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DAM Is Metadata Operations Management

by Ralph Windsor on September 2, 2016

I have read a few articles etc recently which advance the currently widely held opinion that DAM is exclusively a marketing concern.  This is not one I share (although I will acknowledge that, at present, marketing people are the largest single group of DAM users I come into contact with).  The more I analyse this situation (especially with reference to the role of metadata and its relationship with DAM ROI) the more it seems like a potentially short-sighted viewpoint with echoes of those who 15-20 years ago said that Digital Asset Management was something that only those who needed to manage photo libraries needed to care about.

I mentioned this subject while writing about Toby Martin’s article a few weeks ago on future trends in DAM.  I don’t know if I inspired him to write his latest piece New Industries Where DAM Is Emerging (realistically, I suspect he probably had the outline of the idea already anyway) but there are some reasonable points made by Toby and I shall take up where he left off and go a bit further into.  The quote below is a bit heavy on the tech industry marketing hyperbole (ironically enough) but I do see where he is coming from:

We all know how crucial Digital Asset Management is to marketing and creative professionals who need a system in place to organize and distribute digital assets like photographs, video, and other forms of media. But did you know that that DAM is emerging in other industries besides marketing? Or that the very definition of “digital asset” is being shaped by new and exciting technological innovations?” [Read More]

Toby lists a few industries like Infrastructure, Sports, Agriculture, Real Estate and Manufacturing where digital assets are becoming integral to day-to-day operations.  Not mentioned are Law Enforcement and Military uses cases which are two sectors that were early adopters of DAM technology.  With that said, these are good observations, especially the more operational uses of DAM technology which Toby describes.  Along similar lines is a piece by Neil Monahan for CMSWire last month: Are Today’s DAM Systems Ready for Next-Gen Data?  In the piece, he offers this observation:

The generation of live data is nothing new — take CCTV, for example — but its potential has always been limited by storage space and cost. Not now. With cloud-based DAM systems able to process data in real time there’s no more need to wipe videotapes every 24 hours.  The possibilities of this real-time information processing are almost boundless. For example, if a customer enters a store and is recorded on CCTV, the image can be relayed to a DAM system that applies face recognition and transmits the name of the customer to the shop assistant before they’ve even interacted.” [Read More]

I have read a few of Neil’s other articles and not been over-impressed with some of his earlier work, but this one isn’t bad and it covers some interesting subjects.  The use-case he describes is still ‘customer experience’ oriented (which most would put within the remit of marketing) but it’s more the ability to synthesise operational rich media binary data (i.e. CCTV footage) with metadata which is generating assets of potential value.

My view on Digital Asset Management concepts (and the technology implementations of them) is that is first and foremost an operationally-focused endeavour.  The clues for this are fairly clear: the primary reason behind most DAM initiatives is to enhance productivity – usually by being able to isolate one or more assets for a given purpose (search being the easiest example to explain to newcomers to the field).  I have seen arguments claiming that DAM enhances top-line revenue, but I don’t believe they bear up to a more critical analysis; improving efficiency is usually what facilitates most of the examples that get offered by supporters of this viewpoint.  Having DAM strategies and technologies helps to put in place the conditions that will generate a competitive advantage, but customers don’t buy more of your widgets just because your photos and videos of them are better organised than the competition.

Operations management and subsidiary topics like quality and risk management tend to be regarded as highly effective cures for insomnia when they get discussed in any great detail, however, as anyone who is responsible for projects, businesses and other management activities will be well aware, these are the sort of boring subjects where huge amount of capital can either be accrued or pointlessly frittered away.  When the numbers mean something to you personally, they become a lot more significant than they might have done hitherto.  This is no less the case in Digital Asset Management than it is for any other operations management activity.  As discussed before on DAM News and elsewhere by others, I don’t buy into many of the ROI numbers advanced by DAM vendors but the fact they spend time and money on fabricating implausible extrapolations to prove them of them suggests that they understand that this is what the end users of their products really care about.

The other aspect of DAM is metadata and its limitless capacity to add value to binary data.  This effect is similar to what happens with most conventional non-digital business operations where other raw materials are introduced and then get passed through various processing stages.  In simple terms: DAM is metadata operations management since the vast majority of factors that change digital assets with the objective of increasing their value are metadata-oriented.  Once you start look at DAM from this perspective, it is possible to see a far wider range of possibilities that those of a single use-case (whether that is marketing or another business function).  I believe the authors of the articles I have referred to have understood (at least partially) that if you want to innovate in DAM (whether you are buying or selling) then this offers the basis of how you should go about achieving it.  Further, I expect many others in our industry to wake up to these facts before long and start to think of DAM in operational terms rather than something that is the exclusive domain of a single department or industry.  I also hold the view that those who do it sooner will profit at the expense of those who take longer to realise.

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