Among the questions those new to digital asset management ask most is perhaps the most obvious question imaginable: What should I put into my DAM?

The correct answer is that it depends on the policies you’ve developed to govern your DAM. Just like it depends on your goals. And it depends also on the types of assets you want in your DAM. In fact, it depends on all sorts of things that won’t get you any closer to making a decision about what to do with a file that’s beneath your mouse pointer at any given moment.

I decided to cut through these official (safe) responses and get to the meat of some tangible recommendations. Should you adopt any or all of these recommendations? That depends on your policies, goals, assets, zodiac sign and drag name, which can be derived by concatenating the name of your first pet with the name of the street on which you first lived.

Carefully Defining 'Digital Asset'

The term “digital asset” is not well defined. Some say a digital asset is a file that has been enriched with metadata that gives it context. This definition is not only boring, it’s outdated. It’s something we used to say more than a decade ago when we were still trying to sell people on the value of metadata.

In fact, a digital asset can have absolutely no metadata and still be considered an asset. Imagine a hard drive full of concept drawings of the next version of the iPhone, none of which contain any metadata. Are those files not digital assets? And what about all that data lost in the Sony breach? I think it’s safe to say that was a theft of digital assets that contained no metadata or context whatsoever, save for what could be derived from some file names.

Others say a digital asset is any file that can serve as a source of revenue for the organization. This is certainly a definition that neatly parallels the notion of a financial asset. But it’s really too limited a definition to apply to all organizations.

Some people think that everything belongs in your DAM, digital asset or otherwise. Elizabeth Keathley, author of "Digital Asset Management: Content Architectures, Project Management, and Creating Order out of Media Chaos," is one of those people.

“DAM all the things except hand-written notes!” she told me. “Connect all databases and build a Death Star of Big Data and original sources.”

I define a digital asset as a file that, if lost or erroneously released, would cost the organization some measure of embarrassment, or financial or legal hardship. In other words, I define the term from the perspective of loss of value rather than gain of value.

Consider next month’s press release. Until it’s released, the actual value of that release is limited to the time required to write, edit and approve it. If you lost the release, you’d have to write, edit and approve it all over again. How much could that possible cost -- maybe a thousand or two in lost productivity? Hell, your organization likely loses more than that each day by not blocking Facebook on your network.

On the other hand, if that press release gets leaked ahead of time, giving your competitors a chance to obscure or otherwise weaken your announcement, then you’d have some real loss that would be tough to quantify. That press release is, in fact, a digital asset simply because it exists somewhere, with or without relevant metadata. If mishandled, it becomes a digital liability.

But my definition isn’t complete either. The truth is, there are many factors that determine the meaning of “digital asset” for each organization. And only after defining that term can you decide what belongs in your DAM.

Below are some things to consider when defining “digital asset” for your organization.

The value of reuse

Mark Schumacher, information management specialist for landscape architects, SWA, says that reuse defines what goes into the SWA DAM system.

If we believe we will need to re-use an asset, it belongs in our DAM,” he said. “When we produce files for single, specific uses, or files made up of existing assets, we archive those separately.” Schumacher further explained that SWA doesn’t consider its DAM to be a file repository. “It should be made up of living knowledge for our firm, and nothing more,” he said.

The requirements of compliance

Maybe you work for an organization that self-regulates time periods during which it must maintain certain documents, such as the sales and marketing materials distributed to your partner channel, or the file attachments submitted with tech support requests.

Dedicated records management systems exist for the purpose of managing documents whose use and storage are regulated by law; but for organizations whose content is not governed by such regulations, a DAM might be all that’s needed to satisfy internal content storage policies.

The importance of anywhere access

Another consideration is whether or not other employees, partners or customers need 24/7 access to a file. Even directions to the company picnic might be asset-worthy between now and the date of the picnic, if you would otherwise have to directly distribute that content to 10,000 employees.

The value of an asset doesn’t have to be forever. The value of the big data that routes you away from traffic is decidedly reduced once you arrive at your destination. Just make sure that you clear out old content once it’s no longer of any value. A “Discard By” date field is a good first step toward keeping things tidy.

Dropbox and Google Drive might seem like ideal vehicles for these occasional distributions, but consider the psychological value of teaching your people that all good content comes from the same source -- your DAM. You might not think the company picnic invitation offers much value, but if it gets 10,000 new people to visit your DAM, you might think differently.

The value of an archive

When a DAM’s intended value lies in it becoming a historical archive, the DAM is harder to appreciate when it is new and contains only a few years’ worth of content. Similarly, it can be difficult to appreciate the archival value of all those files on your computer desktop right now. You probably mean to do something with them, but it won’t break your heart if your hard drive fails before you get around to it. After all, they’re just display banners for an advertising campaign that will be forgotten in two months.

You might judge advertising materials today by the revenue a campaign generates, but this is not how tomorrow’s marketers will judge that content. Long after the annual report has been archived, there will be marketers wondering what has already been tried and what worked. You could archive those display ads and make some notes about performance. Suddenly, those previously disposable ads offer some real historic value.

And even a failed advertising campaign provides significant value when it’s 50 years old.

The cost of storage

Perhaps the worst determination about what goes into your DAM is the cost of storage space. This concern influences Cloud DAM customers much more than it does those with on-premises systems, but I’ve seen it considered all across the board.

When storage cost trumps content policy as a determining factor, you have users making what could be horrible decisions. “You told me not to upload anything larger than 50MB, and the video footage we shot was always larger than that. I thought IT backed up my computer every night? Gee, I’m super sorry that I didn’t think about this before we reformatted my hard drive.”

Define your policy

As a reminder, what goes into your DAM is (or should be) controlled by policy that’s agreed upon by those at your organization who have some stake in the preservation, management and re-use of your content. As a rule of thumb for creating that policy, just think about each class content you create and ask yourself, “if this content was lost or erroneously released, would it cost my organization some measure of embarrassment, or financial or legal hardship?”

It’s not a perfect definition to control what you should put into your DAM, but it’s a good start.

Title image by Grigvovan / Shutterstock.com