Becoming aware of an issue is one thing. Choosing a solution is another. Once you're aware of how crucial Digital Asset Management, or DAM, is to your organization, you have the fun of trying to sort out which software offerings on the market really are DAM solutions and which suit your particular needs.

DAMs in General

In the white paper Guidelines for Evaluating Digital Asset Management (DAM) Solutions from Interwoven (news, site), the author lists what should be a familiar set of steps for evaluating a DAM solution for anyone who's evaluated a CMS:

  1. Set goals and expectations
  2. Identify critical features
  3. Select a vendor

When it comes to features, in the white paper Best Practices in Selecting a Digital Asset Management (DAM) Solution, Mary Henry, CIO of ASAP!Jack, points out that just like the CMS world, most DAM solutions offer a fairly comparable list of common features, such as:

  • Low-resolution thumbnails
  • A visual asset browser
  • Meta-data/keyword asset search

The following questions will help you sort through the rest.

1. What are your goals and expectations for this project?

Without a clear view of what you want to accomplish with your DAM, you're a bit too much like the Titanic steaming toward its fateful encounter with an iceberg. And just like its captain, you won't know you're in trouble until you hit.

In many cases a DAM is organization-wide, so be sure that those defining what is needed span as many departments as possible with a strong project manager in the kitchen to prevent the effort from collapsing under the weight of too many cooks. You'll need both a short-term and long-term view.

There are experienced firms that can help with this process if an outside guiding hand is needed. Often using one can make things move much faster with less false starts and dead ends.

One thing the Interwoven white paper warns of is scope creep. The project manager(s) will have to ensure that there are boundaries for the initial launch so that you can have it up and running sometime this century, and so that you can work out the kinks with a subset of your staff before unleashing it on the whole company.

2. Will the vendor help you meld the solution into your organization?

Henry suggests focusing on vendors that will "identify and address the critical concerns of each business unit, department, and function to create a comprehensive solution."

The key, she says, is that whatever DAM solution you choose must become a sustainable part of your organization's workflow and processes. "The reality is that digital asset management is not a one-time event," she says, "but rather an ongoing process -- a process that your people must embrace, adopt and pursue."

A turnkey solution won't provide what you need. The DAM software and processes must be melded into your organization, and your organization must be melded to integrate the solution into everything they do. Otherwise you're wasting money both on not properly handling your digital assets, but also on software that's not giving you any ROI.

3. Does the solution meet your basic technological needs?

In the same whitepaper, Henry points out technology areas where you do need to double-check the solution against your organization. Ask yourself if a solution supports:

  • The operating systems used within your organization -- Any OS not supported will result in someone producing or retrieving assets without going through your DAM system, which negates the whole point of having it.
  • Files of the number, size and formats you generate  - If you have an animation render farm, file size is a non-trivial issue.
  • The web browsers being used within your organization -- If not, and the DAM solution has a web client, you've got the same problem you have with unsupported OS's.
  • The number of users and administrators at various levels that you need to involve.
  • Other infrastructure components the DAM may need to integrate with (your web CMS and so on).

4. Does the solution have the critical features you require?

According to Henry, the four major feature approaches taken by DAMs:

  1. Cataloging: The DAM as a giant media catalog with a searchable, indexed database. May not actually manage the assets themselves.
  2. Asset Repositories: The DAM as a secure storage repository for your assets. Requires people to download the asset to manipulate it, potentially resulting in different versions all over the place.
  3. Hybrid: A combination of Cataloging and Asset Repositories, gathering all of your assets in one central, virtual repository that can be accessed from various networks.
  4. Customized Solution: Some DAM solutions have to be customized to a high degree to do what you want to do. Henry warns not to find out after you purchase the product that the demo you watched requires extensive, expensive customization, and to "make sure you understand what support, maintenance and upgrade commitments come with your customized product."

Other features Henry suggests thinking about are:

  • Do you need to provide access for staff flung across geographic locations? If so, look for a solution that offers central, web-based asset location.
  • Do you want your staff to be able to quickly access assets over the Internet rather than waiting for files to be shipped on digital media? Are you having problems responding quickly enough to customers, sales, channel partners or media outlets? If so, look for a solution that offers global, 24/7 access.
  • Do you want your DAM system to not only manage your assets, but also help "track and facilitate the production of digital assets among a tightly knit group of co-workers?" If so, look for a solution with strong collaboration features.
  • Is one of your goals for your DAM system to help you manage your brand consistency and messaging? If so, look for a solution with strong brand management features.
  • Do you want to free up your web team from having to spend so much time updating your online assets? Look for a solution that offers automated updating of your sites.

5. Do you want to purchase and maintain the software for your DAM solution, or go with on-demand?

Depending on how extensive a solution you need, and how customized to your specific business, you may be able to choose the lower-cost option of a hosted DAM solution rather than purchasing and maintaining your own.

Be sure to consider the legal issues of having your assets stored by an off-site entity. You may have certain assets that regulations or other concerns prevent you from placing under someone else's care.

6. How customizable is the solution you're considering?

As discussed earlier, DAM is one of those areas where you will have to customize any solution you choose in order to tailor it to your company's needs. When evaluating a DAM solution, be sure to investigate what's involved in the types of customizations you and your administrators will need to do.

Really? Is It Worth It?

If you do your homework, your DAM should streamline your organization and leave you in a much nimbler and more knowledgeable situation than you were in before. Think of the DAM as your newer, bigger, faster brain. So yes, it's definitely worth the effort.

For more, read the two referenced white papers in full: