DAMMY award winner and author of the DAM Survival Guide, David Diamond, has written an article on his own DAM Survival blog with the arresting title: The DAM that can Cure Death. The summary of the piece is that David believes the DAM industry has attempted to abstract itself nearly out of existence with excessive early horizontal integration before it properly got round to solving more tangible end user problems. David goes on to describe how in the earlier years of DAM, systems were called ‘Image Databases’ – which was easier for users to understand because the title had nouns describing the subject of the problem and the solution in just two words. He continues by offering the analogy that DAM systems are now marketed as solutions that can ‘cure death’ – i.e. do anything and everything for anyone:
“There’s no question that DAMs have become much more than image databases. The question is why. The vast majority of DAM customers purchase their systems to manage images. And even those who do use DAM to manage Office documents, videos and more, usually have more images in their systems than anything else. In straying from the focused, easy-to-understand (and easy-to-sell) image-database class of software, the DAM industry is now mired in a software discussion that is always too complicated. Worse, we have created an industry that virtually no one understands.” [Read More]
This is another great article from David, who has certainly earned his DAMMY over the last few years. I have to completely agree with him over the lack of focus and inability for DAM vendors (and many others on the sell-side of DAM) to pick one segment and make it their own. The article resonates with many themes I discussed in my feature piece for DAM News last week: The Digital Asset Management Specialisation Debate but David’s item is a lot simpler and clearer at explaining the core problem (and far better for it).
I do still believe that Digital Asset Management as subject description is a good one because it is now an accurate summary of the wider process that takes place (especially with reference to metadata and cataloguing activities). But it’s also true that the definition has ended up being applied in reverse order before anyone really had a proper grasp on what direction ideas like ‘digital media supply chains’ might take. This is probably why the DAM market has taken so long to get going, because the industry has had to wait for user’s understanding to work out the reality behind the management consultant terminology and understand what you can do with a DAM system and why they should be interested. It is also the case that innovations like digital cameras have exerted significant pressure to force users to go and find out what products are available (including the nomenclature and obscure jargon that DAM insiders often use).
I suspect that a contributory reason for the market identity crisis in DAM has been the early target audience that vendors have decided to aim for (which were mainly due to commercial factors). In the earlier years of DAM, the type of clientele who were most interested in software systems to handle their media assets tended to be very large companies who had dedicated photo libraries or video production units. They might have been attached to some department that wielded a budget that could afford a specialist solution which was more focussed on them and their needs than many of the generic ECM enterprise applications being offered at the time (which certainly used to be woefully inadequate, even if less so now).
Vendors chased after that business because the clients were often big name brands and had budgets which would effectively subsidise their development costs. It’s understood by many entrepreneurs (in IT and elsewhere) that your first customers are more like investors – in which case, they have a lot of clout and can call the shots in terms of the direction you may end up taking. This is where the current problem with lack of specialisation and targeting in DAM has started to gather pace, because in wanting to acquire as much business as they can, vendors have needed to present themselves in more abstract and nebulous terms. It’s an ironic combination of circumstances that while many DAM vendor early large client wins resulted from ECM operators being too concerned with ‘the big picture’ they too have ended up copying the same strategy and are similarly at risk themselves now from others who are able to specialise and adapt their offers in a more targeted manner.
This has some potentially valuable lessons not only for DAM, but other related fields too. If you choose to characterise your chosen solution subject in abstract terms which appear to try and solve large, macro-scale problems (or ‘cure death’ to use David’s analogy) then you run the risk that no one will understand (or care) what you do. The DAM industry collectively got away with this convoluted and perilous approach due to a fortunate coincidence of timing with wider accelerating trends in the commodity digital image and video capture device market. That probably won’t be repeated again, so now might not be a good time to carry on with the same luck-based approach to marketing strategy just because it happened to work successfully once before.