Getting a Grip on DAM

Why is Digital Asset Management (DAM) so hard to explain?

We all grasp content. We spend significant portions of our days consuming content – at work, on our mobile devices, at home. Content speaks to us. Digital assets are misunderstood. They are the pieces which, when combined to create content, become a story. Alone, they are someone else’s concern.

Digital assets sit on a file system or a web drive with very limited search capabilities and weak taxonomy. Housing and managing digital assets isn’t really the end use of those assets. The assets appear as content in presentations, articles, websites, catalogs and social media. This is where they are accessed and consumed. The fact that they are shared and accessed easier from a DAM is not relevant to many consumers. It is relevant to the creators.

Challenging Value Proposition

I attended The State of DAM webinar recently, hosted by Frank DeCarlo. Panel member Carin Forman, Director, Digital Photo Services for HBO said others assumed HBO would have a huge budget for a DAM system. After all, their business is content and managing the digital assets for that content should be paramount. Yet, she found the only way she was able to justify the purchase of a DAM was the cost reduction in storage media and couriers involved in sharing her assets without a DAM.

Revenue generation draws more investment than cost reduction. The typical ROI for DAM is based on cost reduction with the added justification of brand security – a fancy way to say you don’t want old or inappropriate assets representing your brand. There are exemplary uses such as museums and archives where thoughtful metadata schemas are deployed and the DAM can actually present to the consumer. The prevalent use is by marketing departments with brand libraries accessed directly by general corporate users for presentations. These are the straightforward cases.

Visibility

DAM really has a visibility problem. It isn’t required to bill clients or produce sales – though they improve this. They sit in between other higher profile systems. There are few organizations which would consider a DAM before ERP, ECM or PIM. However, once they have those, DAM systems become much more compelling. DAM answers these questions:

  • How do I get decent images in my PIM?
  • How do I get images and video to my website?
  • How do I get approved brand collateral to marketing and sales?
  • How do I manage approval of my brand collateral?
  • How do I reduce the time for associates to find files?

Innovation

Do DAM systems lack innovation? In the same The State of DAM webinar, Dave Diamond, author of the DAM Survival Guide, voiced his frustration over the lack of innovation, pointing out that it pre-existed Google and does many of the same things. I take a bit of a different view, pointing back to the centrality of DAM, that there is only so much room for improvement in DAM simply because DAM isn’t really used so much as consumed because it sits in the middle of the other systems which use its assets.

DAM should be invisible. It should have been built into the OS decades ago. It has partially arrived in the form of web widgets which could be included in Google Docs, Sharepoint, Office 365, Basecamp and Slack etc. functioning much like the ubiquitous File-Open but with much better search. These exist but more in customization than part of DAM. Most DAM systems already have integration with Adobe Creative Cloud. AI is another area of innovation. So far the main one in use is AI-based metadata tagging and it yields pretty good results.  This example uses Clarifai:

This provides a painless way to enrich metadata with almost no effort. This doesn’t replace a proper taxonomy but you don’t have to start with a blank slate. Another feature is facial recognition, which also helps enhance metadata.

Who Buys?

Typically, those wanting a DAM system are those hurt the most by not having one.This tends to be people in marketing who are handling media files and distributing them for public consumption.

They need efficiency in the collaboration process and they also need to ensure the wrong files don’t make it to the public. E-mail is unreliable because there are size limits which depend on the organization, as well as security issues. File sharing like Dropbox works but it requires manual work – sending a share, managing permissions and it intrinsically has 2 transfers, is duplicated and has no versioning. DAM implements business process automation and enforcement by managing approvals, DRM, workflows and automation.

The most motivated adopters are usually those who have had a DAM system before and find themselves in a situation without one. A large retailer hired a leader at one of our clients and they knew they had to get a DAM system before they started in-sourcing any of their content production. A large ad agency found themselves without a DAM system after a division spin-off and asked us to implement a DAM system on a very short timeline. Those who’ve had one can’t live without one.

DAM – SaaS vs. On premise

Every organization needs a DAM system. Organizations vary greatly in size so often one of the first considerations is what platform to choose: SaaS/Cloud or on premise. At one time this would have been viewed as a very backwards way to approach your investigation of a solution. Consultants would tell their clients to look at requirements first and map to functionality and then find some candidates to investigate further. Traditional benefits of DAM such as:

  • Find assets/files fast
  • Enrich assets with metadata and organize them
  • Share assets securely with remote users (workers and consumers)
  • Granular control of permissions
  • On the fly media renditions
  • Workflows for both process and approval
  • Process automation
  • Integration with other systems
  • Centralize control and costs
    …are assumed to be part of any solution you would consider.

DAM – and development – has matured to the point where most systems have most of the functionality required. How the solution fits into your workflow and the other platforms and software you use, can actually make or break a candidate system as easily as budget can. Functionality is less important than it used to be because most good purveyors of DAM systems use rapid development disciplines so features can be rolled out more easily and integrations are much more feasible because APIs are web services able to be used in almost any development environment.

Some platform choices are pre-decided. Companies will mandate a SaaS solution because they do not have the IT bandwidth to maintain it in-house or because strategically, they have decided to go with hosted/cloud solutions. Where there is actually a choice to be made, there are a number of factors which are very important to be aware of as well as lesser factors. The really important factors are:

Access Speed
Many will tell you speed with today’s internet is a non-issue. This is particularly the case with ubiquitous mobile users. This is very often true. If your use case is to share smaller files in the single to low double digit MB range it is a non-issue. A solution for sales and marketing to share collateral with a few added features like being able to build slide decks should not really impact platform.

Authoring solutions with workflow can be entirely different though, especially when high quality imagery or video is involved. The files are often 100’s of MB in size or much larger, especially with video and they aren’t getting any smaller with better cameras. These don’t move around the internet as smoothly, especially in a production environment where investments in gigabit and 10 gigabit ethernet have been made to keep production moving smoothly. Adobe CC Photoshop and Premiere users who are used to loading files at gigabit LAN speeds will take a significant productivity hit trying to work directly over the internet.

Integration with Other Systems
A smaller number of solutions require a defined integration so this won’t affect as many people looking for a solution. A greater number will like to keep their options open as they have intentions of future integration – often with a CMS. If you have definite integration plans, it is worth looking at the API capabilities of prospective solutions. Good APIs are prevalent in on premise systems where the owner must secure them but might not exist or be robust enough on some SaaS solutions.

Regulatory Issues
Government and institutional users often have requirements that their data and even their system reside in their country. This is especially important because of caching and remote backup as copies of your data can be located on the other side of the globe. Terrorism has made this an even greater concern because it initiated changes to access to information policies which can allow host governments ability to breach assumed privacy. We have seen this in legal cases as well from a number of governments and even the Patriot Act in the US. This is a requirement for some and a non-issue for others but worth understanding the consequences.

When considering a platform it is also good to know that many solutions offer a number of different options. SaaS is a service completely hosted by the provider. Benefits include: no IT Involvement; no hardware investment; continual access to latest updates.

On premise solutions are traditional installations of software on hardware provided by the owner. There are also hybrid solutions which vary greatly as to where the system is and where the data is located. If you want a full-featured solution with the ability to move on premise if you choose, you can simply host your “on premise” solution with an IaaS provider. We have done this with Google and Azure and it would also be easy with Amazon.

You can also mix and match by storing your assets on a different provider. You could have your system hosted in the US and your data hosted in Canada. This is actually becoming much more common with Microsoft opening Azure located in other countries and Amazon doing the same with S3. They are also guaranteeing it doesn’t leave that country. There are also performance hybrids to address special media like video where the video can be stored on a CDN (content delivery network) so that all the renditions and device specific requirements are handled by the CDN.

Don’t feel compelled to choose between SaaS or on premise. You can use parts of both to get a solutions to fit your needs.