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Why Small Vendors Build Better DAM Software – The Implications For The DAM Value Chain

by Ralph Windsor on March 15, 2013

There were a couple of items that caught my attention this week and they pinpoint some truths about the future of DAM software and possibly a wider point about software in general. The first was this item by David Diamond, author of The DAM Survival Guide, explaining why he is a DAM Geek in CMSWire:

I realized that my passion was not actually about DAM (thank God). My passion is about quality content and the good things people do with the content they manage via their DAMs. DAM is like the corner pub in a neighborhood full of creative geniuses who like to drink. Hang out there long enough and you’re going to see some amazing things.” [Read More]

The essence of the article is that you end up becoming a ‘DAM geek’ out of a desire to maintain, preserve and organise assets. Creating a whole (the collection) that its greater than the sum of its parts, in other words.  I think we can safely say that everyone who writes for this publication is what you might call a DAM Geek too!

The second was a decision by Google to close Google Reader in July. The two points might seem unrelated, but stick with me on this.

Despite regularly using Google Reader, I’ve never found it an amazing piece of software and probably like a lot of people, I ended up entering feed URLs into it for reasons of laziness, just because it was there in front of me. In fact, I don’t rate Google much as either software or user interface designers in general. In my opinion, they are still trading more on their web search engine than anything else.  Arguably, even with that, it’s the actual website search results that are the real stars of the show rather than Google’s opaque and unpredictable method of ranking them.

I also find it irksome the way they decided to impose their own opinion of how email clients ‘should’ work with their GMail service and especially the over-rationalisation of many standard mail client features. Like many reading this article, I get a lot of emails, a fair number of which are not from human beings, but status updates and information from some systems (DAM and otherwise) which I’m still involved with. I need something that can help me manage this and GMail just doesn’t cut it – everything takes at least 1.5 times longer than it should do. It seems like Google have sacrificed the needs of a some ‘high volume’ users for the wider interests of the majority of people who may get about 5-10 messages a day. I probably do what many end up needing to and use multiple email clients, each with overlapping functionality but some specialisation in one area or another which I need.

So what has this got to do with being a DAM geek?

The majority of DAM vendors are what you would call ‘small’. To get the definitions clear, my view of ‘large’ is a business with well over 5,000 staff and hundreds of global offices. This top-slices away nearly all the DAM vendors you can think of, including many of the major players you hear mentioned a lot in relation to DAM specifically.

It’s fair to say that until very recently, you would not have entered the DAM business to get rich.  Even now, there are some vastly easier options in software/tech markets alone. If you are the boss of a DAM vendor, you are going to be intimately aware exactly what is happening with a good number (possibly all) of your clients – certainly all the key accounts. Despite not mentioning it to customers or press people, you are probably painfully conscious of all the limitations of your product also and have big plans to address them as well as develop ever more sophisticated capabilities. In short, you definitely care a lot about your software and the end user environments where it may get used. Probably significant proportions of your life to date has been devoted to your solution already and a multitude of personal, professional and financial sacrifices made along the way. As much as any other wider trends, it’s also the collective emotional investment made into this class of software that has ensured it has progressed at the pace it has.

While I’m sure their PR people might want to tell you otherwise, I can’t see either Messrs Brin or Page caring that some fellow on a niche tech journal was less than complimentary about one of their many product platforms (that millions of others don’t complain about either).

One area where Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Oracle, HP, Adobe et al really do have something more significant to offer is major projects involving big capital expenditure. While their senior personnel might not have either the time or interest to take notice of one individual customer’s issues, they do have the scale and ability to aggregate costs that allow them to undertake big tasks like infrastructure implementation, integration protocols, or hardware manufacturing etc. These are completely outside the capability of the smaller guys, even if they could combine together, there would be too much arguing and in-fighting to make a sustainable proposition.

When it comes to software, or a specific use case, staff of larger IT players just don’t have as much at stake as their smaller counterparts. The large vendors (including all those mentioned in the above list) are more likely to drop support for applications because of all kinds of spurious reasons than specialists who have committed more than just their working lives to one.

Last week, Naresh wrote an article on DAM News about Adobe’s moves in the DAM software market. Although his uncompromising style is not to everyone’s taste, I completely agree with him. To what extent Adobe DAM has long term survival prospects depends on many factors but it’s by no means guaranteed just because of the Adobe brand. There is a powerful argument that while Adobe have got good momentum and historical strengths in media manipulation, they may not be able to translate this into DAM and their history of success with acquisitions is not a happy one. One further point I would note is that when Adobe started building advanced applications like Photoshop back in 1990, there was far less of a risk averse and evasive corporate culture, unlike now when staff in larger companies seem to need to spend much their time trying to not get fired rather thinking ‘out of the software box’, to borrow my co-contributor’s expression!

The subject of who should get involved in what battles is one of the key themes of our ongoing discussion of DAM Value Chains. Rather than seeing sections of the DAM industry go to the wall by wasting expensive development resources copying everyone else, it’s fast approaching the time for those are passionate about DAM (whether vendors or consultants) to carefully consider what, precisely, they are really good at within the wider DAM subject remit, rather than shooting at every opportunity on offer, however tenuous.

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