Software for Museums: Build, Buy, or Platform?


Working on digital projects at your museum is a lot like building a house. But just like building a house, there isn’t just one specific way to go about it. If you work at a cultural institution looking to take advantage of the fruits of the digital era, there are many options and paths you can take.

With software, although everyone strives to lay a solid foundation, many often overlook or underestimate the realities of maintenance and other critical aspects. Why wouldn’t you want to build a robust shelter that will withstand the test of time?

Building In-House

Many organizations decide to build their own “house,” in-house. They embark on what they perceive to be a simple journey which in reality has many moving parts and heavy responsibilities: searching for the materials, equipment, and labor force necessary. The driving logic to building in-house is that it will cost less, but this is almost never the case. In fact, deciding to build in-house can be an exhausting, risky, and expensive option.

Hiring the Team

Assembling a software development team is one of the most challenging feats, even for experienced technology companies. If you’re looking to build your own mobile app, for instance, you would need to hire the following:

  • iOS Developer for the iOS App.
  • Full-Stack Developer for your Web App.
  • Back-end Developer for the Content Management System.
  • UX Designer to craft the experience.
  • UI Designer to design the look and feel.
  • QA Engineer for testing and debugging.
  • Project Management to manage the entire project.

You’d be looking at a combined cost of anywhere between $400,000 and $700,000, just in salary. According to, as of October 2016, the average app developer costs 77% more than the average worker! Not to mention the time and cost that go into interviewing candidates, training new employees, additional taxes, benefits, and new overhead necessary to support these employees.

Keep Up

Maintenance is a big part of the software equation. You’re constantly performing check-ups, fixing bugs, and paying down technical debt. Sound like fun? Not so much. With the rapid evolution of new devices and updated operating systems, there is ongoing maintenance required to ensure the performance, stability, and security of your application.

Referring back to the house analogy: don’t ignore the impact that time, use, and climate will have on all aspects of your house. Trust us - no one wants want a leaky roof!

The Myth: it’s Less Expensive (hint: False)

When spending time and resources building your own software, you may be pulling resources away from other vital components of your organization. Building software costs money, takes time, and is filled with many risks and distractions along the way.

Outsourcing to an Agency

If the option above doesn’t sound appealing to you, another option is to hire a team of experts to build your “house.” This process requires intensive planning sessions, writing specs and/or RFPs, vetting proposals, negotiating fees, drafting up contracts, agreeing to a scope of work, and waiting (in some cases, months or years) for the software to be ready for release.

Even More Expensive

According to mobile app development agencies on, building an app can initially cost anywhere between $37,000-$170,000, but can even reach upwards of $500,000! Not to mention the cost of additional features or maintenance down the road. It ain’t cheap.

Lack of Field Expertise

It’s highly unlikely that your local software development shop is well-versed in the intricacies of the museum experience. It takes time to become fully immersed in any sector. This learning curve can add weeks, or months, to the process and make it difficult to ensure the highest quality result.


We’ve all seen projects that are filled with expensive bells and whistles when, in fact, a sensible, simple option would have done just fine. Agencies are in the business of saying “yes” to every dream and feature you could imagine. When the company on the other end is driven by billable hours and one-off projects, your goals and theirs are pushed further apart. 

Leveraging a Platform

Platforms help you achieve your goals without the risk and headache associated with building software projects or products from scratch. Think of a platform as a full-serviced, specialized building that provides you with all of the amenities you need, a helpful concierge there to help you with your groceries, and a maintenance staff available around the clock.

Benefits of a Platform

A platform gives you access to an existing suite of tools that are quick and easy to set up; Turn-key, plug-and-plug… whatever you want to call it.

“Find ways to get 90% of the value with 10% of the effort” - Paul Buchheit

You can enjoy the benefits of having your app in the hands of your users faster, and with much less effort. Also, you can pick and choose which features suit your needs - there are no hidden fees or surprises because you’ve had the opportunity to “test drive” and all the costs are available upfront.


Platforms like Cuseum evolve with the ever-changing digital landscape! You won’t need to worry about on-going maintenance or the other pitfalls of building from scratch.

“Stop thinking about your software as a project. Start thinking about it as a house you will live in for a long time.” - Andrea Goulet

These are just a few of the reasons we started Cuseum. In addition to helping you provide the best experience for your visitors and members, we strive to shield you from the negative realities of designing, building, and maintaining software. We’ll take on that burden with a smile on our face.

Looking for a place to stay?

We’ve already built your “house,” and we’ll be sure to leave a chocolate on your pillow. Your key is waiting for you. 🔑

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