How to Test, Vet, and Purchase a New Museum CMS

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

November 06, 2019

If you’re this far along in the procurement process, you’ve already formed your procurement team and the team has identified new collections management system (CMS) specifications. The next step in the procurement process is to take the highest ranked museum CMS options (based on the specifications rubric) and begin the process of testing and vetting.


It’s important to test museum CMS capabilities and workflow options to ensure the tools work the way staff expect them to. Request a temporary sandbox from CMS vendors to test workflows, customization, and other facets of the CMS that are important to staff. If a sandbox can’t be provided, request a detailed tutorial that addresses procurement team requirements. Make sure to test each specification you’ve listed as required or highly important as it can be easy to make the mistake of assuming the CMS will work a certain way. Finally, it’s important for each procurement team member to spend time testing their area of the CMS to ensure it works for their requirements.

Testing Steps:

  1. Request a sandbox to test tools
  2. If a sandbox can’t be provided ask for a tutorial or demonstration
  3. Have each procurement team member test their area of the CMS


If CMS testing goes successfully it’s time to ask the museum CMS vendor any remaining questions the procurement team may have. This is a good time to clarify if anything is missing from the vendor’s proposal and outline what the next steps will be. It’s important to remember that the CMS company is a potential partner and this is an interview. Finally, just as the museum would do if they were hiring a new staff member, verify references for the CMS company. Peer referrals are the strongest as they will increase the procurement team’s awareness of potential CMS advantages or pitfalls that were not evident during the research and testing phases. When seeking referrals, be sure to ask the referring museum more than just “Does the CMS meet your requirements?”. Ask for a quick demonstration of which tools they love using and/or which areas lack robust tools. A great question you should always include is “What were your lessons learned from adopting and using this CMS?”.

Vetting Steps:

  1. Ask the CMS vendor any remaining questions
  2. Call references

Budgeting and Purchasing

Once a CMS has been selected, the procurement team—along with any legal and operations staff—should review the CMS contract to ensure it meets specifications and is determined to be a suitable contract for the museum to enter into. Payment terms for the CMS should be outlined in the contract and should be processed and scheduled as appropriate in order to guarantee prompt payment and an accurate museum budget. If the CMS company is one that increases annual fees (at regular or irregular intervals) make sure the increase is spelled out in the contract so there are no financially damaging surprises. For example: “CMS Company” has an annual increase of 2%. Or: “CMS Company” reserves the right to increase its fee not-to-exceed 5% upon renewal of the agreement.

Budgeting and Purchasing Steps:

  1. Review contract with legal and operations staff
  2. Make sure payments terms are clearly defined
  3. Relay payment amount and timeline to budgeting office

The museum CMS is critical to its daily operations. As such, it’s imperative for museum staff to get the CMS procurement process right. The more thoughtful you can be when choosing the museum’s CMS, the less likely it is that the museum will have to navigate a subsequent procurement and replacement process. Including the right stakeholders on the procurement team, teasing out and prioritizing CMS specifications, and exercising due diligence through testing and vetting are all required elements for the successful selection of a museum CMS.

Rachael Cristine Woody

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 and read more of Rachael’s blog posts here.  

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