Henry Ford Spins History into Web Visitor Gold with Sitefinity

Henry Ford Spins History into Web Visitor Gold with Sitefinity

Posted on November 08, 2022 0 Comments

Museums conjure images of long drives, longer lines, screaming school kids and old artifacts that may or not be interesting.

That was then. Today’s museums have a whole other component: you can visit them on the web, an ideal scenario in these pandemic times. This concept is just understood but exemplified by one customer particular. Once it adopted CMS from Progress, The Henry Ford, which includes the Henry Ford Museum, drove full throttle into the digital world and hasn’t pumped the brakes yet.

Matt Majeski, Chief Marketing and Digital Officer at The Henry Ford, is the man behind the wheel for much of this work, and recently participated in the Digital Transformation: From Vision to Reality Masterclass, one of 16 expert-led sessions, all of which can be found here.

Inside the Henry Ford

Henry Ford is an educational center, cultural destination, and museum founded by Henry Ford in 1929, boasting 1.8 million visitors annually. The 250-acre campus includes the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, an outdoor museum Greenfield Village, and offers tours of the Ford Rouge Factory which builds the F-150, as well as the Benson Ford Research Center.

The Ford Journey Begins

Ford doesn’t just craft a brand-new car out of thin air. A stunner like the Ford GT is carefully designed and impeccably planned. All that leg work ensures a machine not only gorgeous, but a Ferrari-killer as well. The same passion and care went into the Henry Ford website.

While the Le Mans winning GT took only ten months to build in 1964, the Henry Ford Museum was a steady effort over the 7-8 years, Majeski recalls. “The opportunity in front of us was large when I joined the institution in 2013. Our leadership had a vision of transforming what it means to be a museum by providing context to the visit, leveraging digital technology, and then leveraging digital technology to get outside of our four walls, extend our mission, and really reinforce our sustainability as we moved forward into the future,” Majeski remembers.

From Old School to New

Majeski and crew had lots of work to do. “We had a very archaic digital infrastructure. There were 40-plus sites and micro-sites, none of which were mobile responsive. There wasn't a unified site search across all of those. Many of those were not even content management systems. The job to maintain those was extremely laborious and I would honestly say impossible. A lot of the sites sat there without any updates for years. It wasn't something that was sustainable, wasn't delivering the right impact and reach as a result of the fragmented ecosystem,” he said. “Digital artifacts were not searchable. We were putting them up there, but they weren't getting the exposure, reach or impact we desired.”

Getting to the Starting Line

The 1964 Ford GT was revolutionary. So is digital transformation, and like a screaming eight-cylinder super car, it isn’t to be taken lightly. “It isn't just about technology. It's about organizational transformation too. That was something we needed to tackle right away,” Majeski said.

To get the technology and the people part right took a year of planning. “We took the time upfront. We wanted to move fast, but needed to understand what we were dealing with, the current state. We needed a robust strategy, vision and blueprint. We took a long time doing that,” Majeski said of the rigorous year-long process.

The people part was critical to planning. “As we developed the strategy, a critical element was sharing it. When I say share, I mean share, share, and share some more. We invested a lot of time in sharing the strategy and sharing it as we went along and developed it to gain common understanding and buy-in,” Majeski explained. “Then, we developed a five-year roadmap and a blueprint to guide us and make sure all the stakeholders understood what we were doing, and that this was a phased and stepped process. We had probably a 200-page strategy document.”

Next up? Being Ford-related, they had to have a roadmap. “From the blueprint, we created the roadmap in 2013. We knew we needed to focus on creating digital content. Creating content is not easy and so we worked very hard to create an operation where the goal was to create digital content,” Majeski remarked. “That was very difficult and we're still working on it and still figuring it out as we go, but it is critically important and foundational to everything that we did. And that includes the art digitization operation, which is an operation that runs every single day with automated operations moving data to where it needs to go to feed the experiences that it drives.”

The Goal: Win the Digital Transformation Race

The plan was to leverage digital technology to revolutionize the Henry Ford website and customer digital experience. “Transforming what it means to be a museum is about leveraging digital technology, it's about storytelling. Then using technology to increase the reach of the stories that you're telling. It's all about content. We figured out how to operationalize or develop and operationalize a digitization operation. Within that digitization operation, there's a huge reliance on data and how that data flows to the different applications that you're building,” Majeski observed.

Optimizing Digital Artifacts

A museum is all about artifacts, and these artifacts are increasingly digital. It is these digital artifacts that form the deep value of a smart museum’s value and ultimately the visitors’ digital experience. “How do you take those digital artifacts and use those as building blocks, almost like Legos, to create experiences, to create digital content, to create educational products, and to create potential entertainment products?” Majeski pondered.

The goal is making these millions of artifacts available to the web public through the website, mobile, interactive kiosks, and other techniques. “We have 26 million artifacts in our collection, artifacts like the Rosa Parks’ bus and the JFK limo. The reality is only 5% of those artifacts are available to the guests of the physical museum, the rest are in storage. With mobile apps and other interactives, we can also provide access to that other 25 million that are not available.”

Digitizing artifacts is one thing, building a digital experience around them is another. Henry Ford’s first digital product was its digital collections web-based platform. “We then rebuilt our website infrastructure, our website ecosystem, our user experience across all those sites, merged it into one and built it on a CMS. We also worked on a lot of physical and digital integrations within our venues when it comes to mobile apps, augmented reality, interactive touch tables, and kiosks. One of our main things is CRM integration with Microsoft Dynamics. We integrated a new e-commerce platform and the educational content platform,” Majeski noted.

There is more than a little digital magic at work here. “Our digital collections platform is where we digitize and harvest the data that automatically pushes to our digital collections platform. As we digitize and we enter in the metadata, it pushes nightly to our digital collections platform and then it's made available. And that's an operation that we work on daily. Digitization and digital content pushes and populates our network TV show that's on CBS, The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation with Mo Rocca,” Majeski detailed. “Our digital collection feeds the digital content engine that creates web content like the Rosa Parks story and Rosa Parks bus. It feeds our social content that we push out.”

The Partner Angle

Majeski and team didn’t go it alone. It had digital solutions provider and CMS specialist Enqbator in its corner. In fact this partner was chosen first, the CMS second. “Our team at Henry Ford is very small and nimble and so we knew that we were going to have to rely on some key strong partnerships to execute all of the visions that we had for our digital strategy. The first step was to find a digital agency through a robust RFP process, which was how we were introduced to Enqbator. We selected them for their expertise with complex integrations and their content management skills,” said Filomena Napolitano, Digital Marketing Operations Manager at The Henry Ford. “With Enqbator, we then did another RFP to find the right content management system for us. We knew it was going to have to have a really strong foundation as well as be extremely scalable for all the different initiatives we had planned. Through that process, we selected partner Sitefinity as well as other cloud services, the most important being Amazon Web Services.”

The CMS choice was made based on long-term benefits. “Like any complex solution or any other major websites or highly trafficked websites, the foundation is very important. What things would be needed at the moment and also in the future and understanding the scalability. It made the right sense to move to a cloud based infrastructure. So, we moved to Amazon Web Services and we've been on that platform for multiple years now and it has allowed us to automatically scale and utilize several of the cloud services,” Napolitano said.

Looking for Search

With 26 million artifacts, mediocre search is just not an option. Enqbator was charged with finding a proper solution. “We started using the elastic search capability and also the algorithms that search engines like Google use to improvise that as well. That way it didn't matter where you were searching, you would find the right information and also the most relevant information,” said Sujal Raju, Chief Executing Officer of Enqbator, the digital partner for The Henry Ford. “It wouldn't just use the word-to-word matching, but also understand the context and then provide you those results because when you search for something in a database that has millions of records, chances are you get hundreds of results back based on what you were searching for. We have to understand the context of what the person is searching in and then automatically order them in that manner so that you would get the result that you want.”

Integration is Key

Sitefinity’s integration capabilities are key to unlocking new functions. Henry Ford calls these “innovation projects,” the first of which was a capital campaign micro-site that launched in 2018. “Enqbator's team helped us build out that site using Sitefinity as well as integrate with our institutional advancement team software for our donations, which is BlackLine,” Napolitano said. “We connected to Microsoft Dynamics with our CRM. We also launched our first mobile app in 2019, which included a digital membership card so that members no longer needed to bring their physical card with them, they could scan using the app throughout their experience. It included mobile tours which our curators put together, so that we could guide the guests through the museum and give them additional context for their visit. It also included some AI interactives, which guests could do onsite or at home.”

Connecting Longtime with Members

Museums depend on members, and The Henry Ford website tightens that relationship. “We recently launched a digital corporate membership program. Historically, we used physical cards for our corporate members, and then our corporate members would use those cards and a library checkout system with their employees,” said Napolitano. “Due to the pandemic, there was a need to switch to digital so the Enqbator team helped us build out a portal in which our corporate members can now create passes for their employees and we can actually monitor the number of passes that are used internally.”

Partnering with Sitefinity

Enqbator didn’t just help build the website, it helped choose the CMS as well. “The biggest part of this was the selection of the site from the CMS. We specialize in content management solutions and we built one in the early 2000s. By far what attracted us towards the Sitefinity platform was the openness with the APIs,” said Enqbator’s Raju. "It 's not just about building a website and making it beautiful, but also making it more functional, which is what Sitefinity allowed us to do. All of this was achievable because of those APIs, and because we could easily repurpose content that was already available or centralize the app content in Sitefinity CMS and then from there utilize that in a headless manner in all of these different solutions.”

Maintaining Millions of Elements and a Complex Web Environment

Getting millions of artifacts onto the Henry Ford website was a big project, and maintaining it all is no drive in the park either. Website maintenance was one reason Henry Ford needed a new site and CMS. “Our ecosystem was impossible to maintain. we've added stuff over the years, added sites to manage, and been able to a lot more efficiently manage what we 've put out there because of the Sitefinity CMS,” said Majeski.

Reaping Web Rewards from Turbo Charged Web Site

The bottom line for a website is traffic and engagement. “Success metrics-wise, our digital transformation has absolutely paid dividends. Our digital artifact page views or traffic to our digital collections platform—that engagement has increased over 1400%. It went from 45,000 in 2015, not a ton of engagement, to 2020 where we reached almost 700,000 page views for our digital artifacts. That's a tremendous and tangible growth,” Majeski reported.

As engagement grew, so did revenue. “As a result of increased engagement with our brand, with our site and customer experience enhancements, both on the site and in the e-commerce flow, we've seen a 37% increase in e-commerce revenue. Again, tangible results. As a result of the work, and pushing content out, we're seeing organic benefit and just benefits in general, like a increase of 28% in website visits,” Majeski said. “One of our main goals of this transformation was changing what it means to be a museum. Museums have typically been in their four walls and our goal of pushing out is that we've seen an 84% increase in international visits to our website.”

Upcoming Efforts

The Henry Ford Museum is all about education, and the website is putting those efforts into top gear. Next up is a series of inHub websites. “Over the last decade, our learning and engagement team has been working on putting together an innovation learning framework, which includes multiple curriculum resources and professional development for educators. Over the past year, we've spent time pulling all those products together under a new brand called inHub and building out a website and platform for educators to engage with those items on,” Napolitano said. “The project has included redoing our front-end website pages for our educators, using Sitefinity to create new, nimble and flexible templates for our team to manage, and also creating a new fully accessible user experience for educators. It also includes a single sign-on dashboard platform that integrates with our payment processor, Stripe, for memberships, as well as integrates with our third-party learning management system through an AMP site. This launches and registers courses for professional development, and accesses our curriculum resources and our digital assets library for educators.”

See Our Henry Ford Case Study

Check out our Henry Ford Case Study, and get details on improvements in visitor engagement and workflow efficiencies, including how:

  • Overall website traffic has grown 12%
  • Digital collections usage is up 155%
  • Social media referrals have climbed 100%
  • Website maintenance and content management can be performed 50% more efficiently

Additionally, the Sitefinity platform unlocked a new e-commerce revenue stream opportunity. The Henry Ford can now sell high-resolution images of artifacts via mobile, e-commerce, and kiosk applications, which has driven them a 24% growth in online revenue.

Read the case study

Doug Barney

Doug Barney was the founding editor of Redmond Magazine, Redmond Channel Partner, Redmond Developer News and Virtualization Review. Doug also served as Executive Editor of Network World, Editor in Chief of AmigaWorld, and Editor in Chief of Network Computing.


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