DAM, 2014-18-August-Rose-Reading-Room.jpgAlthough digital asset management has arguably been around since at least the 1990s, the virtual explosion of multimedia has catapulted it near the top of the stack for many organizations. Despite its middle age, DAM is often presented like a new answer to the growing reliance on multimedia digital content and delivery.

There is a debate between: a. Those who see DAM as sufficiently different from other content management challenges and their solutions that it needs new strategies and new computer systems designed specifically with DAM in mind. And b. Others who see DAM as just a unique form of enterprise content management (ECM) for which today’s ECM systems, with a little tweaking, can do just fine.

DAM or No DAM, Why Should We Care?

While the DAM-ECM debate may not be keeping you awake at night, if your organization finds itself dealing with today’s multimedia explosion, it may have a major impact on your automation and financial future.
I would suggest the following approach to guide your decision-making.

First, understand what the terms mean:

  • Enterprise Content Management (ECM) is an extension of “Content Management” intended to suggest that a single strategy (and repository?) can manage all the content for an “enterprise” (whatever that is). Software industry hype notwithstanding, ECM is a set of functions that make appropriate versions of content findable and available when and where needed.
  • Digital Asset Management (DAM) by most definitions is a series of management functions designed to deal effectively with content from pictures to audio to video and other forms of media outside the classical page-component model. Descriptions of DAM often also include functions like collaboration, content ownership and rights, preview and translations, etc., that are probably not specifically management.

To Use It, You Must Find It

Discussions of DAM usually include a description of metadata’s importance to effective use of multimedia assets. You can’t use a digital asset if you can’t find it and easily determine its format, resolution and duration. Multimedia assets usually require external data to make them fully usable -- think the library card catalog that helped you identify and find a book or item and summarized it without repeating its entire contents. Much of today’s metadata strategy is founded on this same approach: the creation of external data items stored in and searched via the relational database software that underlies most modern ECM (and DAM) systems or by search engines.

So metadata is critical to effective DAM and must be part of the conversation. The need for finding and descriptive aids is universal, so the development of metadata must be based on some standard forms capable of use by a wide range of systems lest we end up with “islands of access” across which little integration is practical.

Unlike libraries of old where Dewey and LC cataloging covered most everything, the digital assets world appears to believe that each area of interest should be free to develop its own metadata strategy and implementations, creating a long list of candidate metadata structures we must support to cover any significant part of the content asset world. This must condense somewhat before even the best DAM approach and technology will achieve its full potential.

When is DAM DAM or ECM Plus?

This may seem like an academic question … until you have to buy something.

A good starting point might be to ask: can my current or candidate ECM systems do an acceptable job of managing my digital (multimedia) assets? The general consensus (outside ECM vendors themselves) is that most currently don’t. If true, this is probably more a function of their design focus than limitations of the technology itself. DAM just hasn’t been enough of a household word, so vendors didn’t put it on their product development calendars.

The next step in this chain might be: if our current or candidate ECM systems won’t do DAM well, do we need an entirely separate system designed specifically for DAM functions? That’s where the question becomes important. Buying and supporting a totally different DAM software environment is expensive, complex and labor intensive, but sticking with an ECM approach that doesn’t do the job is perhaps equally dangerous.

The answer will vary depending on the particular situation but in all cases must be based on a clear understanding of how modern data management systems are built. Any data management system worth its salt is designed and built in layers: