Does it comply with museum and archival standards?
Various collections management standards and practices have been developed by the industry to ensure best practice and consistency across institutions in the way that collections are managed. Not only does adhering to standards allow for collaboration and data sharing between institutions, but many grants, funding streams and national level collections validation schemes require that applicants meet certain standards.
Understand which standards are the most important for your institution and then identify which systems are compliant and therefore most likely to help you achieve your goals.
Consider who’s using the system now and who might be using it in the future
A key technology driver across all industries is the need for information to be accessible, usable and integrated. You’ll be storing large amounts of data in your Collections Management System (CMS) and it’s important to consider not only who needs to access that information now, but also in the future.
If you’re one department within a bigger institution, chances are that at some point there will be a drive to develop consistent practices across different departments and collection types and to centralise data in one repository. If you have a system that is very niche to your collection type but can’t scale further, in all likelihood it will be replaced and you’ll need to start over. Similarly, if you’re part of an organisation that manages multiple institutions, think about how the software might scale up to meet the needs of the whole group.
Look at investing in software that can be scaled up to include a range of collection types, archives, etc. and become the master source of data in the future.
How well will it integrate with other technology?
Similarly, consider what other systems you may need to integrate with. For now you may only be concerned with storing your collections data but in the future you may want to integrate with other systems, including digital asset management systems, CRM systems, websites and online publishing, exhibitions engagement apps and technology, and so on. If your CMS doesn’t have an open API, you may struggle to integrate it with a wider technology strategy.
You can learn more about understanding APIs here.
Is the software being actively developed?
Have you selected software that is being actively developed? Is there evidence that the developer is investing in new products, services and upgrades? New developments are a good indicator that the vendor is actively investing in the software’s future. The needs of collections managers, museums and archives are developing constantly and buying a system that isn’t changing with the times is essentially buying a system with a use-by date. It might service your needs now, but it’s only a matter of time before it is no longer fit for purpose and you have to go back to the drawing board.
You can find more advice here on selecting the right vendor.
What’s the scope for expanding your system in the future?
Once you have a CMS up and running, you may want to look at the next step in developing your museum or institution. Perhaps you will want to manage a large scale collections move, or increase engagement with exhibitions, or put some more focus on managing your digital assets; or perhaps your next step will be publishing your collections online. Does the CMS you are considering have add-on products which can help you achieve further goals, or will you have to find multiple vendors for your future projects?
Look at the add-on products that could add value to your system and see whether they will be useful for your future development.