How to procure and implement a new collections management system with Grenfell Art Gallery

From procurement through implementation, Grenfell Art Gallery from Newfoundland Canada shares their journey to adopting a new collections management system.

Products purchased: Axiell Collections and Axiell Internet Server

Purchasing software can be a daunting task, especially when you consider that most software purchasing decisions are led by the end user. And while we envy organisations who have their own procurement team, many culture sector institutions are run by a small group of passionate, entrepreneurial staff who must navigate the role of software purchaser, sometimes for the first time.

And then, once a decision has been made, the implementation process begins. Another new path to forge for many of our users. I scheduled a call with Matthew Hills, Gallery Director at Grenfell Art Gallery – one of our newest Axiell Collections users – to discuss the process from end to end.

Tell me about your experience procuring Axiell Collections. How was the process? What enticed you to Axiell Collections?

I had a true end-to-end experience with Axiell Collections. I worked in procurement all the way through to implementation. For procurement, I already had a longstanding relationship with Axiell. Your Mimsy XG collections management system (CMS) was a leading platform when I was learning about collections management systems at Agnes Etherington Art Center at Queen’s University. I then moved to the University of Alberta which was a Mimsy superuser constantly developing and pushing functionality for the platform.

Now at Grenfell Art Gallery, when we needed a new collections management system, I turned to Axiell. It was great to find a Canadian software system, tailored to fine arts, with an exceptional ongoing support model which was a huge selling point for us. Axiell Collections is a forerunner in the CMS space and it’s a point of pride for us to have the leading system.

Axiell’s software is used by many of our partner organisations. It is important for us to be aligned with other institutions in our sector so that we can partner easily. We’re working with other institutions on exhibitions so it’s really easy to collaborate when we use the same system.

You also purchased Axiell Internet Server. Can you tell me more about that selection process?

We liked Axiell Internet Server because it is a cloud-based solution that follows the same support model as Axiell Collections.

We’re a small team so that support is essential. I would not want to invest in a CMS that was obsolete shortly after the purchase, or one that left us to our own devices after implementation.

What was your reason for moving from your original system?

Before Axiell Collections we had a custom access database. Our institution is 30 years old and so was our database which had become obsolete.

How did the implementation go?

Implementation was tricky, partly because my IT team is outside of my gallery. We had some server issues to resolve. Additionally, with COVID, securing funding was a bit tough.

During the migration I was nervous about our data. AIS would underscore how poor our record keeping has been at the gallery. Our old system had not been treated as a museum system and so the data was not maintained to museum standards which is something we’d like to change with Axiell Collections.

Did COVID at least give you more time to focus on the implementation?

The notion that COVID created spare time is a total myth. It doubled our workload, and I still go in person to maintain the gallery, so it was a real crunch to handle the implementation during the pandemic.

Now that you’re live with Axiell Collections, what’s next?

Our next focus will be our internal documents; making sure we set up for sustainability, continuity, and scalability. We have a bunch of student staff so when the turnover is high, we need to ensure we are prepared.

AIS pushes us to confront deficiencies in our current collection. The condition of our data is an ongoing concern so we’ve opened two positions over the summer and one role is solely focused on AIS implementation and support. In addition to data cleansing, that person is developing our own internal training resources and recording workflows for our processes of acquiring and purchasing collections objects. We’re also going to do extensive photography to support our online collection and the creation of interactive programming.

What advice can you share for someone looking to purchase a new CMS?

Funding support from the Government of Canada was key to us being able to procure the system. With significant funding, you want to leverage that money in the best possible way and make a smart, long-term investment. So a good piece of advice is to look out for obsolescence. It’s wise to speak to the vendor about the lifespan of the system you’re evaluating.

I would also recommend closely evaluating the support offered – how will your vendor continue to interact with and support you after the contract is signed. We chose Axiell because of their exceptional ongoing support model.

Do you have any advice to share about the implementation process?

One of the regrets I have is that there was disconnect between training and going live because of COVID and firewall issues we had with our servers. I would push anyone who is scheduling their training to make it as close to go-live as possible.

Thank you Matthew and welcome Grenfell Art Gallery to the Axiell User Community!

If you’re interested in learning more about Axiell Collections, check out the leading collections management platform here.

Learn more about Axiell Collections

If you’d like to speak to an Axiell team member about how we can support you in procurement, contact us here.

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