Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Museum Software Merger

It was with the great surprise that I stumbled upon the announcement of the merger of Convio and GetActive companies this week. Though mergers may be commonplace in the general technology sector – especially after the Internet bubble – in the cultural sector, corporate mergers and acquisitions amongst companies that serve Museums (and non-profits generally) is a note-worth occurrence that has an immediate impact.

The topic of interactive marketing software may seem trite, but the companies that produce software and systems that serve the Museum-world are important and merit critical consideration. There are no Museums in the United States that have the luxury of full application-development and support departments. Museums are fully reliant on third-party administrative and collection software in order to perform their public mission. Further, for public-facing systems, these email and web marketing platforms (with their own delivery models and technical limitations) define how the public is introduced to exhibitions and culture. In effect, the available platforms define how institutions announce exhibitions, garner support, steward to Members, reach out to the community and market themselves globally.

Though this acquisition cannot be considered anti-competitive (PatronMail remains the top software firm in this market vertical and Blackbaud is the unchallenged heavy-weight in the non-profit sector as a whole), the consolidation in the software market bodes ill for the Museum sector.

Convio and GetActive are two of the top service providers for integrated content management, email marketing and hosted CRM systems in the nonprofit sector. For institutions looking to integrate systems, reduce overhead/administration and remove the communication barriers between programming staff and constituents, both these platforms were well positioned. In the long-term, the loss of either of these forward-looking companies (at least in relation to the sector as a whole) can only be considered a loss of choice, innovation and competition for Museums and cultural institutions.

Further, there are always the practicalities arising from any loss of competition in a service industry; the leverage these companies will gain in terms of controlling pricing, system customization and upgrade flexibility. These too are important issues for Museum technology managers as they impact total resources, budgeting, staffing and strategic planning.

So, given that context and the newly shifting technology landscape, I thought it might be useful to outline a list of email and web marketing companies that serve the Museum sector (with some of their respective clients). This list is by no means exhausitve, so if anyone has additions and/or experiences to add, I'd love to hear from you.

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