How to Begin Your Search for the Right Museum CMS

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

September 11, 2019
It’s not often a museum shops for a new collections management system (CMS), but when it happens, often many staff are new to the process. In most cases staff won’t know where to begin when making initial CMS selections for further review. They may not even know what the current CMS options are. Beginning the search for a new CMS can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be.

How to Identify CMS Options for Consideration

Yes, we could just Google “Museum Collections Management Systems” and see what the search results say. Let me save you the time—the results are suspect at best. A Google search will only reveal the CMS vendors who have the best Search Engine Optimization (SEO), and not all of the results will be appropriate (or wise) to choose. Instead, here are four easy steps to quickly introduce staff to relevant CMS options:

  1. Ask a friend or respected colleague at a different museum what CMS they use and if they would recommend it.
  2. Visit peer museum websites to view what CMS they use. The CMS name can be branded on the page or listed as part of the website address. If it’s not immediately apparent then reach out the collections manager and ask.
  3. Review professional association pages to see if they provide a recommended vendor list or if they post CMS company advertisements.
  4. When attending conferences make a note of which CMS companies are in the exhibit hall, sponsored a meal, or published an advertisement in the conference program.

Initial CMS Selection Criteria to Consider

When selecting CMS options for initial review there are desirable CMS features and deal breakers to guide staff consideration. While the procurement committee will define a more thorough specification sheet for ultimate CMS decision-making, initial selection can be guided by the following features and deal breakers:

Features Required for CMS Consideration

  • Control over private and public content
  • Customizable front and back-end
  • Cloud-based access

Deal Breakers to Remove a CMS from Consideration:

  • No public online access
  • No technical support
  • No ability to customize catalog template, workflow, reports, or searches

Staff may find that not all of these features or deal breakers are relevant, but they do form a foundation from which staff can begin to define their own initial CMS parameters. If additional features or deal breakers are noted, but don’t fit within this first phase of the process, record them for the procurement team to consider later on when crafting CMS option specifications.

Identify and Communicate Basic CMS Information

As staff begin to accumulate CMS suggestions for further investigation, it’s worth documenting basic CMS information to share with relevant museum staff. Things that should be captured at this stage in the process include the following:

  • CMS Option Name
  • CMS Cost (if easily retrieved)
  • CMS Option Website
  • CMS Referral (colleague or museum that recommended it)
  • Does the CMS option meet basic feature requirements (outlined above)?
  • Is the CMS option free of deal breakers (outlined above)?
  • Is the CMS option vendor owned? If so, by who?
  • Is the CMS option free and/or open-source?

This information will help staff quickly review CMS option information.

Next Step: Form the Procurement Team

Any CMS acquisition will require the formation of a procurement team. Members of the procurement team will be staff who regularly use the CMS with (ideally) representation from all areas. It’s important to avoid “stacking”—meaning a majority of the procurement team is from one department, versus equal representation from each department. The procurement team’s job will be to identify CMS specifications, test and vet CMS options, and facilitate the purchasing process.

More information regarding the CMS procurement process will be shared in future posts.

<a href="" target="_self">Rachael Cristine Woody</a>

Rachael Cristine Woody

Consultant, author, and blogger Rachael Cristine Woody advises on museum strategies, collections management and grant writing for a wide variety of clients. Learn about Lucidea’s Argus solution for museum collections management and digitization, which can be used to support internal stakeholders.

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