Considering Collections Management System Costs

Margot Note

Margot Note

August 17, 2020

Archival collections contain the world’s historical knowledge. To manage and share these collections, archivists need software designed to assist their work. A collections management system (CMS) allows for this to happen, and selecting the best one requires estimating the costs involved.

No matter what system you choose—proprietary, open-source, or custom—you will spend money. Archives, unfortunately, often must compete with other departments for funding and are asked to reduce costs or do without. To make a case for the system you want, you must be able to explain all costs, especially those that may be hidden, at least initially. 

Determine Expenditures

Research the costs for the software, hardware, training, and support necessary to maintain the CMS for five years. Consider the costs associated with:

  • Software installation
  • Additional hardware 
  • Custom modifications or programing
  • Data migration 
  • User training
  • Troubleshooting
  • Support
  • System maintenance and updates

Contact the vendors with the institution’s needs and ask them for an initial estimate of the costs and annual maintenance agreements and add a ten percent contingency. Once the figures are in hand, present them and the project plan to the decision-makers in your organization. They will determine how much funding will be available for the project, which will help to narrow your selections.

A Long-Term Investment

Cost covers more than the purchase price; it includes licenses and support as well as other costs. Cost also encompasses what it takes to get the system functioning: time, resources, and money. The total cost of ownership measures not just the initial costs but also the cost over a longer period when variations in cost can drastically shift the perspective of overall value. 

The risk of choosing the wrong CMS can mean a high price for inferior evaluation and decision-making processes, as well as low morale and productivity loss. The budget includes the purchase and installation of software and hardware, and also data transfer, user licenses, system add-ons and upgrades, and ongoing maintenance. Budget for hours needed to attend project meetings, test systems, and work with the vendor on customized solutions and data migration. Be clear on why the archives should invest in this project. Once a solid business case explains the value of a system, it is easier to find funding to implement it. 

Show and Tell

Arrange to have vendors demonstrate their software. Ask them to preload institutional data to gauge the system’s capabilities. Keep the requirements checklist nearby, take notes, and ask questions. Encourage follow-up questions when colleagues have had a chance to think over what they have experienced and what the implications for their work might be. Outline real-world scenarios and ask the representative to demonstrate how their product manages these situations. A vendor may promise capabilities, but they may cost extra or not work as anticipated.

Investing in the Institution

Before committing to a solution, ensure that your colleagues are pleased with the offering and are prepared for its impact. Not only does a new CMS demand resources of time, money, and expertise, it also depends on the users’ goodwill.

In addition, read the vendor contract carefully, and have legal counsel review it. Ask questions and request changes until you are satisfied with the agreement. Once everyone agrees on the solution, the organization can move forward with preparing for the new software.

The organization will then be able to use an innovative system to transform the way archivists work, help them manage their collections, and increase engagement with their users. The right collections management system can optimize every facet of archival management—from accessioning to exhibition—as it seamlessly integrates with other systems at your organization. 

Margot Note

Margot Note

Margot Note, archivist, consultant, and author is a guest blogger for Lucidea, provider of ArchivEra, archival collections management software for today’s challenges and tomorrow’s opportunities. Read more of Margot’s posts, and register here for her upcoming webinar, Selecting Collections Management Systems: Know Your Options.


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