long road heading off into the horizon
PHOTO: Matt Duncan

Effective governance is one of the major factors determining the ultimate success or failure of a DAM initiative. Some less experienced DAM users find applying the principles to real world problems more demanding than they realized. In this article, I'll examine common examples of DAM governance issues and suggest some tools and techniques to address them.

Examples of DAM Governance Issues

DAM users will encounter governance issues across the entire spectrum of DAM-related activities. Below are some examples I have seen when working with clients to help them optimize and troubleshoot their DAM implementations. 

  • The business uses a number of digital assets which are owned by third parties. One group of sales-focussed DAM users wants rapid access to assets so they can prepare customer presentations more quickly. Another group who purchase assets are concerned they may be used in a way that breaks the terms of the asset licenses, exposing the business to litigation risks.
  • Digital asset managers discovered a significant number of high-quality digital assets were not being ingested into the DAM because the staff who control them are required to go through a lengthy upload workflow which required asset checks and approval. The policy was put in place because a number of unsuitable or low-quality material was at one point uploaded and this reduced trust in the DAM, which in turn impacted adoption.
  • The marketing department, who are the primary sponsors of the DAM, makes extensive use of predefined collections of digital assets for specific campaigns. They then share these with all other DAM users. All users can create their own collections and also share them with others. The marketing collections are getting lost among the others so marketing would like to prevent other users from creating their own ones. As an alternative to creating collections, users have begun downloading assets they want to use and storing them in folders on their own workstations.

Clearly there are some bad practices in evidence above, yet there are no definitive right or wrong answers about how to deal with them. A careful analysis of context and circumstance is needed before recommending a course of action. Note also that the DAM software itself is far less of a source of the problem than the behavior of the people who are using it.

Related Article: The Uncomfortable Truth About DAM

General Principles of Handling DAM Governance Issues

The challenges described above all have a variety of causal factors and require a different set of solutions. Further, while one approach might work for one group of DAM users, it could fail with another. As with many issues in DAM, there are relatively few absolutes. However, some general core principles do apply and form the basis of a strategy: 

  • The primary purpose of most digital asset management initiatives is to increase the accessibility of assets. As such, the bias should be towards using restrictions and digital controls sparingly rather than as a default for every scenario.
  • The thorniest governance problems tend to involve conflicting requirements between two or more groups of stakeholders.
  • These differences of opinion are frequently generated by risk versus perceived productivity arguments. One group of stakeholders are worried about the consequences of relinquishing control, another find the DAM configuration is hindering their ability to carry out a task. As such, risk management is integral to effective DAM governance.
  • There needs to be as much clarity as possible around policy. Any ambiguity in explaining issues or communicating decisions will only result in confused users.
  • Provide guidance and procedures about how to implement policy.
  • Whenever new information comes to light or the business evolves, policies should be reviewed and modified in turn.  
  • DAM managers must collect auditing data to provide evidence which supports adjustments to policy.
  • Qualitative data, e.g. feedback from real users in the form of anecdotal reports, focus groups, etc., is equally important to validate (or refute) what the stats appear to suggest.

Related Article: DAM Expands Its Reach in the Enterprise

Translating Governance Principles Into Practice

With the core principles behind governance best practice identified, let's look at some practical approaches to applying them. Most of these fall into two broad groups: pre-implementation and post-implementation, i.e. what needs to be done before the DAM gets rolled out and what happens when it is in-use. Once the DAM has been released, these distinctions still apply, but they are then more accurately termed: pre-review and post-review.

Pre-Implementation DAM Governance

Put the following basic governance techniques in place before the DAM gets released to end-users.

Risk Logs and Mitigation Strategies

As much as possible, identify all possible risks and document methods of mitigating them. It will be virtually impossible to identify everything, but the risk logs inform policy documents.

Documented DAM Governance Policy

A documented governance policy means all stakeholders have signed-off on it in writing. This helps achieve clarity about the policy and makes it more likely ambiguities will get discovered. 

The risk log should in part inform policy. Taking one of the examples described earlier, if the risk of allowing unrestricted downloads of any digital asset is that it might lead to unauthorized use, applying asset access controls only to those assets which are owned by third parties would resolve the issue. The policy document can describe (in general terms) when controls are appropriate and why. If any debate about the origins of the restriction arise later, the written policy will explain exactly why.

Procedure Guides

Policies describe general principles and are sufficient to set the approach to governance, but are unsuitable for operational use. A procedure guide for management of the DAM itself is needed here, so DAM administrators (and other staff) have some guidance about how to deal with issues. If a key member of staff leaves, the procedure guide helps ensure their successor will know and understand how the DAM should be managed. When clients ask me to troubleshoot failed DAM implementations, I rarely find proper procedure guides in place which staff can refer to.

Buy a Governance-Friendly DAM

Numerous vendors talk a lot about DAM governance and how important it is, but in too many cases, their software lacks some basic features to make it easier for digital asset managers. At a fundamental level, DAM users need to see exactly what is happening in both summary and detail. This means not only reporting and analytics, but a full and comprehensive audit trail which logs every action carried out. This is the raw data or the subconscious memory of your DAM initiative

Related Article: Closing the DAM Expectations Gap

Post-Implementation DAM Governance

Once the DAM is live, it is highly unlikely (despite your best efforts) your policies and procedures address every issue. While you can hypothesize about what will or won't work, it is impossible to get it all right the first time. Here are some post-implementation DAM governance practices to help keep everything on track.

Regular Governance Meetings

A big reason why DAMs fail is they get rolled out to users and then forgotten. Sometimes businesses hire a DAM manager, but fail to give them the opportunity to report on what is happening in the DAM with a formal, scheduled and regular meeting. When that's the case, all the policies and procedures defined at the beginning will eventually become irrelevant. Regular scheduled DAM governance meetings held at least once a month keep all stakeholders up to speed on what is happening with the DAM.

Incident Log

A method of recording new risks and ineffective mitigation methods must be made available. Ideally someone like a digital asset manager handles this. The incident log should be a line item on the agenda of every governance meeting.

DAM Performance Reporting

The DAM manager should record basic statistics about the DAM (logins, searches, downloads etc.). The DAM solution's reporting tools should help with a lot of this, but the audit trail can help fill in gaps where it does not. Again, include the performance reporting (and potential issues arising as a result) as an agenda item at your governance meetings.

Revising Policies and Procedures

The incident log, reports and discussions during meetings will typically require altering policies and, therefore, procedures as well. Keep both current and up-to-date. If the documented policies and procedures are not in alignment with what is happening day-to-day in the DAM, they become useless.

Anecdotal Reports and Focus Groups

A DAM's built-in reports and audit trail data provide useful information, however that information needs to be contextualized. Sometimes, the data doesn't reflect what's really happening. For example, if an asset has no downloads, it might suggest a lack of demand for the asset. But if users are reporting a need for particular assets that they cannot find, the metadata may not align with their expectations. Digital asset managers need to keep their ears to the ground. Often these vitally important pieces of feedback are the result of ad-hoc interactions, rather than found in the auditing data and reporting tools alone.

Focus groups can be valuable for getting real feedback. I recommend delivering training for the DAM in conjunction with the focus group, so they offer something in return for the participants.

DAM Governance Is a Never-Ending Cycle

Effective DAM governance is about having a rational and scientific approach to managing an organization's digital asset operations. It is composed of these core activities:

  • Hypothesising about how to deal with issues.
  • Formalising plans into written policies and procedures.
  • Collecting hard data as well as user feedback.
  • Reviewing the data.
  • Looking for opportunities to optimize or refine procedures.

The process of DAM governance never ends. The data collected, policies, procedures and refinement thereof all add considerable value to the DAM itself.  The objective of most DAM initiatives is to develop a collection of digital assets that is greater than the sum of its parts. In establishing a culture of good DAM governance practice, you are developing the value of the DAM into an asset in its own right.