This time of year is often a popular period for prospective and existing Digital Asset Management users to consider investing in a new system. Anyone who is faced with this task has a bewildering array of choices with hundreds of vendors across a whole spectrum of functionality and significant overlap between them. DAM software is getting ever more versatile and with increased sophistication comes greater complexity for buyers when it comes to comparing options.

What Is Wrong With DAM Systems Now?

shutterstock_94689418.jpgAs they review DAM systems, many end users are likely to find themselves wanting to take a feature from one tool but a different element from another. Right now in 2013, that is impractical because the majority are incompatible unless end users are prepared to implement multiple tools and try to integrate them using whatever API or scripting features that each has available. They are more like "DAM Islands" with limited connectivity between other software destinations that users wish to travel to.

Many vendors want to land grab market share by attempting to cover every conceivable need. They all want to ensure that their system isn’t the one that fails to "tick all the boxes" -- to use that fateful expression which has explained away a multitude of enterprise software purchasing sins.

From an industry perspective, this is unsustainable. Large portions of the time invested into DAM development is spent simply replicating competitor features. Each vendor's take on a given requirement is different from all the rest, sometimes markedly, on other occasions it is practically identical.

This amounts to a massive industry-wide duplication of effort which ultimately hinders innovation as vendors have to constantly divide their attention across an ever-expanding range of end user problems.

At present, the DAM industry is in a boom period because of both a wider post-dotcom trend towards all things internet related combined with the growth in media origination devices like digital cameras etc. Before long, the market will begin to fully mature and a period of consolidation and cost competition may start -- this has arguably already commenced.

As these growth trends start to complete their cycle, the boom will level off. We might avoid a bust, but given the wider austere economic environment, it is unrealistic to expect end users to be able to keep subsidizing the scale of the current cost-duplication involved in the DAM software market.

Editor's Note: To read a longer version of this article, see The Digital Asset Management Value Chain: The Future Direction Of DAM In 2013 And Beyond

The DAM Value Chain - The Whole Is Bigger Than The Sum Of Its Parts

There are two key elements to understanding exactly what the DAM Value Chain is:

  1. Digital assets are more than just files. It is the other management related activities, for example, cataloging them with metadata, which transform a binary object (file) into an asset.
  2. Digital Asset Management collectively describes different activities which users carry out upon assets. Sometimes these will take place in proximity to each other, others may be carried out independently and by different individuals.

If you stop looking at DAM as a single system supplied by one provider and instead consider it as a series of process where value gets added by many different contributors, this is closer to how DAM Value Chains could operate.

Many DAM vendors implicitly grasp this fact already. Very few (probably none) will develop every single software component supplied to end users themselves. Most will make use of sub-systems from OEM third parties or open source projects and then integrate them to add value.

This is basic good business sense because you can't economically deliver a working product if you have to invent everything from scratch. It's the same principle that car manufacturers employ when they source tires, headlamps, radios, etc., from someone else.

The DAM Value Chain takes that approach and further de-constructs it so that it is easier for end users to re-model the components that add value to digital assets themselves in a way that more precisely matches their exact needs.

What vendors get out of it is the opportunity to focus their efforts on a tighter range of requirements so they can reduce the time (and cost) spent keeping up with a sprawling neighborhood of other DAM vendors.

The Cloud Makes the DAM Value Chain Achievable

As software moves towards a fully on-line distribution model, the DAM Value Chain becomes a more practical proposition. Both IT departments and end users are growing increasingly comfortable with using Cloud based solutions to either scale up or take advantage of services they previously might have lacked the capital expenditure budgets to afford. These trends will spur the development of DAM Value Chains.

Who Will Provide The DAM Value Chain?

As should be clear, there are two aspects to this value chain concept. The first is easier to understand and is the different service nodes that add value to media in order to transform them into assets. The second is the chain itself -- the means by which an asset traverses between value added service providers.

What is under discussion is an integration framework that uses the existing lower level TCP/IP internet protocol (aka 'Cloud') at its core but also a virtual distributed application infrastructure where everyone who participates agrees a common series of conventions to allow them to exchange data. It needs to be more developed than something relatively low-level and open-ended like XML or REST but still sufficiently scalable to handle the wide variations in functional requirements that characterise modern DAM systems.