MoMA Maintains its Mainframes

When the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York reopened last November after a two-and-a-half year closure for "the most extensive redefinition of itself since its founding," the museum's $858 million architectural expansion grabbed headlines.

Less headline grabbing was the museum's decision to use the downtime to renovate its IT systems and software. While architect Yoshio Taniguchi was redesigning, revamping, and expanding the museum's physical space, the museum's IT department found itself with what MoMA CIO Steve Peltzman calls "a complete and total clean-slate opportunity."

"The renovation gave us the opportunity, the budget, and the time to take a look at everything we do, and to ask what's the optimal way to do it," Peltzman says.

As far as the museum was concerned, Peltzman could rip and replace everything-hardware and software. He considered, for example, dumping the IBM iSeries mainframes, on which the museum's membership applications had been running.

"People think of the iSeries as old technology," says Bob Rocco, MoMA's director of application development, "because of the presentation. But there are a lot of products out there that let you overcome that and to develop great applications on that platform."

Rocco argued against a rip-and-replace approach, and for a strategy of mixing the old with the new, and Peltzman agreed.

"We could have done a major legacy transformation and migration. We could have brought in all new systems. But it quickly became clear that the good things about what we had were very good. The hardware platform was reliable, scalable, and cost effective. Basically, the iSeries boxes never go down. And our five-member development staff wasn't what you'd call huge. In the end, it just didn't make sense to rip and replace. What made sense was to leverage the skills and technologies we had and improve them."

After evaluating a number of products and vendors, the museum settled on two offerings from Chicago-based LANSA Inc. Founded in 1987, LANSA is a provider of software development environments and a suite of e-business solutions for implementing business systems. The company was one of the first third-party vendors on the iSeries-a real selling point for MoMA-and it has evolved a family of products and solutions that support the iSeries (AS/400), Windows, UNIX and Linux platforms.

Using Visual LANSA and LANSA for the Web, MoMA implemented three new core applications: a membership verification system, a point-of-sale (POS) system for MoMA's five retail locations, and a barcode scanning application.

Rocco's development team built the POS system in house using Visual LANSA, replacing a 10-year-old DOS system with Windows-based PCs with barcode scanners. Because members receive discounts when making purchases, it was critical to tie the POS system into MoMA's backend for the membership systems. The new system now allows clerks to scan membership cards to verify members' status at the point of sale and to activate applicable discounts. The system also allows the retail staff to update tax rates and to enter new sales promotions. The PCs are linked to the iSeries (model 820) and updated daily. The system allows salespeople to sell museum memberships, search for a particular item, and record shipping instructions for the customer.

Visual LANSA was also used to create the new membership system, which allows visitors to purchase, renew, extend and upgrade a museum membership and receive their permanent cards on the spot. It connects to the iSeries and runs on PCs and laptops, and it provides an easy-to-use interface for faculty and volunteers.

The scanning system, which was built using LANSA for the Web, connects pocket PC scanners used by museum staffers to the museum's wireless network. The system allows for the application of business rules (valid all day, valid until redeemed, valid during specific hours, etc.) to any type of card or ticket that might be scanned.

The new systems have been running "rock-solid with minor glitches," says Peltzman. "We cleaned up and improved on the presentation to the users," he says, "and we greatly improved our ability to program quickly and adapt to different needs. I'd have to call it a success."

"With this approach, we were able to do all of these things without having to build up a new skill set," Rocco adds. "We were able to take the skills our staff already had on the iSeries and build from there."

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at [email protected].