Since the launch of Cumulus, the digital asset management (DAM) platform by Canto, in 1992, the challenge of managing digital assets and files has never really gone away. Since then and in the years immediately after, we saw the development of consumer web browsers and the emergence of web-based DAM running in tandem with the emergence of, in the first instant, document management systems and then enterprise content management systems (ECMs).

Comparing DAM and ECM Systems

In the early 2000s, we also saw the rise of web-based solutions and, ultimately, the emergence of the cloud as the leading storage destination for digital content. The debut of the iPhone in 2007 added more complexity, as DAM had to convert images for a variety of devices and operating systems. Despite the emergence of advanced cloud storage systems and cloud-based enterprise content management systems with almost unlimited storage, the problem of managing and tracking digital assets has yet to be resolved. In this respect, a DAM solution acts as a storage and collaboration center for all the digital assets like images, videos, documents, PDFs and other kinds of content for the entire team.

Traditionally, teams would collaborate and share content via mails or storage solutions like Google Drive or Dropbox. But these tools are not primed to solve the problem we face now. For example, it would be a nightmare to find in an email chain the last comment the VP of Marketing left on a banner shared with him. Or for the tech team to know which of the five “logo-final.png” files in a Drive folder are the actual logo that should go live.

A good DAM solution offers many solutions built to ease management, collaboration, and distribution of digital assets, making it a better tool for your organization and help improve efficiency. But an enterprise content management can do much of this so why do you need a separate system?

Related Article: Gartner's Top 19 Enterprise Digital Asset Management Solutions

Why Do You Need Both an ECM and a DAM?

ECM systems are often, not built to handle custom metadata like DAM platforms are, said Ed Cravo, co-founder, and head of marketing at Chicago-based automation software developer Groundbreaker. Typically, digital asset management systems are for creative content such as images, videos, design files, gifs, and presentations. He pointed out that enterprise content management systems are used primarily for business records, which are almost always text-based documents. Enterprise content management systems are not made to find and present visual files.

They are made for documents and text search. Images may not pop up for previews and may just look like a generic file type in the ECM system. Audio and video playback may be nonexistent. There are great benefits that are brought through the use of a CMS, DAM, or other enterprise content management tool, but the functionality and effectiveness can be boosted by an underlying foundation. “The foundational technology should allow for easy granularization of content into modular components. This will reduce redundancy and improve ease of collaboration,” Cravo added.

“DAM and ECM should no longer be considered as mutually exclusive technologies but should be considered as part of a holistic approach to enterprise content management,” said Alan Porter, director of product marketing at Westlake, Ohio-based Hyland. “You need to be thinking in terms of developing a digital supply chain, to connect content, data, and assets across the organization that allows you to deliver exceptional customer experiences.”

Digital Asset Management Use-Cases

Porter pointed out that DAMs aren’t just about storing and searching for pretty pictures anymore. In today’s fast-paced business environment, DAM serves many roles, from traditional marketing use cases to being positioned at the center of a complex enterprise-wide digital supply chain, he said. DAM and ECM need to work together to enable multiple practical uses cases along a content management continuum that exists between the traditional theoretical simplified applications. To figure out where you are on that continuum you need to ask yourself some key questions:

Learning Opportunities

  • Are we just posting images on the website?
  • How often are we searching our archives?
  • Do we have a taxonomy/metadata schema? Is it applied consistently?
  • Do we tag our images with things about them, not just what’s in them?
  • Are our images used across the enterprise?
  • Do we use rich media?
  • Do we link our assets to our product and business data?
  • Are we part of the digital supply chain or a stand-alone function?
  • What other parts of the organization use our assets — and what for?

That last question is perhaps the most important one, because organizations truly need to understand the context within which content is being used and consumed, whether it be rich media, simple documents, or business-driven data.

Expanding Digital Asset Management Boundaries

As the definition of a digital asset continues to expand, it would be difficult for a CMS to ever fully replace a DAM. A CMS, even an enterprise level system may not be able to handle the millions of assets, many binary in nature, that an organization creates and uses, according to Katie Cole, gaming and virtual production evangelist at Minneapolis-based Perforce.

Being able to analyze those binary files, like images, and strip out what they represent using AI, and converting that into useful meta and search data, is not something you typically see in a CMS, but something you do see in modern DAMs.

“What we hear from our customers is a good portion of digital assets are never even intended to be used on their websites,” she said. “For example, digital assets used in a piece of software the organization sells. With these types of assets there needs to be much tighter access control and traceability. Could a CMS do that? Maybe, but it isn’t really the intended use case of a CMS.”

Final  DAM Thoughts

As final thought, Devin Schumacher, founder of Los Angeles-based SERP, points out that even comparing DAM and ECM is difficult. DAM, he says, manages the dissemination and organization of visual content from its central hub. Based on experience, utilizing DAM technology allows users to organize terabytes’ worth of assets and manage the overall accessibility to these files in a smooth, streamlined manner.  This technology far outperforms file-sharing cloud platforms like Google Drive, he said.

“Technically, you cannot replace DAM with ECM because the former falls under ECM, “he said. DAM features the single technology needed to organize visual content, which no other ECM technology can do. However, other ECM technologies can also perform functions that DAM cannot. For instance, other systems under ECM are in charge of cybersecurity, file transfer automation, and master file management.

Instead of choosing between ECM and DAM, organizations should first explore these technologies’ features, then objectively assess which ones suit your daily business operations.