How to Chart a Course Toward a Better Museum CMS

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

February 15, 2023

You did it. You’re finally in a place where you have the budget and the “OK” to invest in a better museum Collections Management System (CMS). It may have taken you a while to get here.

 For many museum staff it can take a long time to build and make your case, to convince decision-makers, and to cobble together funds for both one-time and annual costs. It’s finally your time, but you’re not sure what’s next. The pressure is on to choose the best fitting CMS for your museum collection and you’ve likely never been through the CMS procurement process before.

Feeling Overwhelmed is Understandable

First, I want to affirm that being overwhelmed at this point is completely normal. Unless you’ve had reason to become well-versed in several dozen CMS platforms and you’re familiar with what a procurement process entails, it’s completely reasonable to be a little fuzzy on next steps. This post will outline the big ones so that you have a sense for “what’s next”. I then encourage you to dive into the Additional Reading at the end of this post, and pick up a free copy of my e-book: How to Select, Buy, and Use a Museum CMS,courtesy of Lucidea Press.

Charting a Course Toward a Better Museum CMS

The following list outlines the activities that occur from when you decide you’re shopping for a new CMS, to finally implementing and using your new CMS. This list isn’t exhaustive, but it does help to outline the shape of what your procurement process will likely take and the activities (and details) you should consider as you get started.

  1. Identify what your museum requires for the procurement process.
  2. Put together a procurement team.
  3. Familiarize your team with what your CMS options are.
  4. Put together your requirements so that you can choose the *right* tool.
  5. Research CMS products and compare them to how they appear to meet your requirements.
  6. Contact a selection of CMS vendors to setup demonstrations and evaluate each CMS against your requirements.
  7. Make a selection and (typically) enter into an agreement with the successful vendor.
  8. Research and work with your CMS vendor to get a sense of what configuration and implementation will entail.
  9. Make a project plan for configuration and implementation as this stage in the process can take a considerable amount of time.
  10. Setup use instructions, establish best practices, and receive/deliver training to all staff who use the CMS.

The Duration of This Work

The duration of how long the procurement process will take depends on a few factors:

  • How familiar you (and your team) are with the CMS options.
  • How lengthy the specifications need to be—often dependent upon how many functions or roles intend to use the CMS.
  • How many demonstrations the team may need to see in order to choose a select a CMS with confidence.
  • How much configuration or customization of the CMS is needed or requested by the museum.
  • How much data and digital assets need to be migrated, how easy (or not) it is to find and import them, and how clean the data is.

For some museums an off-the-shelf CMS is just what they need and the duration of procurement is just a few months. On the opposite side, I’ve seen the procurement process take a couple of years as both customization and migration where highly complex.


The path towards procurement can be daunting; however, it’s so worth it if you’re moving towards a CMS that will better fit the museum collection and your needs. If a new CMS is in your future, I strongly encourage you to start familiarizing yourself with what your CMS options are, what your museum procurement process may be, and any items that may impact your procurement process—for better or worse.

Additional Reading

I’ve collected the following posts to offer as additional reading. These posts help to build on today’s topic and offer next steps or further detail to help support you in your work.

The CMS: What’s Essential, What’s Hackable, and What Does It Cost?

How to Begin Your Search for the Right Museum CMS

How to Form a Museum CMS Procurement Team

Museum Digital Project Consultant: CMS Selection and Implementation

Off-the-Shelf Museum CMS: When to Buy One and Where to Find One

What to Look for in an Off-the-Shelf Museum CMS

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

If you’re interested in this topic and eager to learn more, please join us for Dismantling Barriers to a New Museum CMS, the first in a new series to be presented by Rachael Woody. It’s on Wednesday, March 1, 2023 at 11 a.m. Pacific, 2 p.m. Eastern. (Can’t make it? Register anyway and we’ll send you a link to the recording and slides afterwards). Register now or call 604-278-6717.

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