Digital asset management, according to David Diamond’s DAM Survival Guide, is “like dental floss.” If you use it every day, the “long-term benefits are significant,” even though both are inconvenient, tedious and do not display their benefits immediately. 

But reading Diamond’s DAM Survival Guide, now available in a free version through the end of this month courtesy of DAM vendor Picturepark, is not like a trip to dentist. Instead, the PDF, a 100-page selection of the nearly 200-page original that was first released in print form in June, gives a solid, easy-to-read grounding in the basics of DAM systems from the point of view of an organization considering a purchase or an upgrade.

Diamond is head of global marketing for Picturepark and a monthly columnist here at CMSWire.com. He wrote this Guide before he went to work for Picturepark, and the Survival Guide, which is subtitled Digital Asset Management Initiative Planning, is vendor-neutral.

Ground Level

Diamond starts right at ground level, defining DAM with the assistance of metaphors. Comparing digital assets to physical assets, for instance, he points out that, just as FedEx wants to keep continually updated on the whereabouts and other specifics of each truck in its fleet and each physical asset in each truck, organizations want to know the history, current status and future possible use of its images, brochures, media-based releases, videos, presentations, animations and other rich-media assets.

The author notes that DAM frequently refers to the software, while managing digital assets actually requires an overall initiative that also includes needs assessment, requirements, policies, staff resource planning and integration with other systems, in addition to a particular vendor’s software package. The book is focused around how to organize a company’s resources and policies to develop a DAM initiative. One reason among many: how do you determine which person “owns” the rules about an asset?

Diamond also makes a key distinction, too often overlooked, between content and files. While some vendors describe their software as if your content assets were the same as files, Diamond notes that it’s the content lifecycle that’s key. A given InDesign file, its constituent images and its related PDF file might be considered as different files, but the organization is primarily interested in the current version of a brochure that those files represent -- the overall content property. The brochure itself will change over time, living among a variety of files.

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A Few Steps More?

I haven’t read the original, but it would have been helpful if Diamond had here taken the discussion about management of content property a few steps more. A variety of DAM vendors are beginning to address the fact that users should really be focused more on their content and less on the specific files.

Diamond does point out that, in the age of cloud-based systems, the file-shipping and file-location orientation of many DAM systems is beginning to fade away as systems emphasize content over where the files actually live. But how should an organization evaluate the growing trend of content-oriented approaches?

Diamond also notes that metadata embodies the direction established by an organization’s DAM initiative, where policy determines what information about an asset will be specified and preserved in the context of its use as content. An organization will, for instance, set policies about which users can modify which metadata specifics, such as who is in charge of permissions and what permissions the organization is interested in. This results from an assessment of who’s in charge of the content that a given asset addresses, such as a marketing director for assets relating to marketing content.

A DAM Is Not a Thesaurus

Metadata consistency depends on clear taxonomies and controlled vocabularies, both of which Diamond clearly explains. “Don’t let your DAM become a thesaurus,” with multiple listings of similar but slightly different words, he advises. “Offer some structure so that users won’t have to guess what to think.”

The DAM Survival also surveys, in its clear and jargon-less manner, the main areas for DAM assessment and management, including:

  • how to determine the scope of your DAM needs
  • the importance of integration into existing creative and approval workflows, and into other systems
  • the need for APIs on all systems
  • key hardware questions to discuss with IT
  • user account authentication
  • deployment and testing
  • promotion and training for users
  • support
  • issues surrounding ROI determination and cost of ownership  
  • on-premises versus cloud
  • licensing models, including open source
  • standards and file integrity verification
  • vendor considerations
  • migration from an existing DAM system to a new one

Shortchanging the Changing DAM

But, given its emphasis on looking at the whole picture, the abridged version falls short in its distinction between Brand Asset Management, Media Asset Management, Marketing Asset Management, Video Asset Management and other variations. In discussing these, Diamond says simply that DAM “subclasses help vendors and analysts differentiate themselves (or confuse the market into thinking some meaningful differentiation exists), but you can forget about them,” and that everything in the Guide applies “equally to all of it.”

That explanation shortchanges the issue. On the one hand, one could successfully argue that, while video assets have different needs than, say, photos -- different formats, different ways to deliver them to hosting sites -- these are just flavors of digital assets. But there’s clearly a fast-moving evolution taking place in the DAM industry, so much so that it would not surprise me if the DAM industry is something else entirely in a few years. DAM systems are becoming part of systems for marketing asset management, brand asset management and marketing resource management -- how should organizations evaluate the differences in those terms and systems?

And isn’t brand asset management, to take one example, exactly the sort of content-focus management of assets that Diamond supports? If it is, how does it differ from plain vanilla DAM and how should an organization conduct an evaluation?

When North Plains, for instance, recently purchased marketing management and brand asset management software vendor VYRE, it said that the acquisition took it another step beyond the DAM solution it had been offering with its Telescope product, and more towards its goal of becoming a full solution provider of creative asset management.

Best Disclaimer. Ever.

What is an organization to make of North Plains’ offering as a full solution provider -- and how can one distinguish if North Plains offers something that another vendor does not? Is there an advantage in going with a vendor that provides a complete solution, compared to one offering a standalone but integrated DAM? One can expect “full solution providers” to become more prevalent as vendors and organizations increasingly look at the full content needs for owners of creative assets.

Diamond does address integration between a DAM system and others, such as customer relationship management, marketing automation or product information management. But those are clearly separated functions, whereas an assessment of brand asset management or “full creative asset lifecycle,” for instance, could benefit from Diamond’s advice.

Perhaps, in some “Post-Survival Guide,” Diamond will address the ways an organization can better make sense of DAM systems’ evolving role. For the moment, though, this version of the Survival Guide provides an excellent introduction to the basics that would benefit any organization considering getting or upgrading its DAM system.

Finally, this PDF contains one of the best disclaimers in the history of publishing. In addition to being a DAM expert, and the co-founder of the 1980s band Berlin, Diamond is a licensed pilot and contributor to Aviation magazine. The deadpan disclaimer is on firm ground when it directs that readers not plan DAM initiatives “while flying aircraft,” because “doing so can adversely affect the outcome of both activities.” More good advice.