The Cost Involved When the Museum CMS Front-End is Separate or Less Than

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

November 11, 2020

Last week we considered the different options available to deliver a museum Collections Management System (CMS)front-end portal. If you work for a museum that has a fully integrated CMS front-end, count yourself lucky!

As someone who works with a variety of collections management systems, I still come across platforms that either: 1. Don’t offer a CMS front-end; or 2. The front-end is an“add on”, optional, and clearly an afterthought that hasn’t received nearly as much investment as the back-end.

The Cost for Integrating Two Separate Platforms to Create a Museum CMS Front-End:

For those who are considering the two separate platforms approach, there are costs to be aware of:

  • The cost to acquire and implement two platforms.
  • The ongoing (typically annual) cost to license both platforms.
  • The staff time and energy (costs) it takes to implement and maintain two platforms.
  • The additional staff time and skill (costs) required to make the two platforms tie together and function symbiotically.
  • The risk of lost or broken data between the two platforms.
  • Whenever the back-end data is updated, the front-end needs to be refreshed and re-indexed which usually costs additional staff time.
  • When the museum eventually changes platforms the migration will likely be more complicated and involve more staff time, the hiring of a contractor, or increase migration costs with the new CMS vendor.

The Challenges of Working with an “Add On” Museum CMS Front-End:

If you’re using one CMS with an “add on” or optional front-end (i.e. not fully integrated), then there are other costs to consider. If the front-end portal is optional it’s often an afterthought for the vendors—meaning the front-end doesn’t receive the same amount of prioritization or investment. Instead of the CMS front and back-end being created and evolved as one cohesive unit, things are often disconnected and updated separately. Also, any customization the customer does to the front-end can be easily broken with any changes made by the vendor to the back-end. With that in mind there are a few potential costs to be aware of:

  • The cost of staff time, a consultant, or buying added vendor time to implement and integrate the front-end with the backed.
  • The cost involved to customize and tweak the front-end portal.
  • The cost involved to update and maintain the front-end portal.
  • Risk of customization (not performed by the vendor) being lost or broken when the CMS back-end is updated—increasing costs to mitigate the issue.

Things to Look Out for When Evaluating the Optional Front-end Portal

Sometimes choosing a CMS without a fully integrated front-end portal is the decision you’re stuck with. While it’s not ideal, there are some things to look for that will help you keep costs down and improve your success with implementation. Use these prompts to help you look for and evaluate your options:

  • Does the front-end portal option look modern and inviting?
  • Does the front-end portal have intuitive navigation?
  • Does the front-end portal encourage and support engagement with the collections?
  • Do you have access to the portal code and stylesheet information so that you can tweak the display if necessary?
  • Are the vendors actively working on improving and evolving the portal?
  • Is the vendor support available (included in the cost or as an add on) for you to customize the look and feel of the portal?


While a separate or “add on” front-end portal is better than no front-end portal, they still come with significant cost implications. If this is the only option available to you, make sure you enter into the situation prepared for the additional costs that may be incurred as the result of not going with a fully integrated museum CMS.

We’ll conclude the series with a look at the benefits of a fully integrated museum CMS and the scenarios in which an integrated front and back-end make sense – read here.

Additional Reading

If your museum is embarking on a the search for a new museum CMS please check out the following posts on Lucidea’s Think Clearly Blog: 3 Things to Look for When Choosing a Museum Collections Management System, How to Begin Your Search for the Right Museum CMS, How to Form a Museum CMS Procurement Team, How to Test, Vet, and Purchase a New Museum CMS, and How to Identify Specifications for a New CMS.

And don’t forget to grab your free e-copy of my book: How to Select, Buy, and Use a Museum CMS.

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

Expert consultant Rachael Cristine Woody advises on museum strategies, collections management, digital museums, and grant writing for a wide variety of clients, and is a popular presenter and Lucidea Press author. Learn about Lucidea’s Argus Museum CMS for virtual, multimedia presentation of collections, visitor engagement, and museum staff productivity and impact.

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