Ask Me Anything (AMA): How to Prepare for a New CMS — Where do you begin?

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

January 10, 2024

Continuing our follow up to the “Ask Me Anything: How to Prepare for a New CMS” webinar, this post will address questions we received in order to provide additional insight, strategies, and resources.

Our thanks to everyone who sent in questions! Your participation helps us craft future content that is of the most use to you, our colleagues.

Today’s post is focused on how to prepare data for a new museum Collections Management System (CMS). Specifically, the short but important question of: Where do you begin?

Q. Where do you begin?

Preparing for a new museum CMS can be an overwhelming prospect at the best of times. There are so many elements to consider and activities to perform—typically in a specific order—before the museum and its data is ready to enter the new CMS. This pragmatic question gets to the immediacy of the work and the practical aspect of determining where one should start in preparation work.

Steps: Gather, Review, Plan

Since data is the central focus of migration in to a new CMS, it should also be a central focus of the planning and preparation. Therefore, the following suggestions will also be data focused. The beginning effort of this work can be broken up into three main areas: gather, review, and plan.

Step #1: Gather

The first step is to become so familiar with your data that you know where each piece of data can be found, can start to spot patterns of gaps or inconsistencies, and have a sense for where the data may cause a migration issue. This “getting to know your data (even more)” phase starts with gathering.

Begin by gathering your data:

  • Gather your data as an aggregate
  • Run reports on important areas of the data
  • Gather controlled lists to ensure accuracy

Gathering data in a few different views will aid in your spotting of issues during step 2: review.

Step #2: Review

Once you have current CMS data available as an aggregate, in representative chunks, and/or reports; the next step is to review the data you have, looking for any mistakes or inaccuracies, any missing or only partially formed data, data that doesn’t follow museum field standards or best practices, etc.

Review your current data for:

  • Inaccurate, incomplete, or missing data
  • Data in the wrong fields or wrong format
  • Records that don’t meet the minimum requirements
  • Not so consistent lexicons

Make notes on your findings for each of these areas as this will help you with the next step: making a plan.

Step #3: Plan

With step 1 and 2 done, it is now time to make a plan that will prepare the data for successful import into the new CMS. As part of the planning process, it is important to consider resources and tools that can help with data preparation and migration.

Consider the following while making a plan:

  • Possible CMS tools to use
  • External (to the CMS) tools to cleanup via a spreadsheet format
  • Work with the vendor or a contractor

The next post in this series will follow up with specific tools to use for data cleanup. For this part of the preparation, you do not need to know all the details just yet—just a general sketch of what data preparation activities should be performed prior to the CMS migration.


Once gather, review, and plan activities have taken place it’s now time for the next phase of your path toward a new museum CMS. Next week will offer coverage of your questions specific to effective strategies for data cleanup.

Additional Reading

This is part of an Ask Me Anything series, a capstone to months’ worth of posts and webinars. For more details on the content we’ve covered, you may find the following Think Clearly posts of interest:

Barriers that Prevent Museums from Moving to a Better CMS

Common Museum Data Messes to Look For

Create a Plan for Museum Data Cleanup

Evaluating the Format of Museum Data

Evaluating the Location of Museum Data

Evaluating the Quality of Museum Data

Gather Data and Evaluate Museum CMS Use

How to Chart a Course Toward a Better Museum CMS

How to Prepare for a New Museum CMS

How to Prepare for Museum Data Migration

Items Required for Successful Data Migration

What Does Museum Data Migration Entail?

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Woody advises on museum strategies, digital museums, collections management, and grant writing for a wide variety of clients. She has authored several titles published by Lucidea Press, including Museum Digital Projects and You. Where to Begin? Rachael is a regular contributor to the Think Clearly blog and a popular presenter.

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