Ed Smith recently wrote an article for CMSWire, "My Other DAM is a Self-Service Intranet Portal," comparing DAM systems to self-service petrol stations where drivers can fill up their cars themselves. While Ed makes some good points, my own experience suggests that self-service isn't a stop and pump solution. 

The examples Ed has given are all good ones, however, in many cases, the range of functionality that DAM is now being put to are extending beyond simply finding assets. When one gets into MRM, or other more sophisticated asset manipulation activities, the process becomes more complex and that can present some new or unexpected challenges.

Technical or Human Challenges

As a consultant, I sometimes get called in to advise on implementations that aren't delivering the anticipated benefits. On a few occasions, an analysis reveals that it is often that euphemistic "PEBKAC (Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair) fault. At this point, the focus of the engagement shifts from away from technical considerations and towards HR (Human Resources) questions.

So, what how do you recognize those problems and avoid them with your own DAM implementations? The issue that I am talking about was briefly touched on in Ed's article where says:

As one DAM attendant recently bemoaned, 'They need my brain to find anything!'"

Many times I find that what end users really want is a "DAM Servant" rather than a "DAM Service."  I will illustrate this with an example from a client I once worked with.

The firm's staff headcount for the marketing department was already at the limit set by senior managers. Spending on productivity enhancements like software were permitted, but new hires would definitely not get approved. So they commenced a search for some DAM/MRM software that could be deployed to enhance productivity.

The objective was to reduce pressure on mid-managers in head office by enabling more of a self-service approach and to delegate the basic work to local users in regional offices. As well as asset searches for static marketing assets like presentations, brochures, etc, they also required facilities to prepare custom print templates and order promotional merchandise. The solution they decided to go with was a system that provided the "one-stop shop" DAM/MRM feature set they needed.

The vendor appeared to do everything by the book. They had a platform that could handle the majority of the required core functionality with minimal customization. They interviewed all of the key stakeholders in the marketing department. Business rules about workflow were documented in some detail. It all looked like textbook stuff.

A specification of both the configuration and customization needed was presented to the client for approval and feedback and the sign-off was delivered. The shortness of the timeframe between submission and sign-off (two business days) without any suggested amendments by the client was the first indicator of a potential problem.

The software was duly configured, custom changes made and it was rolled out. Training was delivered, but using the "cascade" method where head office staff were instructed on the understanding that they would in turn train each region. This was carried out too, but attendance by end users at workshops was optional (and patchy as a result).

When Self-Service Meets Resistance

As is common with new software, the end users were initially upbeat and eager to try it out. About a month or two afterwards, however, they were complaining about processes taking too long and being over-complex. The vendor and the client were also at loggerheads as the vendor's support helpdesk were inundated with requests for assistance which the vendor claimed were well outside their remit.

It became fairly clear that what the staff really wanted was not really a self-service software system, but a marketing assistant who would do their more mundane marketing work for them. The client had signed-off the implementation without giving due consideration to how it was going to work and the vendor had used prior knowledge of similar solutions to fill in the blanks, with varying degrees of success.

The workflow process for ordering merchandise was set up so that no local office could progress orders without a regional manager verifying them first. This was not a new policy, but previously they used to call someone up to place orders which were recorded on spreadsheets and sent to the supplier. The office managers complained that with the new system, no one responded to their requests. The regional managers protested that they now had more work to do than ever.

The initial complaint we got from the client was that the software was "not user friendly" and was "too complicated."  A more detailed examination suggested that while a few minor aspects could be tweaked and simplified, the problems were not really with the technology.

There was a disconnect between how they had done things before and the new self-service methods. The managers who commissioned the system had unreasonable expectations about how much it would do for them and believe they could just deploy some software which would be an adequate substitute for a real human marketing assistant with no transition plan or timeframe to allow that to occur. They had not adequately assessed how likely staff were to adapt to the new methods of working, especially their resistance to self service.

To resolve these issues, the system was re-launched with a far more in-depth training programme to accompany it. Local users were provided with head office contacts again who agreed to help -- but only for specific tasks over a defined period (not indefinitely). The vendor's helpdesk personnel were also instructed on how the client's business operated so they understood the issues better. This combination of methods helped get the system back on track and beginning to deliver ROI again.

From Digital Assets to Dinner


Returning to Ed's metaphor of filling up your car yourself, I think self-service supermarket checkouts are perhaps a little closer as a comparison and the technique used in their rollout might offer some lessons, too.

When they were first introduced, I was not at all eager to use this technology and I was somewhat suspicious about what benefits they would offer me. I was like the regional staff at the client I referred to earlier.

After a while, however, it became obvious that those who were brave enough to engage with the self-service checkouts were leaving long before other more reticent customers like myself who were still queuing for someone to scan and pack our items. One day, my wife made the highly pertinent observation that considering I spent every working day using computers and technology, perhaps I ought to apply a little of this knowledge to working out these devices so we also could also exit the store more quickly!

After some initial wariness, it seemed easy enough and I now use them regularly. Occasionally, I still need one of the human assistants to help with some controlled item or scanning issue. But if my needs are straightforward I will willingly exchange some modest additional mental effort to checkout myself for the time saved by not needing to queue. I note that many of my fellow shoppers now also do the same. I get a shorter queue time, the supermarket reduces their staff expenditure.

Although simplistic, the self-service checkout example does illustrate a more realistic understanding of how self-service technology can be implemented than the way the DAM/MRM application at my client was handled.

These two examples have some lessons for other self-service DAM initiatives:

  • You must be fully conscious of what you are implementing and review the proposed workflows especially. Operations in your DAM system will be repeated numerous times by end users. Any unnecessary or complex steps will reduce productivity benefits and become frustrating for users.
  • The vendor has experience in implementing their solution, however, they will usually not be experts in the minutiae of how processes work for you specifically. You must ensure they are fully briefed -- including their support staff also.
  • Training is absolutely essential to success and cannot be ignored also you must ensure that users participate in it.
  • Even if there are clear productivity benefits for them, you cannot assume that users will transition overnight from an human assisted to self-service technology. It must be phased in incrementally and accompanied with support from existing staff who have an in-depth knowledge of the assets involved.

Many end users will start out not being fans of a switch to self-service. Most people would prefer someone else to do a mundane task for them. To realise the productivity and ROI benefits of a self-service DAM, you need a phased change management program that clearly demonstrates the advantages for end users and defines realistic objectives to transition towards them.

Image courtesy of Ibooo7 (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: To read more of Naresh's thoughts on digital asset management, why not read Revenue Generation Using Digital Asset Management Solutions