High touch meets high tech in Christie’s ‘James Map’

The most digital-savvy art businesses are developing business intelligence systems to support their digital sales strategies. In the context of a booming contemporary art market and the fact that one in four of the top lots in this spring’s evening sales were bought by new customers, John Dizard writes in Friday’s Financial Times (Auction houses embracing digital technology to sell to the new global rich):

While the most visible aspect of the houses’ digital revolution may be their online auctions, the most essential is in the systematising and networking of their customer, market and lot information.

Christie’s Steven P. Murphy echoes statements he made in previous months about the imperative driving his business’s digital strategy. Their customers were researching and purchasing art online. Christie’s needed to create “a digital version of the Christie’s experience in a platform-agnostic way.” A key part of Murphy’s digital strategy is an internal customer data intelligence platform called ‘James Map’ which joins up customer information throughout Christie’s and makes it available to Christie’s staff globally through internal applications. Whenever and wherever a customer interacts with Christie’s, all intelligence about them will be at the fingertips of Christie’s staff. FT.com quotes Christie’s Ken Citron, head of IT: “We are a global company now, with global clients. Our having technology allows them to have a consistent experience across the world.”

A fundamental question about digital strategy is behind Christie’s latest digital investments: Is there greater benefit in outsourcing technology and platform provision, or in in-house development (at considerable cost). Sotheby’s partnership with eBay is an example of the former; Christie’s is betting on the latter. Dizard’s article closes with a warning from Murphy about the dangers of disintermediation in digital markets. Perhaps with his publishing background, Murphy is thinking of how publishers have been disintermediated from their market by Amazon, a fate he is determined to avoid at Christie’s. Sotheby’s (and particularly Dan Loeb) will doubtless be watching with interest.

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