Digital Asset Management, or DAM, has been a buzz word for over a decade. Unfortunately, when I speak to clients about what it means for them, I get a wide variety of largely disappointing responses. Here's a look at what Digital Asset Management has become in 2010.

The most common response, and the one most distant from DAM’s true meaning, is that it is like a corporate album of all the organization's pictures and videos. Digital Rights Management is also a common part of their definition of DAM. This is certainly within the scope, but there's much more here.

Wikipedia defines DAM as something that "consists of management tasks and decisions surrounding the ingestion, annotation, cataloguing, storage, retrieval and distribution of digital assets. Digital photographs, animations, videos and music are samples of media asset management (a sub-category of DAM)”.

A Working Definition of DAM

A working definition of Digital Asset Management would be a process by which rich media files (graphics, photos, Flash, video, audio, etc.) are created, edited, stored and shared. We can then take that definition and break it down into 5 common tasks that will apply to all media files:

1. Creation

A half diligent search will turn up many applications in the market place for creating rich media. Most of these are geared towards individual users and most fall short of enterprise DAM needs.

In many organizations, creators will store their files locally during the creation process and then email them to other people to continue the refinement work, or store them on a shared file system and email the asset's location reference. In either case, the authoritative copy of the file can easily become lost as copies and versions proliferate.

A true Digital Asset Management solution allows content creators to store their work-in-process files in a single repository, apply security so that only a sub-set of the population can edit them, maintain complete revision history -- including version rollbacks -- and audit trails if necessary, and provide auto-rendering into different formats, enabling users to view the in-process files without having to launch a full-blown editing tool. In short, a good DAM solution facilitates a sane and governable process of creation.

2. Workflow

Content creators rarely work alone. Most asset creators view workflow as the process for creating the actual file.

In this case, workflow encompasses a much broader definition. Creators interact with other artists, have to have different levels of approval, and in some cases, might even need to be viewed and approved by legal departments before the images can be published.

Workflow has become an essential part of creating and managing digital assets. But not all workflows or organizations are the same. So, DAM systems should include a flexible workflow system which allows both pre-defined and ad-hock workflow paths.

Workflow participants should be able to edit (if part of the creative team), approve, comment, reject and provide escalations for time sensitive projects. Workflows are not just utilized during the creation and editing stage, but can be used to help drive storage requirements and the sharing or distribution of the files.

3. Management

It goes without saying that modern DAM systems must provide a common asset repository, but further still they should also include the ability to provide Life Cycle Management.

Life Cycle Management defines how long an item is kept active in a system, when it is moved to off-line or near-line storage, and when it is eventually deleted. Life Cycle management, working in conjunction with workflows, can help companies establish consistent review periods for their assets.

If the DAM system provides content tracking abilities, it can also be configured to assist in determining what un-used or infrequently accessed files can be removed, allowing organizations to regain all too important storage space.

In addition to LCM, proper management of digital assets includes the application of metadata -- the tagging of content to promote findability, reuse and consistency. How many times have you looked for the right corporate logo and not be able to find it, or found something only to realize later that it was the wrong version?

4. Distribution

Companies do not put time and money into creating assets just to have them sit on an orderly digital shelf. Hardly. Digital assets are created for specific purposes and need to be utilized.

An organization’s DAM system should provide methods for distributing assets to multiple locations over multiple channels. Videos may need to be emailed, published to a website, streamed from a server, or distributed to other organizations. Images and sound files will have similar requirements.

An all inclusive DAM system should support the different distributions of content and provide an automated methods for resizing, re-formatting and re-rendering those assets without having to burden the creative team.

5. Archiving

While people always say “storage is cheap”, it really isn’t. There are cost for the physical infrastructure and cost for the personnel to maintain it. There are also hidden costs organizations tend to over-look.

Storing information longer than is required, also has a cost, especially in terms of litigation and discovery. You can encounter more hidden costs if employees end up using outdated materials or invalid assets. And there is the employee cost for the time it takes them to determine what assets they should be using.

In addition to good management practices implemented in a DAM system, there should be a mechanism to do away with or archive unused or out of date files.

It's DAM Central

Modern digital asset management goes far beyond a digital rich media album. If that is all organizations needed, then why are companies like Oracle, EMC/Documentum, IBM/FileNet and Adobe investing heavily in content and digital asset management systems?

These software vendors have recognized that clients have rapidly growing needs for the organized and governable creation, editing, storing and sharing of rich media.

Digital assets are integrated with almost all content that organizations create, and are clearly an important part of their web presence. We live in a world where we are often attracted to glitzy images and cool videos. It takes a time and effort to create rich media experiences. Smart organizations are protecting their investments with robust DAM processes and tools.