Digital asset management (DAM) is one of those things that few people jump into with much enthusiasm. DAM is an extra layer of policy that no one wants to define, an ongoing expense that no one wants to pay and a training requirement for which no one has time. And let’s face it: digital asset management isn't that much fun.
It’s enough to leave people wondering whether they need DAM at all.
I wonder this every day. In fact, I recently tried to convince myself that DAM was nothing more than a luxury for organizations that thrive on needless complexity. Not that I wanted it to be so, mind you; but if I’m going to keep promoting Digital Asset Management to the world, I figure that I should occasionally renew my vows with the technology.
Envisioning a world without DAM was my first step. This provided me with the clean slate-of-mind I needed to get a better perspective on why DAM does or does not matter.
The exercise was a mind-opener because it reminded me of just how wide DAM has become and how deep DAM now goes. Those who say DAM is about finding files faster, reducing time to market or increasing digital asset ROI are hung up on the marketing speak we used to sell DAM more than a decade ago — before we understood its real potential.
DAM Is about Content Discovery
File servers, Dropbox, Google Drive and the like are about centrally storing what you know you already have. Digital Asset Management, on the other hand, is about enabling people to discover what they don’t know they have.
It’s similar to the fundamental differences between Google search and the directory-based content structure that relegated Yahoo to also-ran status in the search wars. Google won for good reason — there’s too much information in the world for hierarchical browsing to be effective.
Rich metadata enables users to find what they don’t know they want because metadata is a language we use to converse with our DAMs. We use metadata to ask the DAM questions and the DAM uses metadata to offer results. Sometimes we get the content we expect and sometimes we get nothing. But other times we get unexpected results that spur our most creative ideas.
Digital asset management systems are metadata machines that happen to reference files. File management tools are storage locations that offer basic tagging. Tags can help us find files faster, so long as we know what we’re looking for; but they don’t do much to encourage happy accidents. On the other hand, we have search features in DAMs to help us find images based on color palettes, find videos based on popularity and even find press releases that are embargoed for next Tuesday but not yet approved for release.
DAM Is Policy
The “m” in Digital Asset Management represents the primary difference between file-storage services and DAM systems. When is something approved? How do we define “approved”? What do we do when a license expires for content we’ve published? What should a user do when she’s discovered a typo in a document?
These considerations (and scores more) are the policies around which we wrap DAM software. They reflect the processes and rules upon which our businesses are based and protected. Conveniently sending a file to 1 million people via Dropbox is a great thing. But which file should we send? And when should we send it? File distribution has no undo, so adherence to well-defined policy is important.
The problem is that digital asset policy adherence isn’t something most organizations consider. Ask about the rules that govern the use of company vehicles and they’ll tell you. They can also tell you about vacation time accrual and what happens if you tell the delivery truck driver that you’re still waiting for him to deliver the package you want most. But ask a Fortune 500 marketing VP whether company policy permits her to download photos from the Internet for use in internal presentations, and she’ll likely ramble on for 10 minutes about her company’s commitment to protecting intellectual properties for generations to come.
In fact, she probably has a presentation she can show you.
And no matter where the photos in her presentation came from, she won’t think twice about what happens when she tosses that presentation, downloaded images and all, into the company archives.
DAM Is Organization-Wide
When we say that Digital Asset Management is an organization-wide, enterprise-class process, we really say nothing. After all, email is an organization-wide, enterprise-class process too. In fact, you could use Dropbox or Google Drive across the organization too — so long as things stay simple. But when Marketing has different rules than Legal, and Marketing-Asia has different rules than Marketing-Europe, the notion of a centralized file server or file-sharing platform loses its appeal.
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