sheep on a steep path
Digital assets travel a long path from inception to delivery that requires proper management along the way PHOTO: umer malik

Information management crosses boundaries. A lot of them, in fact: from economic sectors and industry verticals to organizational divisions, departments, functions and teams. 

However, the basic principles of effective information management remain evergreen. 

The art and science of managing information within different industries has resulted in some domain-specific practices worthy of study and adaptation. But when managing a digital asset collection (or any type of data or content) some enduring truths remain, independent of software categories and the systems used to manage them. 

Before we get to those specific truths, understand the most important one: like most things worth doing, managing digital asset collections effectively on an enterprise scale requires significant effort.

Setting the Right DAM Expectations

Believing you can just procure a digital asset management (DAM) system (substitute MAM, CMS, PIM, MDM ... take your pick), toss digital assets into it and voila!, the system will manage them for you with minimal attention is a sure-fire way to guarantee your meticulously developed return on investment calculation you presented to your leadership team will not be realized. 

The speed, agility and analytics you promised to deliver your CMO as part of your DAM initiative will remain elusive. 

After the pain of an expensive implementation that blew budgets, timelines and resources, some will blame the software or the vendor. Maybe the interface was too complex. The vendor over-promised. Or maybe the project management methodology was ill-suited to the task?

Regardless of who or what gets blamed for a failed DAM initiative, understanding the minimum viable care required to manage a collection of digital assets effectively within a DAM system is the solution to this unfortunate — but preventable — expectations gap. 

Make no mistake — for digital files to become digital assets that increase in value over time, you must first understand and set the appropriate expectations with both leadership and stakeholders that DAM systems are in no way, no how, a “set it and forget it” solution. Digital assets need continuous management and the same valuation that financial and transactional data receive.

The Path to Digital Asset Nirvana

At its essence, a DAM system is a multimedia database. Behind that sleek interface lives a system that, although complex, follows the basic laws of information retrieval systems. 

Managing digital assets within these systems requires understanding both the foundational elements that make it possible to effectively retrieve information and what supports the effective curation of digital assets throughout their lifecycle.

Companies now create and distribute digital assets to an insane amount of channels at an unprecedented volume and velocity. But a few things need to happen before you can measure asset performance within these channels — and every step builds on another.

Appropriate distribution, transcoding, transformation (and possibly localization) makes asset distribution possible. But for this to happen, you must first find (a.k.a. “retrieve” or “discover”) the assets. And in order to find them, someone needs to accurately describe them (a.k.a. “tag,” “catalog” or “index”). 

Think of each asset as a cocoon, wrapped in descriptive, technical, structural, workflow, rights and preservation metadata. 

But everyone doesn't necessarily have access to every asset. To make sure only the people who should find an asset do find the asset, assign the appropriate levels of access and permission. Once people find the appropriate assets, the system should surface the accurate rights management metadata so they know when, where and how they can legally use the assets. To do that, asset permissions, restrictions and obligations must have previously been documented, abstracted, standardized and made accessible.

We're Not Done Yet 

Before you can document assets, assets must be properly ingested and backed up. 

And before that? Someone must round up, centralize and prioritize the assets. 

And let's not forget about the process of creating those assets — DAM plays a critical role in Creative Operations as well. 

Hopefully before assets arrive at the door of your DAM system, they went through a structured review and approval workflow, where they’ve already acquired some of that valuable metadata.

After assets have outlived their value as “active” content, it’s then time to prioritize and classify them again so you don’t end up burying useful assets or neglecting the wisdom of your elderly assets — if only one had the time to listen to them! 

Don't relegate archival assets to the digital asset cemetery: they represent a gold mine waiting to be repurposed for the next appropriate marketing campaign or anniversary. Actively manage, migrate and check those historical assets for integrity within a digital archive or preservation system — or at least continue to make them accessible through cold storage. 

The takeaway? Digital assets have a continuous lifecycle. Managing digital collections effectively requires active, continuous curation — a DAM system is only a tool to facilitate this. 

In my next article, I'll delve further into the basic principles and requirements involved in managing collections of digital assets within a DAM or other information system.