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Become A DAM Superhero

In this feature, DAM specialist David Diamond looks at what it takes for an individual project leader to single-handedly implement a digital asset management system that will deliver, regardless of the many potential pitfalls that he/she might encounter.   

What it takes to do DAM alone, without a team

In DAM Survival Guide, I write about assembling the ideal DAM team. I mention the need for an initiative owner, a systems manager, a librarian or archivist, a technical developer, one database manager per stakeholder, and a handful of metadata editors. I also mention how the right team is just about the most important thing you can do for your DAM initiative and without it, you’re initiative is likely to fail.

The reality, however, is that most organisations don’t have complete DAM teams. In many cases, DAM responsibilities fall on a single individual—one who can be classified as nothing less than a DAM Superhero.

Let’s look at some of the realities of doing DAM solo.

The True Meaning of Ownership
The best “owner” a DAM can have is the person who wants the DAM to succeed the most, and who has the wherewithal to get things done. From the get go, there are decisions that need to be made and policies that must be created and enforced. There will be cranky users who need to be educated and consoled, and there will be budget-minded managers who are hungry for evidence of clear ROI, which can be difficult to provide.

If you’ve ever considered running for office and thought you might actually be able to win, you just might have what it takes to be a great DAM owner.

Managing the System
Beneath the layers of DAM politics, configurations and policies is hardware and software that someone needs to manage. And no matter which DAM software you use, you can’t escape this.

I can hear the Cloud-based DAM vendors now: “With our DAM, no IT is required!” While it’s true that Cloud-based DAMs require less ongoing geek love than do installed or on-premise solutions, something always requires at least some geek savvy.

For example, do you want your Cloud DAM to connect to your organisational LDAP for single sign-on? Do you want to add a DAM-based press portal to your website? No doubt your DAM vendor will claim to be able to do this all for you. All you need to do is fill out a simple form that asks for things like domain name servers, firewalls, IPs, DMZs, ABCs, XYZs and other such things. You know, all the stuff they taught you in Marketing School.

Which brings us to one of the most important things you can do as a DAM Superhero: befriend someone in IT right now, before you need their help. Don’t be fooled into thinking that Cloud DAM means you don’t need an IT friend.

If you plan to deploy on-premise DAM, there’s no question who you need to start taking to lunch right now. Factor it into your DAM budget, if necessary.

I rely on my company’s internal IT to make sure our Cloud and onsite marketing systems work in harmony, 24/7, and they do an awesome job of making it happen. My IT contact is a guy named Nick. Watch carefully as I demonstrate how a sustainable relationship between Marketing and IT is formed and nurtured:

“Nick, baby, you know I love you and that marketing would be impossible without you. You’re everything to me and I love Microsoft too. In fact, it’s great that SharePoint repeatedly asks for my password every few minutes because it reminds me just how important network security is. God bless you for your tireless efforts, my friend.”

Do you see how it’s done?

The Dewey DAM System
No matter how messy your desk is, you can probably find what you need because you know how you think. But no one else knows how you think, so if you organize your DAM the best way you see fit, you might find it makes no sense to anyone else.

In fact, a DAM must be organized to match the personality of your organisation, not just a single user. This is inherently what makes organizing a DAM so challenging for people who are not trained as information professionals. More traditionally known as librarians and archivists, information professionals know how to get past personal preferences to build an organisational structure that will work for everyone.

Unfortunately, many organisations see DAM organisation as being something that pretty much anyone can do. But the very fact that you’re so familiar with the way you use your collections can be the very reason someone else should organize them for use by others.

To put this in better perspective, imagine asking a teenager to write a glossary of the terms used in teen culture. Is this an index that would make sense to you?

In addition to basic organisational skills, information professionals also have the skills required to interview users about their needs, even when those users don’t really know their needs.

A librarian once described to me how people in her professional are trained to provide help without prying or making the requester feel uncomfortable. After giving it some thought, the value of that skill became so clear to me. People can be hesitant to ask for help because they don’t want to seem stupid. For similar reasons, people can refrain from offering ideas to co-workers or managers. But the people who don’t offer input on how your DAM should work for them will be the same people who complain when it doesn’t work for them.

Having a neutral third party on hand to find out exactly what your users need can go a long way toward making your DAM more usable and popular.

You might be able to so a pretty good job of organizing your collections, but the advice of an information professional can go a long way toward pointing you in the right direction. If you won’t be hiring an information professional full-time, hire a freelance info pro while planning your DAM. You’ll get a fresh perspective on your collections, users and goals, which can make all the difference if you’ll be the one putting it all together.

Software Playdates
It won’t be long before you or one of your DAM users starts fanaticizing about your DAM speaking to your other business systems. The idea might be pulling product information from your product information management system (PIM), or it could be pushing images to your content management system (CMS) or anything else.

In some cases, DAM integrations require low-level software development that requires a skilled software programmer. But in many cases, things are not that complicated. For example, moving data from a PIM to a DAM might be nothing more than a nightly export/import operation. This is something that a DAM Superhero can do herself.

One of my favourite examples is a DAM manager who hated the internal image processing of his DAM so much that he wrote scripts to have Photoshop do the work—all without any software development required. This was one DAM Superhero who had his vendor asking him how he did things.

While “geek” is no doubt in the soul of this class of individual, this is a very different geek than you typically find in IT. Whereas your IT team can be seen as your “install it” and “fix it” geeks, these geeks are your “invent it” geeks. They are creative, rare and valuable. They are proactive doers who fix problems others haven’t yet recognized. They are driven by coming up with new ways to make the machines do more.

You will certainly be able to get value from your DAM without personally having this skill set. But the better you understand the more technical capabilities of your DAM and other systems, the more likely you’ll be to invent your own actionable integrations ideas.

Stakeholder Representation
Providing DAM services to multiple departments can be difficult. First, you can’t possibly know each department well enough to know the metadata it needs to track or the approval processes it needs to manage. And then there is the political consideration of which department gets the lion’s share of your time.

Ideally, each department provides its own DAM representative who is capable of managing his or her own DAM tenancy or instance. While it might sound frightening to have multiple people making changes to your DAM, if you choose a system that provides true multi-tenant support, this can be done safely.

If this isn’t possible for you, you’ll need to at least find someone in each department who can provide you with reasonable feedback and suggestions. Don’t assume you’ll ever configure your DAM to a one-size-fits-all state that will work well for everyone because it likely won’t likely work well for anyone.

The Right Write Users
One of the more political decisions you’ll make with regard to your DAM is who will have rights to edit metadata, upload new assets, or otherwise make content changes. Many users don’t like the idea that they aren’t trusted to make changes, so expect some battles.

The reason you need to be careful about this choice is that metadata editing is arguably the most important function that takes place in a DAM. Metadata is the means by which users find what they need, so if your metadata is a mess, your DAM won’t provide the value it should.

Don’t make your decision about who gets “write” permissions based on seniority or reporting structures. In other words, don’t assume the manager of each group should be the group’s metadata editor too. Metadata editing is a skill that takes a certain kind of thinking.

You’ll need people who have the patience to learn and adhere to your policies regarding tagging and organisation. DAM editors also need to have a good general sense of your collections, your institution history and your goals for your DAM initiative. They should also have an editor’s eye when it comes to seeing and correcting typos that have crept into your captions or other fields. And they should be able to identify permissions errors that make the wrong asset available to the wrong person.

If you are the only person suitable for editing your DAM, expect to spend a considerable amount of time in the system. However, if there are no other suitable editors in your organisation, the time you spend doing it all yourself can be a fraction of the time you’d spend fixing messes made by others.

Further Information
In addition to the section in DAM Survival Guide that covers the topic of this article, DAM expert Henrik de Gyor has written a piece that focuses less on roles and more on skills. It’s called: What specific skills should Digital Asset Management professionals have today? and it’s worth a read.

If you’d like to hear the real-life experiences of two true DAM Superheroes, register for “Be a DAM Superhero,” a Picturepark-sponsored webinar to be held on June 5th, 2013. Signup: http://picturepark.com/hero


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