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People Behind The Museums: Sanjeev Kalyanaraman, Chief Operating Officer, codemantra

As a member of the leadership team at document processing solutions provider, codemantra, Sanjeev Kalyanaraman has worked closely with the museum sector over the past two years as digitisation has gone from a “nice to have” to a high priority. But as the former software engineer explains, the pivot to digital is indicative of a much broader change in the way that society consumes content – a change which presents museums with real opportunity for the future.

Sanjeev Kalyanaraman took his first step onto the career ladder in the publishing industry as a technologist back in the 1990s. At a time when the largely paper-based industry was taking baby steps towards digitisation, he entered the world of work during a period of genuine change. He says,

“At Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) I was working in a team focused on implementing digital transformation. In the early days we were simply concerned with the conversion of texts into e-books, but over time we began to investigate ways to adapt HMH’s media assets into rich digital content. We worked on brands like Curious George, which went from a character on paper into an app that generated substantial online engagement during my time with the publisher.”

After leaving his role at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Sanjeev’s experience with Curious George and other similar brands encouraged him to spread his entrepreneurial wings. As a technologist he began to explore how he could add value across different sectors, where data and insights could be extracted from documents and applied in different ways.

Investing in a digital future

It was in 2014, after two stints building technology businesses, that Sanjeev and a seasoned team of technology entrepreneurs decided to invest in codemantra. Founded in 2002, codemantra had already built a strong reputation in the document processing space, but it was the arrival of an experienced senior leadership team that ultimately took the business from modest enterprise to global leader.

Headquartered in Boston, codemantra now has satellite offices in London, Chennai and India. Key amongst the organisation’s innovations over the past decade are the automated transformation technology, accessibility delivery hub and a versatile platform able to support comprehensive metadata management, document transformation and distribution.

Sanjeev says, “The business was already doing great work before I got involved: in publishing houses, in university presses and even in museums. But I think what we have changed over time is moving the organisation from a low-cost outsourcing service provision to a more genuine partnership that can help to deliver digital transformation.

“Of course, we’re still here to help museums get digital tasks done that they don’t have the time, resource or expertise to do in-house. However, our vision is really to help museums build a technology footprint that is meaningful to them. By that I mean empowering institutions through technology platforms that improve their audience engagements in the digital space: engagements that have metrics and can be monitored over time.

“The other thing that we’ve enabled museums to do is get themselves compliant with disability regulation very quickly. Of course, even without the mandating of these accessibility requirements there are many institutions already working to reach people of all demographics and abilities as part of their own inclusivity initiatives.

“Nevertheless, we’ve found many museums in need of assistance with delivering digitisation projects. It is here that we are helping them to reimagine what can be achieved and how cost effectively it can be done.”

Sanjeev suggests that while accessibility regulations may be seen as drivers for institutions to work with codemantra, he believes that responding to mandates really isn’t the way to consider the benefits of digitisation. Instead he says,

“I had a conversation recently with a senior official in California whom I think used the perfect analogy to depict what we are fundamentally helping to achieve at codemantra. She said that by digitising assets – making them easier to search, labelling them with meta data and making them accessible at the touch of a button – we’re mirroring that transition that took place in music over the past three decades.

“Once upon a time we had tape cassettes, an analogue system which allowed us to listen to music in a linear fashion. If we wanted to find a bit of information we’d have to fast forward or rewind endlessly to get to where we want. Today, we have digitised music so we can instantly choose the track we want by the artist we love.

“Essentially, that’s what we’re helping to achieve at codemantra. It’s about delivering immediate access to the content people want to engage with. It allows people to discover what they love in a better, faster and easier way. And that offers value to absolutely everyone – meaning widespread accessibility rather than just meeting compliance requirements.”

Building meaningful partnerships

Today, codemantra is partnering with museums in a range of countries around the world to enhance the discoverability and reach of their content. While Sanjeev notes that the Covid-19 pandemic has undoubtedly been a catalyst for digital adoption, he believes it’s now critical to move beyond this reactionary approach towards a more strategic, long-term view.

“We are looking to partner with organisations that aren’t just tactically responding to immediate issues but are instead are considering the strategic benefits of using digital platforms to extend reach, build engagement and enhance discoverability. We are just enablers in that ecosystem but we can work closely with museums to help them reframe those long-term strategic goals in the digital world we now find ourselves in.

“We have begun to build an ecosystem of resources that institutions can lean on as they progress on their digital journey. From thought leaders to consultants to complementary technology providers able to provide the right expertise.”

Sanjeev also notes that many museums are taking an important step forward into their digital futures by investing in talented in-house personnel able to provide the technical skills they need to progress in the digital space:

“We’re really trying to work more closely with in-house digital teams to help them get the best solution for their requirements – both immediate and further into the future. Adding value in that way is how I think we can assist museums to really make the most of the content they have and build on the progress they have made in recent years.”

Find out more about codemantra’s work and how they can help your museum or gallery by visiting https://codemantra.com/museum-art-gallery/

About the author – Tim Deakin

Tim Deakin is a journalist and editorial consultant working with a broad range of online publications.

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