwidth and storage. There is no point having a large amount of storage if you have a slow network. Digital artworks take up a lot of storage space and we can’t compress them as it practically destroys the artwork so we have a storage capability of 700 terabytes.

Are you ever fearful that the MCA will outsource all of its IT functions?

That’s never a concern because you will always need a presence to understand the requirements of the museum. To be able to articulate those needs in a technical sense is where I fit in. What I have implemented here will sustain the museum for the next 15 years. We can take that technology capability and enhance it further. For example, our storage can be ramped up from 100 terabytes to 700 terabytes. Any developments in the real world such as new touch screen technology can also be implemented in the future.

What are the biggest issues facing IT managers today?

Constant change. There have been some enormous changes that have been replicated through the industry so keeping pace with that is an issue. At one stage you could put in hardware that had a life expectancy of so many years. Because there is so much change, the life expectancy has been superseded. I have experienced this as we move from stock standard computers to touchscreens. There is also an expectation from the public that what is available in the real world through iPhones, applications and iPads is available within the museum. Children are growing up with these devices, and the MCA needs to keep up.

Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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