scene from a golf course
DAM product selection suffers from some bad stereotypes PHOTO: Edewaa Foster

When I first became involved in software sales someone advised me to take up golf, as “most enterprise business deals are made on the golf course.”

Whether or not this is (or ever was) true, this stereotype highlights a common problem in enterprise IT procurement: decisions made at the executive level with inadequate involvement of the people who have to use the software.

A Recipe for Shadow IT

It’s a familiar story, and one I heard again recently from a digital asset manager working at a well-known global manufacturer of skincare products. IT procurement selected an ECM and rolled it out across the organization after only cursory involvement from end-users. 

The marketing team gamely tried to use the ECM to manage its digital assets and found the one-size-fits-all nature of the software didn't suit their requirements. So they went under the radar of the IT team and bought a cloud-based DAM solution.

At first, this worked well for the marketing team. They had a solution designed specifically for the kind of problems they needed to solve when managing digital assets: image and video manipulation, approval workflows — and, often most importantly, a design-led approach to the user experience (UX). 

(An aside: It's uninspiring using many enterprise solutions, especially compared with what’s now normal for consumer-facing platforms. The visual design and UX can make or break the adoption of software, especially for users whose jobs involve caring about branding and images.)

You can probably guess what happened next: problems arose. 

The software wasn't truly scalable and performance became an issue. Teams in other departments started using a different solution — it’s not uncommon to see upward of five different DAM solutions in use across a large organization — and so the assets became siloed and guarded jealously in the marketing department. People in other teams found it hard to get hold of them and to use the DAM functionality for non-marketing purposes.

The Crux of the Enterprise DAM Problem

That a generic ECM solution failed to impress marketing and branding teams probably isn’t news to anyone. But what if that organization adopted a truly enterprise-scale DAM application?

One problem is defining what this even means. A search for “enterprise digital asset management” in Google presents a large number of DAM solutions, many stretching the definition of “enterprise.” Let’s agree that at minimum, an enterprise DAM system needs to provide the performance, scalability, robustness and flexibility for it to be rolled out for use 24/7 across a multinational organization. 

How many DAM products can be described as truly enterprise-scale? The truth: not many.

The DAM market is fragmented and saturated with fairly small vendors who target marketing and branding teams as these teams tend to manage many of an organization’s digital assets (at least, the most obvious ones,) and the requirements for managing marketing assets tend to be similar across all organization (so out-of-the-box solutions are a good fit).

This gets to the crux of the problem enterprises face: one-size-fits-all DAM solutions do not really work across an enterprise. Just as different organizations have different requirements, so do different teams. Yes, everyone needs core DAM functionality — uploading, tagging, searching etc — but almost every team in every organization has business workflows that are specific to them.

Moving DAM Beyond the Marketing Pigeonhole

So how do we move beyond seeing DAM as solely in the domain of the marketing and branding teams?

We need to stop thinking of DAM solutions as these generic, monolithic systems that do not reflect or support the way people work. Digital assets are everywhere, and digital asset management is happening across the entire enterprise, whether properly organized or not. 

DAM platforms should be ubiquitous, supporting all business processes and embedded within most other applications.

Rather than thinking of digital asset management as starting with a user uploading a file to “the DAM system,” applications should support what people need to do at the very start of the asset lifecycle, and maintain and store all the information generated along the way. 

This concept of digital asset supply chains is gaining traction, and, if implemented properly, could transform the user experience, as well as reducing the drudgery involved in tagging an asset with metadata just before it is uploaded and archived.

Technological trends will help: the popularity of cloud services, microservices and the REST/JavaScript revolution means service-oriented architectures are the norm. Monolithic applications with a single user interface are out. Platforms serving multiple, bespoke front-ends are in.

Skip the Golf Course

We also need to shift thinking away from IT procurement thinking “which enterprise solution do we need?” to focusing on the needs of the users first. Choosing a solution should be one of the last steps. 

We don’t need long discovery projects either: agile and lean techniques such as Story Mapping and iterative delivery can ensure that value is delivered quickly, and user feedback is incorporated into future projects.

So step out of the golf cart, ditch the plaid pants and think twice before signing up for those golf lessons. You’ll be better off finding out where actual users spend their time. The pub after work perhaps?