Digital Asset Management as a Medication

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The software industry offers so many solutions for so many problems, you’d think you could succeed in business without any training or talent whatsoever. No matter what goes wrong, someone offers a cure.

Among those cure-alls is digital asset management software. Many DAM vendors try to package up DAM as a knight in shining armor that’s a simple double-click away from cleaning up the mess it took you and your coworkers years to make. It’s not your fault, they tell you, it’s society. We’re under stress and pressures that leave us with absolutely no time to do the things we love, like managing digital assets. Fortunately, now there’s a solution!

No there isn’t.

In fact, let’s do away with the term “DAM solution” entirely, as it pertains to DAM software. There is no such thing. DAM software is little more than a dangerous over-the-counter drug. The cure comes only from joint cooperation between you, the patient, and your physicians, your DAM advisors.

Drug Makers Want to Sell, Sell, Sell

There is justified criticism at the notion of advertising medication. On the one hand, any business should be able to advertise its products. On the other, isn’t advertising supposed to make us want something whether we need it or not? I sometimes feel gypped by not having high cholesterol only because the cure seems to lead to such a wonderful, healthy lifestyle that includes the world’s only Labrador puppy that neither poops nor sheds.

The loudest voices in Digital Asset Management are without a doubt DAM vendors, each with something to sell, and each with reasons for why you need what they’re selling. Vendors make their cases by reminding you (over and over) about all of the time and money you’ll save using DAM. They often explain this “simple” concept using a colorful infographic that goes something like this:

DAM will save your designers an average of 21 hours per week. Multiply that by the hourly cost of a designer, and that’s an annual savings to you of more than $4.3 billion dollars!”

Wow, that sounds absolutely amazing. Forget all the missing factual stuff, like whose designers are making seven-figure salaries, or who employs tens of thousands of designers. The infographic looks so nice! How wrong could it be? And once it’s been shared a few dozen times across social media, then you have what appears to be a fact -- you know, more or less.

Symptoms Can’t Always Be Trusted

Do you need to save time and money? Do you want to make things easier? Are mistakes costly to you? Is it important for you to avoid legal troubles? Of course -- everyone wants these things. And in some cases, DAM can deliver on some or even all of these conventional DAM promises. But these same points also describe the need for keyless deadbolt door locks you can control with a smartphone. In fact, these “pain points” are so generic, they could be used to sell virtually anything.

When you think about what you need with regard to managing digital content, think also about why you need it. For example, if file management is taking too much time and costing you too much money, the reason might be more about bad policy than lack of DAM software. (More on that in “Are You Ready for Digital Asset Management?”)

I once asked en emergency room physician what percentage of her cases were the result of people doing stupid things. She smiled and guessed that more than 90 percent of her workday was spent patching up people’s bad decisions. Reverse engineer ER Medicine and you’ll find that prevention is the best cure. Wear a seatbelt and don’t speed; don’t take drugs or drink too much; wear protective clothing when doing dangerous work; don’t dive into shallow water, etc. All virtually meaningless phrases to us until we’re on the other end of the ER visit.

The same can be said for DAM. In truth, all DAM software does is help you refine your practices for managing content, and then make it easier to adhere to those policies. Sure, you can quickly find files in a DAM, but you can also quickly find files using other options. Finding files fast is no longer a motivation for buying DAM software because it’s no longer a trait unique to DAM software. In fact, a poorly configured DAM can make finding files almost impossible.

DAM reminds you to buckle up, slow down, put on those goggles, etc. It helps you enforce good policies and practices, and it can help you determine where policy breakdowns exist so you can improve them. But it does none of these things for you.

And despite what you hear from DAM vendors, any breakdown of these policies and practices actually is your fault. If you write your PIN on your ATM card, and you leave that card in the ATM, what can you expect? I know, I know, the bank should be able to know it’s you based on -- I don’t know -- the way you wear your hair or the temperature of your index finger. There’s always something more that someone else should be doing.

Think about all the reasons you need DAM. Maybe you’re too quick to play connect-the-dots between internal dysfunctions and DAM vendor promises. Don’t seek DAM software to make you look like a hero at work. Become a hero by manually tackling the problems you think DAM will solve. Once you get those issues under control, the introduction of DAM software will be easier, less expensive and it will help you maintain that new order.

Choosing DAM software before you adequately determine your needs and fully understand your expectations is like Web shopping for medication to cure a condition that hasn’t yet been diagnosed. Your DAM software, like your medication, should be prescribed by someone with experience, only after a consultation with you to determine exactly where it hurts.

No matter how much time you think you’re wasting now, it’s nothing by comparison to the time you’ll be wasting if you try to self-medicate using DAM.

Title image by Taki Steve (Flickr) via a CC BY 2.0 license