Digital experiences are now a reality for Universeum
Universeum’s mission is clear: Empower children and adults to make the Earth a better and more sustainable place to live by exploring the world through science and technology. Every aspect of the science center is imbued with the desire to promote lifelong learning.
With 600,000 visitors per year, including 70,000 students and teachers, Universeum is a major and important player in the fields of science and learning. Both for the general public and for schools. The digital strategy has been in place for a long time but the pandemic has accelerated the process and taken it to a level that has not yet been seen in any other science center in the world.
Digitalization contributes to increased accessibility
Universeum is no ordinary science center. If you’ve ever been there, you’ve surely been impressed by the magnificent 18,000 cubic meter rainforest, where birds fly freely over the tree tops, or the aquariums with several hundred species of fish in over three million liters of water. What makes Universeum unique in comparison to other science centers is that they have managed to combine a living environment with a technological one, thus becoming an immense resource with a solid scientific foundation.
Universeum’s digital venture has been in the starting blocks for several years. Since 2012, there have been plans to take the science center beyond its physical premises in Gothenburg so that it can benefit more people than those who can visit in person. Universeum’s CIO/CDO Pia de Gysser recounts:
"The ideas were already there in 2012, but at that point we weren’t really ready for the task that lay ahead. With our new business plan we were able to execute the new digital strategy in 2017. This enables us to start our work to become more digital and take the opportunity to improve our outreach and make a difference for more people. When the pandemic hit in 2020, we lost virtually all our revenue and faced a tremendous challenge. We decided to step up our game through the pandemic and in parallel we also started to renovate large portions of the building."
The science center contacted Enfo, which came on board as a partner in a three-year collaboration launched in April 2020. Universeum’s decision to form a partnership with Enfo was no coincidence. The year before, the two organizations had worked together to build a BI system with Google Cloud as a platform. Today, Epical is a subsidiary of Enfo. Using the same platform as a basis, they now continued their work to develop the new Digital Universeum. Pia de Gysser sees many advantages in the choice of platform.
"The biggest advantage has to do with operation. It’s easy to make developments in the platform, and we only pay for what we use. Google is investing heavily within education, which is entirely in line with our mission. We can gain a lot of inspiration and pick up a lot of ideas from them."
Agile and flexible development in the cloud
From Day One in April 2020, it was full speed ahead. Together with Enfo, Pia was able to assemble a team of talented developers and designers. Telecommuting due to the coronavirus pandemic has certainly not been an issue, Pia says, as the team and their skills are spread out all over the country. With the working group in place, Pia was able to start sharing her ideas and visions.
“To make it possible, the most crucial thing was to convey my vision and what I see in front of me. Universeum is such a unique place. It’s a challenge to translate what makes it so special into a digital, agile format, and getting everyone on board was absolutely essential. We had to find a team that’s passionate about what we do, about inspiring more people to learn about math, science and technology. Enfo quickly understood our wishes and challenges, and at the same time they dared to think about things in new ways,” says Pia.
Work commenced and with a Cloud & AppDev team from Enfo working in two-week sprints, new features and solutions were quickly delivered. Just a few weeks after the project started in April, it was possible to “go live” with a portal whose basic functionality offered value to the end user. New assignments and experiences are constantly being added for the user to explore and along the way the project has refined the work that was done in the beginning.
Every two weeks, Enfo’s team presents new functionalities and parts of the portal. Some of these features are intended for Universeum’s on-site visitors. These include an interactive map and mobile-adapted assignments to complete for each exhibition. For users at home or in the classroom, there are games, audio stories and audio guides. Another example is the so-called “Water World” with quizzes and games that teach people about water consumption and water quality. In addition to delivering pre-developed and designed features, the team has also created parts of the portal where Universeum staff can add more content.
I hope this project never ends! We appreciate that Epical understands and is passionate about our mission to inspire more people to learn about science, mathematics and technology.
Design is key to approximate the in-person experience
The core aim of Universeum’s activities is for visitors to get “up close and personal” with the experience, whether it’s exploring the rainforest or learning more about chemical reactions. To successfully translate this into digital format, the content must be easily accessible but also exciting enough to grab the attention of the people the center aims to reach. Epical’s design team has played an important role in creating an attractive environment that captures the interest of different types of target groups. The focus has also been on identifying challenges and potential areas, as well as mapping trends for the future.
As in Universeum’s case, in an IT project the customer has often already chosen a cloud platform. In this instance, the science center had opted for Google Cloud Platform. Some suppliers can find it challenging to be able to deliver assets and knowledge within the chosen platform. Becoming a competent supplier often demands certifications, documentation, and partner agreements. Universeum has benefited from Epical’s extensive knowledge of the major cloud providers in the market: Microsoft Azure, AWS, and Google Cloud Platform, which made it possible to fulfill Universeum’s wishes.
Anna Lundqvist is a system developer at Epical and is working with the development of Digital Universeum. She believes that they have a solid technical platform to stand on, both backend with services such as Google Firebase and frontend with the Angular application framework. Combined, they create a good foundation for the conditions required to build the Digital Universeum.
“There’s no other science center working to digitalize its operations on this large a scale. We’re ahead of the curve here and it’s an awesome journey to be part of. We’re making Universeum digitally secure, expanding the outreach of their mission and making them accessible to a larger audience.”
Universeum and Epical look to the future
Although we have already come a long way towards the Digital Universeum, there is still a lot to do, and the possibilities are endless. Pia is optimistic about the future and the collaboration with Epical.
“I hope this project never ends! We appreciate that Epical understands and is passionate about our mission to inspire more people to learn about science, mathematics, and technology. I’m really looking forward to continuing the collaboration with Epical and taking Digital Universeum to the next level. Our next step will be to build up the part of the portal that is aimed for teachers. There is already some material accessible, but we need to be more adjusted to the specific needs that are out in the schools,” says Pia.
Epical is a proud partner to Universeum. Contributing to increased knowledge in society is important to us. Our involvement in the development of Universeum’s important work to digitally expand the reach of its message and collected knowledge to make them accessible to a larger target group goes hand in hand with our efforts to contribute to a more intelligent and sustainable world.
Computer Sweden has published an article about Universeum’s digital journey in collaboration with Enfo/Epical. Read the article here!
Universeum is Sweden’s national science center and a powerful arena for learning and popular education in the fields of science, technology, and sustainable development. Located in the heart of Gothenburg, the center’s spacious premises house science and experiences with ties to every corner of the globe– from the great oceans and the Amazon rainforest to chemistry labs, technology workshops, and even the endless expanse of outer space. Universeum gives children and adults the knowledge and power to make the Earth a better and more sustainable place to live.
Together with its founders, donors, financiers, and partners, Universeum uses popular education and learning to contribute to increased innovation, strengthened skills supply and sustainable social development.