For an archival collections management system (CMS) to meet institutional demands, those needs must be established to provide the framework for the CMS wish list.
Project requirements offer a picture of the work that needs to be performed. They align project resources with organizational objectives. The benefits of effectively gathering requirements include cost reduction, higher project success rates, more effective change management, and improved communication among your stakeholders.
Many Questions, Many Answers
Determine CMS requirements with the following questions:
- How will the CMS help achieve the institution’s goals?
- What problems will the CMS solve?
- What results will the CMS yield?
- What is most important to solve first? What can be addressed later?
- What will make a system successful in the short and long-term?
- How can the CMS enhance online and in-person research?
- What search and discovery features does the team desire?
- Will the CMS reach new audiences? Who are they? What will the CMS do for them?
- Which staff members should use the CMS (if it currently exists) but refuse? What features would incent them to opt into a new CMS?
- What are the desired features? How will the CMS handle accessioning/deaccessioning, location, statistics, status, and detailed descriptions?
- How sustainable is it? How will the collection and its users change and grow? Will the CMS support this growth?
- Do archivists wish to create encoded archival descriptions (EAD) finding aids? Will the system work with Metadata Encoding and Transmission Standard (METS), Dublin Core metadata, Metadata Object Description Schema (MODS), Metadata Authority Description Schema (MADS), or MARC?
- How much IT support is needed to implement a system and to sustain workflows? Can the IT department support the CMS? Is the data storage adequate? Where or how would the CMS be hosted? How will the CMS integrate with the existing IT ecosystem?
- What is the best option: open-source or commercial?
- What is the budget? What are the up-front and hidden costs?
- What are the measures of success?
Prioritize Your Findings
Compile and refine the findings and the requirements generated from your questions. Determine from your results what is mandatory, nice to have, and not applicable. Create a weighted feature checklist, noting the necessary features and assigning extra points for desired ones. Bring these needs to the forefront when researching options. Keep in mind that any feature described as mandatory must be included in the systems the organization considers, or the software will be automatically excluded. Unless a system is completely customized, expect compromises for proprietary systems. Compromise only on requirements with low priority. Ranking features aids in matching what the project might cost against what the repository can afford. The budget might allow for only some requirements. Think about what approach might allow for other needs to be considered in the future.
The Discovery Period
Once the organization determines its requirements, it should issue a Request for Proposal (RFP), if necessary. An RFP is used to purchase services through a competitive process that offers an array of solutions and prices. It notifies vendors that the repository wishes to review and buy software. An organization writing an RFP focuses on its goals and provides direction on how to achieve those goals. It typically contains information about the organization, the requirements, and the process the vendor should follow to have their system considered. Include any constraints or circumstances particular to the organization. Vendors who feel they can meet the conditions will respond accordingly.
At the end of this discovery period, archivists will better understand their requirements for a new CMS, as well as understand what the organization does well, and what needs improvement. If there are issues with ways that the organization currently manages information, the project is an opportunity to identify them. While installing new software is not a panacea for long-standing problems, the implementation process for an archival collections management system can be an opportunity to audit archives and special collections information and workflows in detail.
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 here, and sign up here to register for her upcoming webinar, Illuminating Collections Management Systems Requirements.
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