Art Management Software: Proprietary or Open Source?

Art may be as old as time itself, but organizations that deal in art do not need to use outmoded approaches to manage art or collectibles (A&C). Like businesses in every other sector operating in today’s digitally-driven economy, they can leverage technology to enhance their productivity, increase their efficiency, and grow their enterprises.

In the software world, there are two distinct operating models: proprietary and open source. A proprietary solution is a commercial product.  An organization controls the software and you pay to use it. Open source is the exact opposite. No one owns the software, the source code is freely available, and you can download and use it at no cost.


Proprietary Software Provides a Holistic Offering

The art software management market has various solutions and platforms that help organizations and individuals administer their collections. Most of this software is proprietary and leverages the cloud providing you with an online service. There is no need to procure, configure, or maintain any hardware or software. You subscribe to the service and access everything online. With customer relationship and inventory management to exhibitions and invoicing, these full-service solutions have everything an art manager needs. See ArtMarketGuru’s report “How Digital Transformation Can Benefit the Art Market” for a detailed look at proprietary software solutions for the art market.


Open Source Software for Niche Requirements

Open source software is typically developed by a group of like-minded individuals who have a passion for a particular topic. In areas such as information security, open source projects outnumber proprietary solutions. A large, passionate community continuously innovates and develops open source software that solves various cybersecurity problems. However, as art is a niche market, the number of passionate technical individuals is much smaller. As such, there are very few open source art management software solutions.


Choosing Proprietary vs. Open Source Software

Comparing the functionality between proprietary and open source art management solutions illustrates this point even further. Proprietary solutions have many features and are typically commercial subscriptions you find online as a service with professional support. Open source solutions only offer a few features and are software you typically need to install and run. Support for open source is also minimal. As a community of developers maintains it, they deal with any support requests on an ad-hoc casual basis.

For example, Omeka is an open source web publishing platform for sharing digital collections and creating media-rich online exhibits. It is not offered as an online service but is free to download and use. If you want to use Omeka, you need to install it on a server, configure it, and manage it. It also has a limited set of art management features and only offers functionality that powers online exhibits.

Another open source art solution is Collective Access. Its functionality allows you to manage and publish museum and archival collections. Like Omeka it is not offered as an online service and also needs a server to run it.

Open Exhibits is another open source art management initiative. The technology offers multitouch-surface exhibit design and development for galleries, museums, and exhibits. Built on Omeka, it is a project that looks to transform the way museums and other informal learning institutions produce and share computer-based exhibits.

If we compare all these open source solutions to something like Artlogic, the difference between proprietary and open source software is evident. Artlogic has every feature an art manager needs, is software you access online, and even provides an app for your smartphone. The open source projects need a server to operate and only offer niche functionality.

Under the right circumstances, an open source solution may fit your requirements. If you only need a subset of art management features, open source may be the way to go. However, you must keep in mind that even though the software is free, the solution is not. You will still incur costs as you need to procure and manage the IT infrastructure required to operate it.



Select the Solution That Meets Your Requirements and Fits Your Budget

The world of art management software has some variety and even has a few open source products. Art managers who need a solution must first make sure the software meets their requirements and calculate its Total Cost of Ownership. With this information, they can compare all their options and make an informed decision.



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