5 Tips for Finding and Selecting the Right Collections Management System
How to Choose a CMS That Supports Your Institution’s Needs
Collection organizations, such as museums and art galleries, use a museum collections management system (CMS) to keep track of complex interdepartmental data and information pertaining to the objects in the collection. Since the records of your most valuable collection objects are tracked by a museum CMS, that information must be easily accessed by all members of the organization.
Implementing a new CMS in any existing system or workflow can be a daunting and large undertaking for any organization. Many financial, technical, and training considerations need to be taken into account. Measuring these potential efforts will be crucial to help understand if such an undertaking is worth pursuing. Therefore searching for the best collections management software to manage your collections information for your organization is essential in making the implementation process as simple as possible.
To help set you in the right direction, we’ve assembled a list of tips to keep you on track and find a collections management system which best suits the needs of your museum or collections organization.
Gather a Strong Team
Consider which departments and staff will be most affected by your new museum software. Who will your power users be? Involve them in the selection process early. After selecting your team, appoint a team lead to manage the project details and ensure a smooth transition.
Suggested team members:
Head of collections
Head of conservation
Digital media manager
Survey Your Selection Team
Why do you need a museum collections management system, and what are you looking to achieve? Examining these simple questions will help reveal your top priorities and the obstacles you may face along the way.
Ask your team about their current museum CMS challenges and what needs improvement. Find out what they want to gain from the new system and the impact they expect on the collection in the coming years.
Considering the immediate and long term goals will give your team direction. Here’s an example:
Top 3 Short Term Goals
Top 3 Long Term Goals
Less duplicated effort
Digitize the collection
Comply with recognized standards—CCO, AAT, TGN thesauri, etc.
Advanced web and social media presence
Quickly analyze and report on collection information and status
More efficient exhibition and loan process
Defining your goals and the steps to achieving them will alleviate future confusion or disagreement for your team, as expectations have already been clarified.
Define Your Deal Breakers
Although each collection is unique, some processes are standard throughout the field. Consider the goals mentioned above, the workflows within your museum, and these suggested benchmarks.
A CMS that enhances these activities offers the best chance for success:
Loans and Exhibition Management – Sharing and displaying collection objects is at the heart of your museum. The CMS you select should streamline exhibition planning by consolidating checklist information and providing staff with accurately updated information. Your new CMS should offer flexible reporting that can be easily customized to support your team’s loans and exhibitions practices.
Conservation Support – Maintaining the right conservation documentation—such as treatment surveys and condition reports—ensures that your collection remains secure and accessible. Select a CMS that supports hassle-free collaboration between conservators, curators, and registrars by standardizing data for the necessary treatment surveys, reports, and environmental criteria.
Location and Shipping Management – Look for a CMS that can cross-reference shipping information—send and delivery dates, courier details, shipment values—with insurance, object, and exhibition or loan details. Your CMS should also easily manage barcode tracking and inventory-related activities.
Digital Asset and Media Management – Managing your digital assets is just as important as managing the objects in your collection. Be sure that your CMS provides native DAMS functionality, allowing you to read and manage virtually any media file format, create media records, automatically import and update media metadata, digitally annotate images, and set group access rights.
Reporting and Analysis – Help your team manage your collection efficiently by selecting a CMS that provides multiple pre-configured reports, labels, catalogue templates, condition reports, and exhibition checklists. Ensure that data can be easily exported in a variety of useful formats.
Flexible Accessibility – Most collection teams are on the go, so it’s important that your staff is able to retrieve, access, and update information securely, from any location. Your CMS should offer secure, web-based access, either as a browser-based application or via a compatible cloud-hosted solution.
Prioritize and narrow your list of criteria to 3 absolute must-haves to keep your team focused as you research, test, and compare various solutions.
Research What’s Available
With your goals and deal breakers established, your team is well equipped to research solutions and contact vendors. Gather as much information as possible from the web, trade shows, and demos.
Here are some initial questions to ask yourself:
Does this vendor’s solution match your goals?
Does the software meet your must-have benchmarks?
How smoothly will the implementation process run? How will length of implementation process impact your goals.
How futureproof and scalable is the solution? Look for software that easily integrates with other systems (online collections, DAMS, conservation, etc.) and can support your needs as they change in the future.
Will this system enhance communication and collaboration for your collection-related activities?
What reputation does each vendor have? Can you find real-world accounts, case studies, or references?
Can this system consolidate the functionality of other systems?
Does the vendor have experience with your type and size of collection?
How compatible is the new software with your existing IT infrastructure?
Refine Your Selection
Now it’s time to narrow your options to a final choice.
If needed, arrange for further demonstrations and conversations with your top vendor choice.
Consider your return on investment. Identify the costs associated with each CMS solution, then identify the benefits, both financial and non-monetary.
Finalize your vendor selection.
Your new system shouldn’t simply replace the current system; it should help your institution operate more efficiently while supporting your collection into the future.
Additionally, your collection work doesn’t exist in isolation, so your software shouldn’t either. Think big, and protect your collection and your resources by investing in an enterprise collection management ecosystem, not a standalone CMS. Be sure to carefully evaluate your needs during the research process, and consider the options that will best save time, money, and frustration.
If you’d like to learn more on how Gallery Systems can help you reach your goals, view a CMS demonstration, or request a consultation with one of our experts, contact us today.
Looking for a new Collections Management System?
Selecting a collections management system for your institution is a tough decision. Get started right by downloading our purchasing guide. It covers questions to ask, features to consider, provides worksheets for cost-benefit analysis, and more.
Sheena Archer is the Group Chief Strategy & Integration Officer at the Hoffman Group—part of Volaris Group. Her mission includes strategic planning and execution, new product and market expansion, best practice sharing, and ensuring the success of new acquisitions. Sheena has over 17 years of experience working in VMS companies, including the transit, fleet management, non-profit, and arts and culture verticals. She enjoys spending time cycling, kayaking, gardening, practicing yoga, and attempting to be the world's best dog mom.