DAM: What is Digital Asset Management?

digital asset management

Digital asset management (DAM) consists of management tasks and decisions surrounding the ingestion, annotation, cataloguing, storage, retrieval and distribution of digital assets. Digital photographs, animations, videos and music exemplify the target-areas of media asset management (a sub-category of DAM).

It’s hard to make the case for digital asset management without appearing to relentlessly state the obvious. For instance: marketing today depends heavily on digital media. And time is money. So marketers should spend as much of their digital media time as possible on more productive, profitable tasks and less on redundancy and unnecessary housekeeping.

We know these things intuitively. So it’s surprising that, during the short time that I’ve been involved in telling the story of DAM, I’ve seen a persistent and accelerated increase of organizations’ awareness of DAM. That is to say that, until recently, these organizations had no idea what they were missing.

After all, a company usually starts shopping around for DAM software when it realizes that, first, it has a whole lot (read “an unmanageable volume”) of digital assets and that, second, dealing with its enormous digital asset library takes far too much time without yielding enough benefit. This has been true across an array of industries including higher education, advertising, manufacturing, entertainment, non-profit, health care and medical technology.

This is where DAM comes in. DAM systems come in lots of shapes and sizes, but they’re all built to do at least a few things: centrally store, organize and distribute digital assets. So what do you need to know to guide your vendor search?

DAM Delivery models

Widen Enterprises recently released a good white paper explaining the distinctions (and overlaps) among Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), on-premises and open-source DAM solutions. This is a good resource to check out if you’re starting to explore your DAM options.

The most important thing to know, however, is that each of those three terms is a way of defining DAM (or any software, for that matter) according to different criteria. They’re not mutually exclusive—although there’s practically no overlap between SaaS and installed solutions.

SaaS DAM systems offer flexibility in terms of workflow and accessibility with minimal IT costs. The software and your assets are hosted in the cloud (that is, remote servers). While a reputable DAM vendor will use a hosting method that’s extremely secure, some organizations have policies that preclude them from letting certain sensitive information outside their facilities. If you’re a government intelligence agency, for example, you probably can’t do SaaS DAM.

Installed programs, on the other hand, are all “in-house.” Your organization’s work might require the kind of control over media that can only come from keeping the data and the servers it’s on in your building. Even then, you should be conscious of the fact that, unless you’re backing your data up on remote servers, this practice leaves you open to the risk some event will leave your assets completely irretrievable. That could be data corruption, but it could also be theft, natural disasters or accidents.

Finally, there’s open source. The term refers to the code or architecture of the software itself, but not whether the software is accessed remotely or on your own in-house machines. You shouldn’t fall into the trap of basing your decision on whether open source is right for you on whether a solution is hosted or installed. Also, you should make note of the fact that software’s being open-source only adds value if you or someone else has the resources to capitalize on the malleability of the program.

red door
No two organizations’ DAM needs are exactly the same. as long as you focus on finding the best-fit solution, the grass will be greener on the other side.

DAM Features

As if the variety in delivery models weren’t enough, there’s also a wide range of feature sets out there. Some DAM vendors are better than others about making sure they’re the best fit to meet your unique needs before trying to sell you on their system, so it’s important than you go into your DAM hunt with as detailed a list of requirements as possible.

Even better: break your needs down into must-have and nice-to-have categories. You should also make note of any features that are necessary because of any regulations, laws or other rules governing your market or industry.

What all this does is ensure that you neither end up with so few few features that you aren’t able to improve the efficiency of your workflows as much as possible nor so many features that you find yourself paying for bells and whistles you’ll never need or want to use.

Benefits of DAM

Thinking about the benefits of implementing a digital asset management system in terms of “cutting” costs or “saving” time just isn’t enough. It doesn’t get to the heart of how DAM can impact your organization and resources.

Instead, think about DAM in terms of “repurposing.” We tend to use the word to refer to the way that DAM software enables and streamlines the repurposing of individual digital assets, but (when used right) it can have the same effect on labor, dollars and talent.

Take a designer, example. He or she might currently spends 10 of every 40 hours on redundant asset searches, version control tasks and image library housekeeping. Setting up DAM and eliminating the need for all that wouldn’t mean that you should cut your designer’s hours. What it means is that hours of inefficient, unprofitable labor can now be put to use exercising a designers presumptive strength: design. The same goes for your sales people, marketing team, etc.

The beauty of DAM isn’t quite that it changes your strategy or makes your work better. It’s that it frees you up to pursue the same strategy more aggressively and makes your work more focused for more time.

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