The number of DAM vendors on the market can be overwhelming. There are hundreds of DAM vendors, many of which provide very good solutions, which can make it hard to choose the right vendor for your organization. Start by developing the project goals and the key problems to be solved and then filter, filter, filter.

Picture a funnel with a set of filters: each filter has a finer grid that lets fewer and fewer vendors through.

The filters will reduce the vendors in four stages:

  • Long list: 10 - 15 vendors
  • Short list: 5 - 8 vendors
  • Vendor Demos: 3 - 4 vendors
  • POC "Bake-off": 2 vendors

First Filter: The Long List

The long list filter allows you to quickly narrow your list by eliminating vendors that do not meet key criteria:

  • Asset types supported
  • Technology framework
  • Licensing models
  • Delivery models

Asset Types Supported

What types of assets do you need to support? This will help identify the type of DAM you need: Digital Asset Management, Media Asset Management (MAM), Marketing Asset Management, Brand Asset Management or Enterprise Content Management.

Most vendors will specialize in one of the areas above. If your organization needs to bridge across multiple asset management types, such as time-based media and images, you might want to consider looking at two separate DAM solutions. There are a number of vendors that offer solutions that can do both, but you are likely to sacrifice. Many vendors will claim they support all asset types -- be careful of vendors that over promise. I appreciate vendors that are open and honest about their capabilities and are willing to walk away when your needs are not a good fit.

Technology Framework

What technology skill set is required to support the vendor’s DAM? For example, if the vendor’s solution is built on Java, but your technology stake is all .Net it might not be a good fit. Having in-house IT resources that can support the technology is necessary for the success of a DAM project.

Licensing Models

Are you looking for a Commercial Off the Shelf (COTS) solution or Open Source solutions? If you go with a COTS solution how does the vendor license their product? The type of licensing model you select can have a substantial impact on direct costs over the life of the project and can be used to help narrow down the vendor list.

Delivery Models

Do you want an installed (on-premises), SaaS or hybrid solution? This will help eliminate a number of vendors. If you have not decided what delivery model is the right fit, take a look at my article “SaaS vs. In-House DAM - Which is Right For You?

Here are a couple good resources to help you review potential vendors and quickly eliminate those who do not meet your key criteria:

You can now narrow the list to 10-15 possible vendors, a.k.a. the “long list.” Spend time learning more about these vendors and the products they offer.

Second Filter: The Short List

Evaluate how the long list vendors match your business goals and the business requirements/problems you need to be solved to get to your short list of five to eight vendors.

The type of DAM solution should be based on your business needs, and the assets types you need to manage. Read more on how to calculate the total cost of ownership (TCO), licensing models and other financial considerations for selecting the right DAM.

Here are couple items to consider:

  • The DAM must be utterly simple to use and learn
  • Users must be able to quickly find and repurpose assets
  • The system must reduce complexity
  • The DAM must offer ways to drive new business opportunities
  • The DAM must increase revenue and/or reduces costs
  • The DAM must improve productivity
  • The Dam needs to be integrated with ________ systems

Vendor Evaluation

Spend the time to build use cases and scenarios for what you want the new DAM to do. I have developed a methodology I call the “4 Corners” use cases. I create four separate use cases that are at the four extreme corners of the project vision. By looking at four of the edge cases, the core capabilities fall somewhere in the middle. Vendors most likely won't be able to accomplish everything within these use cases, but it provides a good sense of its overall capabilities and how it will address challenges. These use cases need to represent real needs that align with the long-term project vision.

Vendor Capability

Assess the vendor’s capabilities in these 16 key functional and technical areas:

  • User Interface, Management
  • Administration Tools
  • Search / Query
  • Search / Relevancy
  • Search / Natural Language Processing
  • Security
  • Content Processing
  • Data Transformation
  • Workflow Tools
  • Information Management Tools
  • Business Intelligence Tools
  • Technical Requirements
  • Reliability & Redundancy
  • Scalability & Performance
  • Integration Needs
  • Use Cases

Develop specific requirements for each of these key functional and technical areas based on the project goals and objectives. Some example requirements for User Interface, Management might include:

  • Simple User Interface: The user Interface must provide “Google” like experience. Interface must provide a single search box that will allow one or multiple search terms to be queried. Results must be displayed in an organized manner that makes it easy for the user to quickly find and use information and refine initial search query through faceting or other means of quickly narrowing the search parameters.
  • Intuitive User Interface: The User Interface must be intuitive and simple to use, and should require little to no training to be used by a large population.
  • Navigation and search consistency: Navigation and search actions that resolve to the same query must be consistent.
  • Non-linear navigation: Ability to remove any facet from a navigation thread and resolve search results accordingly.
  • Sorting: User must be able to sort results by any field. User must be able to customize default sort preference for multiple fields, e.g., always display the most recent results first, then relevancy. Another example would be to sort by asset type, then most recent.

The Scorecard

To fairly evaluate the vendor’s functional and technical, I've developed a scoring matrix or scorecard. Using a weighting based on how the vendor responds to each of the requirements makes this easier.

A modified Fibonacci sequence, 0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21 makes it easier to determine the clear winner. The vendor can respond based on the matrix response key below. The evaluation team rates the responses by using the score.

Score   Matrix Response Key
  • 21
  • 13
  • 8
  • 5
  • 2
  • 0
  • F=Fully Provided "Out-of-the-Box
  • NV=Provided in the Next Version
  • TP=Third Party Software Required
  • M=Modification (Change Using Built-in Toolset)
  • C=Custom Development Required (Change in Code)
  • NA=Not Available

Example vendor matrix Response Key:

Ref# Requirement Vendor Response Code Comments
1. User Interface, Management    
1.1 Simple User Interface    
1.2 Intuitive User Interface    
1.3 Navigation and search consistency    
1.4 Non-linear navigation    
1.5 Sorting    

Ask the vendors to support their answer with a comment box. In some cases, the evaluation team may decide to modify the answer.

Third Filter: Vendor Demos

Invite the three or four vendors that you've selected as best fits from the short list. This is when you ask the tough questions such as pricing, service level agreements (SLA), and maintenance and support costs.

Cost Evaluation

The total cost of ownership (TCO) provides a good evaluation criterion. Understand the true short-term and long-term (on-going) cost of the project to evaluate the return on investment (ROI).

  • Cost of Base Software licensing
  • Cost of additional modules, options and add-ons
  • Cost of third-party software licenses
  • Cost of third-party hardware
  • Cost of professional services
  • Cost of third-party professional services / integration
  • Cost of documentation
  • Cost of technical training
  • Cost of non-technical training
  • Annual license maintenance fees (detailed by product)
  • Cost of annual support

Example Vendor Response Key:

Product Name Required/Optional Total Cost Licensing Fee Purpose/Impact to overall project

Only license the items you need: add-ons will cost a lot of money in the long run with no added value. Vendors love to sell companies everything.

Don’t forget to evaluate indirect costs such as: Warranty Period Support Services; Post-implementation support (New development, features and functionality); Training; Staff to maintain and support new system (types of skills needed); Documentation; Infrastructure (rack space, network equipment, bandwidth); Electricity; Cooling; Security; Business Continuity Planning (Redundancy).

Ask the vendor to provide detailed information for base software maintenance, additional modules, options and add-ons, and third-party software maintenance.

Product Name Required/Optional Total Cost Maintenance Fee Description of Maintenance and Coverage

Ask the vendor to provide a detailed support cost breakdown.

Support Type Required/Optional Total Cost Support Costs Description of services provided

Ask for a detailed training cost breakdown that includes projected travel expenses and fees.

Training Type Required/Optional Total Cost Training Costs Detail of training provided

Ask for a detailed cost breakdown for professional services and third-party professions services / integration costs. Costs must include projected travel expenses.

Service Name Required/Optional Total Cost Professional Services Rate Detail of services provided and and impact to project

And finally, ask for a detailed cost breakdown for documentation costs.

Type of Documentation Cost Documentation Format Documentation Provided


Vendors are always willing to negotiate price and services. Take advantage of the vendor’s fiscal year. Remember, vendors must meet their quarterly and annual sales goal.

Hardware Configuration

For on-premises solutions, evaluate the hardware requirements:

  • Operating System
  • Server(s) and processor
  • Memory -- RAM
  • Required Third-party software licenses
  • Development language
  • Storage Hardware
  • Storage configuration
  • Storage capacity
  • Storage performance
  • Network requirements
  • Development Environment
  • Staging Environment
  • Cloud Based Alternative
  • Additional Requirements
  • Other Requirements


Ask for a list of references. Develop a set list of questions to ask the reference including description of the project, schedule, challenges, on-going support and issues. Be sure to ask if they would use the vendor for future projects. If the vendor provided you the reference, expect to hear a glowing review. Do your homework and find a few companies that were not included as part of the vendor’s references.

Project Timeline

Request a tentative project schedule and roadmap. This information can be used when speaking with client references to determine how the timeline compares with similar project implementations. References will also provide clues on the complexity of their DAM solution and perhaps how difficult it will be to maintain after launch.


Have the vendor describe the makeup of the team that would be assigned to this project, including titles, years with the company, role on this project, number of projects they work on simultaneously, and percent of time dedicated to your project.


Find out from the vendor all closed and pending litigation they were involved in in the last five years.

Plaintiff Defendant Filing Date Court Docket Number Claim Amount Status Closed Nature of Litigation


Use the information above to narrow down the vendor short list to two-three vendors that might be the right fit for your company.

Fourth Filter: The Bake-Off

Invite the top two or three vendors to participate in an on-site head-to-head proof of concept (POC) bake-off demonstration at no charge. Pick one of the use cases for the bake-off. Make sure the vendor uses your real data. Don’t let the vendors use canned data. This will demonstrate how the vendor’s solution meets your needs.

Use a group of test users at your organization to test out the vendor’s POC solution. I like to pick the toughest critic in the office: they'll provide brutally honest feedback about the solution and will help guide the decision making process. One of the best ways to score the bake-off is to have the participant answer a survey about their experience. The answers from the survey usually identify a clear winner.

And the Winner Is ....

The winner is everyone! By taking the time to select the right vendor, everyone wins. Vendor evaluations are not quick or easy. If you are uncomfortable with the process, seek out a consultant to help you conduct a proper evaluation. Good or bad, this is a decision that you will need to live with for many years. A DAM is an expensive investment, so spend the time to make the right damn decision!