waves on the ocean

How to Avoid Drowning in Digital Systems

6 minute read
Emily Kolvitz avatar

We have a problem. We are throwing SaaS solutions at our digital content problems with abandon. 

Our content may be exponentially growing, but so are the tools we implement in an attempt to navigate through the vast payloads of information. The digital tsunami may have been initially coined to represent the shift from paper to digital but it also represents the rapid growth of applications and our growing reliance on them. 

The digital tsunami is our digital content, our own experiences in this new digital ecosystem, and waves of digital systems all pining for our attention simultaneously. 

The infamous supergraphic by Chiefmartec's Scott Brinker illustrates the number of digital systems available in the marketing landscape today. But it’s not the number of systems alone that is overwhelming: Pick any system or technology in your organization and inside of it lives an entire world of users, use cases and processes. 

These users toggle in and out of these different systems throughout the day, using whatever is most readily available and most fit for purpose. This constant context switching in interfaces decreases efficiency, hence the drive to have “one tool to rule them all.”  

Are You Shopping Your Way out of Digital Content Problems? 

When organizations grow, the amount of digital content they produce grows with them. This is also true of the digital systems needed to control, create, reuse, inspire, plan, source, build and strategize around that digital content. 

Growth isn't always a bad thing, although it’s easy to see how the term “digital tsunami” implies that. Growth in the number of digital systems utilized at an organization could suggest a mature digital ecosystem, but it could just as easily imply the opposite. Too many digital systems can mean a reckless eagerness, willingness and abandon to throw money at a problem.  

Saikat Basu writes that almost every new application or software is aimed at helping people avoid drowning in the “tsunami of digital information.” When the tools and systems we utilize end up consumed by the very problem they are created to help solve, we have a problem. 

Throwing more digital systems at a problem does not solve the problem, it just creates a new kind of problem. We're still left with the need to address the disconnect between people, process and technologies at our organizations. 

Face Your Digital System Problems Head-On

If you’re ready to stop buying tools and face your digital system head-on, follow these three steps: 

  1. Own the initiative. 
  2. Take stock of what you already have. 
  3. Think about how your current systems should connect. 

1. Establish Who Owns The Initiative

To date, there is no tool that holistically addresses and solves a business’ need to connect people, process and technology in a meaningful way.  

Perhaps artificial intelligence will help fill the gaps between these three integral pieces in the future, but for now you need an actual person at your organization who is going to own the initiative.

This person will need to answer the following questions:  

  • What forethought is given to how newly procured digital tools will fit into my organization’s larger digital ecosystem?
  • How do the digital systems, the processes, the data and the people link to one another?
  • Do I know what digital systems we already have? What does the supergraphic of systems and tools look like for my company? 
  • Do I know what each digital system’s scope or mission is? What goes in it, what doesn’t? Who uses it? Why? Does it send helpful metadata to another system for others? Does it receive metadata or assets or information from another?  
  • Do the people purchasing new systems understand the scope of each system procured or does their expertise lie in contract negotiation?   
  • Who at my organization is visioning and crafting the architecture and strategy of our digital ecosystem? Someone is doing it, right? Who? Anyone? Does anyone know where I can find this out? 

2. Take Stock of Existing Systems

Five DAM systems? Check. One content management system? Check.  

Learning Opportunities

Knowing what you have is the first step to optimizing your digital ecosystem. Your digital steward taking ownership of this initiative can document what systems the organization has, what they are used for, what’s in them, who uses them and more.  

An audit of existing inventory may even help you see what can be cannibalized by other systems and therefore, save a bit of money and time. 

A curated digital ecosystem benefits your business. People spend less time trying to figure out which system something is in and more time doing actual work that matters. 

The systems, applications and tools used at your organization needs pruning, very similarly to how you would prune a digital asset library: You retain the most valuable digital assets or digital records to your organization and archive or deaccession those with the least value.  

3. Resolve How to Connect Your Current Systems

The mental image of “digital ecosystem” might once have been a whiteboard drawing of how each system “connects,” complete with arrows pointing to and from databases with little detail on what those arrows really meant.  

It may mean the word integration to most, but what does it really mean about information exchanged between digital systems? What use case for the users does the information exchange between systems facilitate? 

What data does system A have, that users of System B would really, really love to not have to enter manually any longer? Or perhaps, what data originating in System B should be available, but not editable, in all other systems? 

Avoid the Digital Tsunami

Without vision, purposeful craftsmanship and digital stewardship, the new digital tsunami of systems, assets and content will leave many drowning. What they think of as their digital ecosystem will be lost in the incoming tide of new applications, new processes, new people and perhaps a foolhardy quest to find and purchase the singular technology that solves all problems across the enterprise.  

Aim high with your next SaaS purchase. With forethought and strategic vision, a knowledge of what you already own and how your current systems should or do connect, and with a digital steward owning the initiative you just might keep your head above water.

About the author

Emily Kolvitz

Emily is a DAM consultant, marketeer and digital asset manager for Bynder, an award-winning digital asset management software that allows brands to easily create, find and use content, such as documents, graphics and videos.