Paul Boag wrote an article a while back entitled "The 5 hidden costs of running a CMS" over on Vitamin/Carsonified and I really thought it was a useful item to ponder over as a CMS user. Then I thought, "This totally applies to digital asset management software as well, somebody should write up the same thing for DAM." So here goes (with all due respect to Mr. Boag).

The ever burgeoning amount of digital items generated by a person or company is quickly outgrowing our ability to handle and track them. These assets (digital images, designs, layouts, training clips, music tracks, digital videos, presentations, documents...) are quickly filling up our CDs, DVDs, Blu-Rays, external drives and server space and we likely don't have any idea where a particular file might be, much less have any useful information attached to it. We may well be recreating assets that we have lost or don't know exist in some other division of the company. So we naturally turn to digital asset management (DAM) software and hope it will streamline and organize our work.

Besides the initial price tag, there is a lot more to consider when making a DAM investment and achieving a successful implementation:

  1. The cost of training
  2. The cost of ingestion
  3. The cost to quality
  4. The cost to functionality
  5. The cost of redundancy and flexibility
  6. The cost of commitment

Let's take a closer look at each of the six cost areas.

1) The Cost of Training

Training consumes a lot of time. So many users, so many roles, so many different groups to train. Super users, core users, editors, viewers, not to mention the Help Desk staff... Brand managers, salespeople, graphic artists, marketing, legal... At times it seems it will never end. And it won't. People will leave, new people will arrive, partners will come on board, and depart, and somebody will have to keep track of it all and make sure the users know what they are doing and where to properly do it.

Is the user manual well-written for every user type or do you require a custom "quick start" guide that covers all the basics for each group or role? What about creating a screencast for each role as well? How many languages do your materials need to support? These training questions (and many others) may change from client to client, from project to project, so make sure you have the capacity to keep up with the needs of your users.

2) The Cost of Ingestion

Who is going to upload your assets? Who is going to attach metadata to all the assets? This is always a surprise once the system is chosen and finally installed. No matter how much it is discussed in the planning phase, the reality doesn't hit until the DAM is launched and the core users start uploading the assets. "Hey, this takes a lot of time! I thought this was going to save me time!"

Many systems allow you to attach a drive and ingest gigabytes or terabytes in short order. While this seems like a time- and money-saver, keep in mind that these should all be clean, approved assets (not just a dump-and-index-it-later process (see 'quality' below) as that tends to never happen) and your DAM system needs time to actually index the assets, the metadata, and generate thumbnails and previews (I've seen 100,000+ assets take almost a full WEEK to process).

Even more surprising is that if your DAM tool supports multiple languages it probably requires a person to sit down and translate the metadata labels (likely just a few times) and contents (all the time, for every asset). People seem to expect there to be a magic "translate" button in the software that will just know how to decipher all their special lingo and naming conventions, but guess what? It'll probably take real human time and knowledge.

3) The Cost to Quality

The complexity of the DAM is largely related to the price of the package as the low-end solutions typically do not have such things as an approval process or workflows. Perhaps they cannot allow you to be as granular as you need when doling out privileges and permissions (they are grouped together, for example). This poses the question of who adds assets and who approves them for general consumption and where are they stored in the system.