Digital Asset Management: Selecting DAM Solutions
You’re sitting in an IT strategy meeting when suddenly someone says, “We need a DAM project!” Someone else responds “Don’t we already have enough damn projects! Why do we need a DAM?"

Many companies are faced with a tough decision of late: to either install a new Digital Asset Management (DAM) system to better manage their assets or replace an existing legacy system.The choice can be daunting with hundreds of vendors offering good DAM solutions that range in price, functionality and complexity.

Although the process may seem overwhelming, rest assured there is a DAM solution that will fit your company’s unique needs and budget. The key is to get started -- and soon. Many companies can no longer afford to implement “silo-ed” point solutions, or continue operating legacy IT systems, while their digital assets multiply by the hours.

So, what DAM solution is right for your company? And how do you convince your CEO to fund this project?

Establish Goals

Before starting to look at vendors, you need to develop the objectives and goals for the DAM project. Key questions to consider include:

  • Why do we need a DAM? What problems are we trying to solve with a DAM solution?
  • What do we want to do with a DAM?What are our use cases? What are the benefits?
  • What kind of assets will the DAM need to manage? You’ll want to make sure the DAM solution can handle all your file formats: images, documents, graphics, creative files, audio, videos, etc.
  • What systems need to be integrated? Are there other systems that could be integrated in the future, such as DRM, Document management, BI tools, CRM and CMS? How will these systems be integrated?
  • Will the DAM solution support our metadata? Most DAM solutions will support standard metadata such as, IPTC, Exif and XMP out of the box.
  • What will be the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)? It’s crucial to clearly define the business case for implementing a DAM. Will the DAM yield a positive ROI? Ideally, you’ll want to leverage the DAM to reduce IT costs through workflow optimization, streamline processes and efficiencies, and eliminate or consolidate outdated legacy systems. We’ll dive further into this below.

Once you've confidently answered these questions, you’re ready to begin evaluating best-fit DAM solutions.

Enterprise Platform or Commercial Off the Shelf – Which is Right for Your Company?

DAM solutions range from enterprise platforms that require a high-level of customization to commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) products that are basically plug and play. What’s the difference between the two extremes? I’ve provided a high-level comparison to describe the pros and cons of each.

Enterprise Platforms


  • More flexibility for customization
  • Typically more scalable for enterprise
  • Complex / custom workflows
  • Integration with other systems


  • High-level of effort
  • Typically more expensive (TCO)
  • Longer timeline to deploy
  • Higher level of on-going support

COTS Products


  • Quick to deploy, short timeline
  • Less expensive
  • Easier to maintain


  • Less flexibility, you get what you get
  • May not be as scalable
  • May not deliver the full vision of project

If you’re stuck trying to figure out which type of solution will work best for your environment, you can usually narrow your options by asking:

  • Do we need a large scalable enterprise solution? This is almost always a very expensive solution.
  • Do we need a small niche solution? This solution will be less expensive, but will have limited capabilities and may not scale well or provide the flexibility you need.
  • Do we need something in the middle of these two options?

Understanding how the solution will fit into your organization’s current environment and culture is key to selecting the right digital asset management solution for your business.

Now that you know the basics, it’s time to figure out how much the project is going to cost to select the right solution, justify the DAM project and predict IT spending and ROI.

Total Cost of Ownership

What exactly is TCO and how can you get started? TCO is a financial estimate that is used to determine the direct and indirect costs of a product or system. Let's look at what's typically included in the "Direct Costs."

Direct Costs

Direct costs include software licensing fees, professional services, support and maintenance, and required hardware to support the digital asset management solution. Vendors typically do a good job of estimating the initial direct cost, but by nature they are short-term focused. After all, they need to make sure you secure the necessary funding to purchase the software and hardware. It’s therefore incumbent on the purchaser to accurately estimate the full impact of direct costs over the life of the system (TCO) by accounting for future growth needs of your business.

Learning Opportunities

Two areas that require additional attention when estimating digital asset management costs over the life of the system are:

  • Professional services fees: professional services can cost anywhere from 1 to 3 times the cost of the licensing agreement. Off-the-shelf products and SaaS solutions with minimum customization generally have lower professional services costs. Be sure to estimate the right amount of professional services to cover your implementation.
  • Vendor licensing models: the type of licensing model you select can have a substantial impact on direct costs over the life of the project. Understanding the future growth needs of your company -- and how your company is going to use the system over the life of the project (3-5 years) will help you determine how the software licensing model will affect TCO.

For example, a cost per seat model will work well if you anticipate only a few people using the DAM solution. However, if you think the system will be adopted widely across your organization, it may not make sense in the long run. A hosted Software as a Service (SaaS) model is a good choice if you have limited internal expertise or small groups of users in multiple locations.But a SaaS model is not ideal for a business that has large or growing storage needs.

The key data to collect and review in order to determine the best DAM licensing model for your business are:

  • Number of CPU Processors (servers)
  • Number of Seats (based on number of concurrent users)
  • Number of queries by users (users’ usage)
  • Volume of data(index size)
  • Amount of storage required
  • Bandwidth required
  • Redundancy Business Continuity Planning (BCP)
  • Support (tiers of support from basic to premium based on response time and service level)
  • Add-Ons (future modules to add functionality and features)
  • Growth (future needs, scalability)

Remember, there’s always room for negotiation -- most vendors have flexibility to negotiate their software licensing and support costs. Do the math, then make sure you fully understand how the licensing model will impact TCO.

Indirect Costs

Evaluating TCO does not stop with the initial implementation or direct costs, as there are many indirect costs associated with a digital asset management project as well.It can be damn difficult to estimate all the indirect costs, especially:

  • Warranty Period Support Services
  • Post-implementation support (New development, features and functionality)
  • Training
  • Staff to maintain and support new system (types of skills needed)
  • Documentation
  • Infrastructure (rack space, network equipment, bandwidth)
  • Electricity
  • Cooling
  • Security
  • Business Continuity Planning (Redundancy)

A key question to consider is who is going to manage this new digital asset management solution? You may need to hire additional staff to support and maintain the new DAM system. According to the DAM Foundation’s salary survey the mean reported salary for Digital Asset Managers is US$ 82,198.

Estimating all the direct and indirect costs related to the project will give you a clear picture of the true TCO.

Armed with all of this knowledge, you will be able to compare vendors on an equal playing field and ultimately determine which solution is the best fit for your company.

A well-designed and implemented DAM solution will allow you to leverage your assets to increase productivity and revenue and can improve your competitive advantage by providing faster time-to-market for your products. Isn't it time you get that DAM project started?

Title image courtesy of alphaspirit (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Want to read more on selecting a DAM solution? See Ralph Windsor's Purchasing Tips for Corporate DAM System Buyers