There was a time when DAM was the dominion of marketing departments, but today every area of a business creates and needs access to digital assets. Unfortunately, the way most enterprises implement DAM Systems are falling short of meeting employee's needs.

If there is one thing we can count on the enterprise for, it is the creation of content. Lots and lots of content. So much content, in fact, that an entire discipline sprung up to manage all of the content. In the enterprise, we call it enterprise content management (ECM). Elsewhere, it is known as digital asset management (DAM).

In the early days we had silos, ECM was for people who needed to get things done and DAM ... well, for the most part this was relegated to marketing, communication and sales teams -- you know those non-productive pieces of the businesses that we tolerate because we have to in IT!

There was a time when DAM was the dominion of marketing departments -- used to track assets like logos and stock photography. Today, however, virtually every department produces and must manage digital assets, which can be as diverse as photographs, graphics, illustration, audio and video content, and a sundry of other media.

These assets need to come out of the silos and be accessible to all -- think of that power user who just wants to build a good deck for a sales call -- empower that worker!

Traditionally, each department managed its own digital assets. The approach was disjointed and the results inconsistent. DAM systems were designed to create order from the chaos, centralizing content and making it more accessible enterprise-wide. At their best, DAM systems do just that, saving time, increasing accountability and productivity, and ensuring that assets are used to their full potential.

Sadly, DAM systems are rarely implemented at their best. We can do better. And the first step is to understand where today’s DAM systems fall short.


Many of today’s DAM systems are difficult to link with centralized work portals. Rather than consolidating content, they create new (and regrettably effective) silos. Without a truly centralized and unifying approach, DAM solutions suffer weak adoption rates and fail to have a meaningful impact on the way that digital assets are managed.


DAM systems also suffer under the measure of findability. What good is a robust, up-to-date DAM system if users can’t easily find assets within it when they need them? While some of this can be attributed to the quality of metadata (which is varied at best), greater responsibility falls to the DAM system itself. Findability is the only way to keep assets from disappearing into the DAM equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle.

User Experience

You know I’m not going to miss an opportunity to talk about the importance of user experience (UX). UX is particularly significant in this context because, frankly, when it comes to DAM systems, UX is frequently poor. Users must repeatedly switch between tools as they move through the workflow. Task completion entails too many steps and takes far too long. The system that is supposed to make it easy to manage assets is just too hard to use.

Building a Better DAM

So how do we overcome these DAM system challenges? We’re going to have to make a number of changes in the way we implement them.

First and foremost, integrate everything. And by that, I mean everything. It requires an investment, but integration creates dynamic digital workspaces that incorporate all of the DAM tools that your team needs to get its work done. Integration demystifies the document management process, decreases hassle for your team, and saves significant time -- ultimately increasing productivity and ROI.

Second, invest in proven search technology. It has been slow going, but enterprise search has made huge leaps in recent years. Thanks to this technology, employees can search across multiple platforms, finally breaking down the silos that have historically plagued DAM systems. The best search technologies index a huge variety of interactions, making posts, digital conversations and even team members searchable. The depth of this type of search creates an impressively growing landscape of digital assets, ensuring that DAM systems aren't missing essential information.

Finally, give the gift of better UX. We can close the gap between the UX of consumer and enterprise tools by demanding better UX. Imagine how much more effective your DAM system would be if your employees found it as easy to use as their smartphones. One way to get there is to design systems with the average end user in mind.

It is a stunningly simple concept, but all too often the process of research and evaluation of new DAM systems is left solely to IT teams. There’s just one problem. When a new system is implemented by a team of experts, it is generally designed to meet the needs of experts. But what about your average end user? For adoption, it is critical that the average end user find a DAM system intuitive and responsive. He or she cares a whole lot less about the bells and whistles and whole lot more about how easy or hard it is to find digital assets when he or she needs them.

When it comes to DAM systems, the challenges are clear, but fortunately the solutions are too. We can do better, and in the process we can push the enterprise forward in an important direction.

Title image courtesy of Photosani (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Kevin cares about user experience. To read more of his thoughts, see his Where Does Good User Experience Come From?