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Digital Asset Management: More Than Just A CXM Sub-Plot?

by Ralph Windsor on September 13, 2013

Anjali Yakkundi who is an analyst for Forrester has written an article for their blog: What’s Next For Digital Customer Experience Tools?  She covers DAM along with data and content management tools:

The technology to manage experiences is maturing, but many organizations continue to struggle. These data and content management tools (think web content management, digital asset management, and product information management) enable information workers to create and manage digital experiences and/or their associated content and data. While the management component seems less sexy than the contextual counterparts, many organizations struggle leading to increased process inefficiencies, content recreation costs, and inconsistent content and data across channel silos.” [Read More]

My co-contributor has roundly trashed CXM in the past before assuming a less robust position about the subject, after a relatively polite conversation (or two).

I have a more ambivalent attitude towards CXM than either Naresh or Anjali.  I can appreciate that as a business strategy, CXM has merit.  Moving towards something that is more holistic than CRM and acknowledges the idea of  ‘customer experience’ is probably overdue and I can see the benefits for a business, especially the marketing function who are typically on the front-line in terms of any initial customer interactions.  However, as a consultant who specialises in DAM implementation, I find it too much of a blunt conceptual instrument to help transform client’s ideas into working solutions.  I think part of that stems from a lack of appreciation of what DAM is all about by those who see it only in the context of CXM.  This is due to the nature of Digital Asset Management itself.

I suspect many people’s understanding of what DAM is all about is based on their experience of where it gets used most often – right now that is for marketing related purposes.  Most DAM vendors (and the associated service providers who depend on their existence) have grasped that marketing teams now produce or receive all content in an almost exclusively digital form.  So if there is an exponentially increasing volume of digital material accruing within corporate marketing departments, it makes sense that people will soon need something to help them manage it and the market of solution vendors will assign greater priority to their needs in order to maximise the revenue opportunity.

The definition of Digital Asset Management, however, is more abstract and sophisticated than that trend suggests.  The Digital Asset Management term is simultaneously both brilliant in its simplicity and infuriatingly hard to pin down.  In straightforward terms, it means adding value to binary data to transform raw digital materials into something that will be in greater demand than the constituent parts.  Part of the reason why there are so many DAM vendors and different views about what DAM is all about relate to the abstract nature of the definition.  If you are a video producer, a DAM system that handles CMYK colour conversions of PDF files is probably a useless feature for you – those are not the digital assets you need to manage.  Photographers might be less interested in video and will be focussed on images, although some of them might be planning moves into offering video.  Those are two very basic examples, there are countless others which are progressively more subtle and complicated.  You can quickly see where all these sub-divisions and special interests rapidly lead to a fragmented market where few participants have a full appreciation of what the subject is really all about.

Returning to CXM, one element of what you might want to do with a Digital Asset Management solution is manage marketing related materials (assets) that will be a component part of CXM strategy.  You might also want to combine that with some other business intelligence or analytics data and then leverage your WCM solution to switch assets based on the aggregated knowledge of a customer that you have acquired.  That does not mean, however, that CXM related implementations is all DAM it will ever get used for.

Those who have more than a decade of experience in this sector might well recall that in the earlier years, there were not as many marketing personnel involved in DAM as there are now – as a stakeholder interest, they have only recently become the largest single group.  In addition to marketing, there are also law enforcement agencies, sports operations (of a local, national and global nature), stock media libraries, museums, archives and cultural institutions, education, media production businesses (including video, audio and images), broadcasters, scientific researchers and a whole laundry list of obscure special interests who all could make productive use of DAM software and related strategic approaches.  The range of subjects where DAM gets applied is vast – almost anyone you can think of who has more than a few hundred media files either has a DAM system or is contemplating whether or not they might need to get one.  DAM has become like the media equivalent of an accounts package, you can’t really get by without it once you reach a certain scale.

Because of this, I don’t think that DAM fits exclusively within CXM.  You could argue that marketing oriented DAM users are the largest market segment and that for practical purposes, DAM is effectively part of CXM.  But I don’t know if that is accurate nor if the marketing business function just happens to be the one which currently has a  greater interest in it than all the others.  I don’t think DAM is any more of CXM sub-division than a field like, Cloud Computing is (for example).  It’s quite likely that if  you implement a CXM strategy using a combination of software solutions that you may want to host it with a Cloud service provider, but that does not make Cloud Computing part of CXM, it is merely used within the context of a CXM implementation.  The same is true of DAM, in my opinion.

There is a school of thought which suggests that analysts were quite late both understanding DAM properly and fully appreciating how big it was likely to become.  In some cases, that might be accurate, although from what I can tell, they also tend to be staffed by smart people who are able to swiftly grasp whether a demand for a given IT field is rising or falling.  There seems to be a risk that in seeking to revise their view and place it within a convenient framework, they may have done so too hastily and might have to be prepared to change it all again – especially if momentum for CXM stalls while demand for DAM continues its current rapid ascent.

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