a French dictionary page, opened up to the word "focus"
PHOTO: Romain Vignes

“Won’t you be my dictionary, won’t you translate fun into something necessary” – Hooverphonic, 1998

What Is Digital Asset Management (DAM)?

DAM consists of the management tasks and technological functionality that helps companies organize their media assets, such as photographs, video and marketing assets, to strengthen their message or brand. DAM systems inventory, control and distribute these digital assets for use and reuse in marketing and/or business operations and help simplify the workflow to ingest, annotate, catalog, store, retrieve and distribute them. DAM systems may be developed to house different forms of rich media including audio, image and video files, organized by descriptive data about the asset.

What follows is the first part in a two-part series defining commonly used terminology related to DAM to help with your DAM initiatives. 

Asset: A digital asset is any form of content and/or media that has been formatted into a binary source and includes the right to use it. A digital file without the right to use it is not an asset. Types of digital assets include, but are not limited to, the following: product images, photography, logos, illustrations, animations, audio and video clips, presentations, office documents and spreadsheets, CAD files, 3-D files, and more.

Controlled Vocabulary: A controlled vocabulary is an authoritative list of preferred terms used to ensure consistent application of metadata to your assets. Use of a controlled vocabulary, “preferred terms” and the use of synonyms in drop-down or pick lists are all good ways to take control of and provide consistency to your assets.

Data (Unstructured and Structured): Structured data refers to information with a good level of control and organization — for example, a “date” value in an “expiration date” field. Structured data is usually found in a controlled data environment with inherent meaning and purpose. Unstructured data lacks that control and meaning. It offers a confused sense of purpose and requires analysis or interpretation to restore meaning. Using the example above, if a “date” is discovered with no “field” in which to provide that control and structure, what does that tell you? The interest is in wrangling all that data to create a more structured sense of purpose for the content in your organization — it makes information more relevant, palpable, understandable and useable.

Governance: Governance provides a framework to ensure that program goals are met both during implementation and for the future. Ultimately, it is the only way to manage and mitigate risk. Governance can begin with a roadmap and measurement tools to ensure success of implementation during the first iteration and may then grow to become formalized in to an operating model for the business

Keyword: A unique and informative word or concept that is used to describe and indicate a digital asset in a DAM.

Metadata: It is data about data. It refers to the descriptive elements that define and describe an asset. It is the spirit of an intellectual or creative asset … it’s everything you have. Metadata may be broken down into three main categories (according to the National Information Standards Organization):

Descriptive metadata describes a resource for purposes such as discovery and identification (i.e., information you would use in a search). It can include elements such as title, subject, creator, date, location and keywords.

Structural (technical) metadata indicates how compound objects are put together (for example, file format, file dimension, file length, size, dimensions, etc.).

Administrative metadata provides information that helps manage an asset. Two common subsets are rights management metadata (which deals with intellectual property rights) and preservation metadata (which contains information needed to archive and preserve an asset).

Rights Management: Rights management answers the question, “What can we do with the digital assets we have — from a legal or intellectual property point of view?” Rights Management provides a company with the ability to track the rights for content it owns, for content it has licensed or the rights to the content it has given to a licensee. There must be serious consideration of any licensing/ legal issues associated with your assets, and it demands an understanding of what your assets are and knowledge of how they may be used. No technology will purely solve digital rights management. It’s up to the business to ask the right questions. The more rights management is based on efficient information flow and integration, the faster and more effective the company will be in protecting and monetizing the content it has sold, bought or licensed.

Search, Boolean: Boolean search is a type of search allowing users to combine keywords with operators (or modifiers) such as AND, NOT and OR to further produce more relevant results. For example, a Boolean search could be "apartment" AND "London." This would limit the search results to only those documents containing the two keywords.

Search, Enterprise: Enterprise search is the practice of collecting content items from within an organization’s different systems and indexing them in one place for a unified search experience.

Search, Faceted: Faceted search is often offered as an out-of-the-box option in many DAMs. This left-hand navigation for search is useful for internal searching because it allows users to narrow their search based on key concepts. However, in order for faceted search to be useful, the facets must be built using a custom taxonomy. This way the enterprise controls what shows up on the left, not an algorithm.

Taxonomy: Taxonomy is the science of classifying information into groups or classes that share similar characteristics. It is a collection of controlled vocabulary terms organized into a hierarchical structure.

UX/UI: User experience (UX) is generally understood to encompass the breadth of elements that collectively influence the experience a person has when navigating and interacting with the DAM. The user interface (UI) is the series of screens, pages, and visual elements — such as buttons and icons — that you use to interact with the DAM.

Workflow: The sequence of processes through which a digital asset passes from creation, production and to distribution. The key to good workflow is understanding what are the issues involved in identifying, capturing, and ingesting assets within a DAM system and then making them accessible and available for retrieval. DAM may be understood as a workflow device to assist in the marketing operations critical to your organization’s needs. To determine how a DAM will accommodate your project, it is important to think how and when data is created and modified in your projects, and then think how this data moves through the projects.

DAM Is the First Step

The decision to implement a DAM is the right step in the right direction to gaining operational and intellectual control of your digital assets. DAM brings with it great responsibility for how the organization’s assets will be efficiently and effectively managed in its daily operations and is essential to growth. DAM as a single source of truth in the organization helps quantify the value of digital assets, through their discovery, use and reuse in daily operations. Any successful DAM implementation requires more than just new technology; it requires a foundation for digital strategy.