iSeries Plays a Central Role in MoMA’s Expansion
January 25, 2005 Alex Woodie
A lot of things were different when the Museum of Modern Art reopened its doors in midtown Manhattan last November, following a two-and-a-half year, $425-million renovation. First, there is MoMA’s new building, an architectural gem in itself, in addition to new exhibits and educational facilities. The museum’s IT systems have also seen a bit of an overhaul, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the iSeries’ role in running MoMA’s back-office applications. An iSeries future at MoMA wasn’t necessarily in the cards, however.
MoMA’s technology refresher began several years ago, when Steven Peltzman took the role of chief information officer in 2001. Then, in 2002, MoMA used looksoftware‘s newlook product to generate new GUIs for about 400 formerly green-screen interfaces in some of the legacy OS/400 applications (see “Perception Is Reality” in the January 15, 2002, issue of this newsletter).
But putting new faces on existing applications was just the start of things to come. Before writing new applications, however, the organization needed to clean up the thorny issue of multiple membership databases, which arose before Peltzman’s arrival, during a territorial dispute between two directors. Without a single view of their membership, it would be difficult for Peltzman to put in place some of the cool new applications he had in mind.
This need for a single database gave rise to MoMA’s custom-written contact management system, which resides on the organization’s iSeries Model 820. The single database of members established a foundation for the new applications MoMA has developed using LANSA‘s tools, including a point-of-sale system for MoMA’s five retail locations, a membership application, and a barcode scanning application.
The new POS system represented a major overhaul, and replaced a 10-year-old DOS system that was slow and prone to failure. Developed with Visual LANSA, the new POS system connects to the membership database, and provides real-time verification of membership status for the purpose of providing discounts at the time of the sale. GO Software‘s RiTA Server provides speedy credit card authorizations, which now take just a few seconds, as opposed to the previous 15-18 seconds, says Bob Rocco, director of MoMA’s application and development group.
Members can now purchase, renew, extend, and upgrade their membership status through a new membership application, which was also developed with Visual LANSA. Previously, MoMA issued temporary membership cards to new members, which was a major headache for IT. Now new members can get their permanent membership cards much faster as a result of the new membership application. “It means a lot to be able to give somebody their permanent card, as opposed to waiting months for it to come in the mail,” Peltzman says, adding that it will likely boosts sales, although it would be difficult to prove. “It makes the experience a lot better.”
The third new LANSA application, which was written with LANSA for the Web, is a ticket scanning application used in conjunction with wireless barcode scanners and the iSeries database. Since there are many different ways MoMA visitors can obtain their tickets, the museum needed a standard way to validate the tickets and count entries.
MoMA is also developing several other applications using LANSA tools and technologies. For example, MoMA is rolling out a new Web site that allows members to purchase, renew, extend, and upgrade their memberships from home. Making members feel at home is an important goal for MoMA’s IT staff, Peltzman says. “Members are our bread and butter, and to have them on a system that wasn’t reliable didn’t make sense” Peltzman says. “We did the right thing by treating our crown jewels–our members–to a seamless experience.”
MoMA is also developing a SQL Server-based inventory tracking system that uses radio frequency identification (RFID) tags. While the initial roll-out will focus on using RFID to improve item tracking in the shipping and receiving department, Peltzman sees another potential use for the RFID tags down the road. The idea is a spin-off of another new use of IT that was due to debut yesterday: a multimedia presentation (in this case, an interview with the museum’s architect, Yoshio Taniguchi) delivered on PDAs available to museum-goers.
In the future, museum visitors may walk around with PDAs that can read information from the RFID tags situated near the various works of art. “If a particular piece interests you, you bookmark it. When you go home and log on to your computer, the bookmark’s there,” Peltzman says. “If you like Starry Night, you log in, and here’s the history of it, posters you can buy, a lecture on Van Gogh. . . . We want to take an Amazon-like approach to offering things.”
While MoMA has the technological capability to do something like that, Peltzman realizes that such an application would need strong backing from MoMA’s directors, who are fairly conservative and sensitive to the fact that technology may take people’s eyes off the art. “I have a server room that rivals most hosting centers, and a network that will last for 10 years. If we want to do it, we can, but if we don’t, it will be the culture of the museum [preventing it], and that’s okay,” he says. “We don’t want technology to infect the experience.”
Technology is also supporting the museum experience at MoMA. In particular, Peltzman is also pleased with the way LANSA has united his different departments, which includes the Rocco’s OS/400-centric development and application group; the systems group, which includes help desk and telecommunications activities; and the digital media group, which does the Web sites, the kiosks, and the digital guide. For example, MoMA has launched an online presentation on Latin American videography that uses iSeries Web technology on the back-end, but was developed by graphics experts from the digital media department on the customer-facing side. “That was a big step for me, to have a technology keep us lean and mean, and [enable it to] play off the other technologies,” Peltzman says.
LANSA has been a key ingredient in keeping productivity up in the development and application department, which has kept the same number of people while the systems and digital media groups have each grown by about three or four people. “That’s why LANSA’s good–it takes each person and doubles or triples their productivity,” Peltzman says. “We’ve been good about keeping the right things on the iSeries,” Peltzman says.
Maintaining the iSeries
While the iSeries plays a very important role in MoMA’s operations today, the museum’s future on the iSeries wasn’t always a sure thing. In fact, when Peltzman arrived, the platform had to prove itself all over again.
Peltzman didn’t know much about the iSeries when he took over as CIO at MoMA four years ago. He had worked on a Sun Microsystems SPARCstation as programmer during his seven-year service in the Air Force, and Unix was the platform of choice after he got out of the military and worked at dot-coms during the Y2K bubble years.
While Peltzman was open to learning about this thing called the iSeries, he still had to provide his boss with a good reason for keeping the proprietary server in place and not standardizing on a new platform (maybe one with a GUI, which is a sign of technological sophistication to many users). “I’m not the kind of [CIO] who uproots the systems and puts in his own stuff. Not that I ever did consider yanking it, but my boss said to take a look at iSeries and consider taking it out. I had to give him reasons why keeping it around was a good idea,” Peltzman says.
So Peltzman talked to IBM and arranged a trip to the iSeries lab in Rochester, Minnesota. As a person who enjoys Las Vegas, Peltzman was somewhat surprised to find a good percentage of the major casinos there relied on the OS/400 server to run their operations. “That struck me, because I know how money-intensive they are, how [conservative] they are. . . . That made an impression on me,” he says. Other OS/400 customers, such as United Parcel Service and many major banks, also made an impact on him.
Peltzman was also impressed with how much more reliable the iSeries has proven itself to be in third-party comparisons with Windows and Unix machines. “I was blown away by what these guys had to say about it,” he says. “I asked them, ‘Why isn’t that graphic in every trade magazine?’ [The IBMers responded], ‘There’s a lot of talk about that.’ “
Rocco, for one, is happy that Peltzman didn’t take the iSeries away. “Steve took the time to learn what the platform is all about. He saw what the potential was,” Rocco says. “It wasn’t just me feeding him information; he saw what it represents and what it could do for you.”
Moving to a Windows platform would have negated the investment in training MoMA’s iSeries personnel, Rocco says. “We’re all iSeries professionals. We’re able to support it from start to finish,” he says. “Our developers have gone through a learning curve, and we’re positioned now to get a big benefit from what we’ve done.”
The bottom line is, the iSeries and LANSA tools have enabled MoMA to do some pretty cool stuff, without requiring a budget increase in Rocco’s department, which makes Peltzman a happy man. “I’m very pleased with it. There has been resistance [to the iSeries] here and there, but as long as it works, they leave me alone,” Peltzman says. “We’ve been able to do it under the radar. Everything that we’ve done has been a pleasant surprise that nobody really knew about.”