A decade ago, the industry was vigorously pursuing the Holy Grail of enterprise content management (ECM). The basic premise: one content repository to serve as the home for all content within an organization. We now know this approach doesn’t work for web content management (WCM) systems because they have very specialized requirements and need to evolve quickly to keep up with technology.

These characteristics don’t apply to most digital asset management (DAM)needs, yet people are still struggling with their DAM requirements.

Platform vendors poured resources into building WCM into their platforms with only cursory attention to DAM features. Even so, there are a large number of platform vendors with a set of DAM features that are good enough for most organizations.

When trying to decide whether to go with a pure play DAM system versus a content management system (CMS) platform, ask yourself if rich media like video, audio and image files is your business or just part of doing business.

Drawing the DAM Line

There are two types of organizations that use rich media: those whose core businesses involve collecting, developing and delivering rich media, like news channels, entertainment companies and advertising agencies, and then there is everyone else.

Let’s take my company, Alfresco, as an example of everyone else. We have images we use for presentations, websites and proposals. We have to manage a slide library to help people readily construct presentations using preapproved messaging. There is also a need to manage video and audio from both meetings and client interviews for use in product management and marketing. We use a lot of rich media, but it is not part of our core business.

When you look at the average DAM system out there, it is loaded with features. Alfresco wouldn't use most of those features, regardless of how cool they are. They aren't required to get the job done. In addition, by using an external system, there is just one more application that has to be managed and learned by staff.

It just doesn't make sense.

Common Features

For most organizations, the features required aren't that complicated. They need metadata templates for digital assets that capture the unique data to those file types, like resolution. This isn't any different from the metadata requirements for storing email.

Learning Opportunities

The need for media transformation is an important requirement. People may not have the proper tools on their desktop, so being able to request different sizes and resolutions of a particular digital asset is a key requirement. Many DAM systems handle this by taking advantage of a third party tool to perform the transformations. That is the same process all content management vendors take when creating the ever-present PDF rendition of the Word document. It is the same process with different file types.

Once all the content is loaded, tagged and transformed, people have to be able to find it easily. This requires a simple interface. A basic slideshow view, such as the one Google and Apple employ everywhere, works very well. Making things easy for the user to search and then browse the results is a critical feature.

No One Answer

If our collective experience in this industry has taught us anything, it is that no single answer applies to everyone. When choosing a direction, don’t focus on the flash. Focus on what you actually need and make sure it is usable.

Sure that brand new feature in the leading DAM option looks nice, but do you need it? Do you need to track the digital rights for every piece of content and enforce it — or can you get by with some basic tracking fields? What depth of storyboarding do you need for videos?

If you are a department that works with rich media as part of a larger organization, then the features, convenience and easier integrations that come with a larger CMS are likely ideal. If your entire organization lives and breathes rich media, then the pure-play DAM system may still be your best bet for years to come.

Editor's Note: We welcome back Laurence to our list of regular contributors. Catch up on some of his earlier writings in The Cloud, Making Content Management Omnipresent