Recently, I have been looking for some new terms to go into the community DAM Glossary project which we set up last year. As to be expected, there are an ever-growing range of candidates and part of the problem is deciding how to prioritise which ones should get written up first. For inspiration, I have been re-reading Elizabeth’s Keathley’s book, Digital Asset Management: Content Architectures, Project Management, and Creating Order out of Media Chaos. That also includes a glossary with some terms that were not present in ours. An example is “Accession” which she defines as follows:
Accession – to accession a group or collection of digital assets is to take these assets in for the purposes of inventory, arrangement, description, and access. When working with a DAM, it can be helpful to use the term “accession” instead of “upload”, because accession makes clear there is much work to be done before these assets are ready for searches and use. Example : Sarah added the papers of retiring managers to the list of assets accessioned for the year. Later, Sarah and Jamal would prioritize accessions for the year according to the available budget for DAM ingest workflow.
Based on many of the corporate Digital Asset Management implementation projects I have been involved with in recent times, it seems as though many of the assets that have been introduced are in a permanent state of accession. The line between accession and cataloguing seems to be one which has become blurred to the extent that there is very little distinction between the two – at least in the minds of many of the end users.
I was discussing this issue with a few vendors recently and one explained that many users search using some fairly basic methods like the filename of the asset file or by just browsing categories. This is not a reflection on their product (I have seen this effect with all kinds of DAM systems) but more at the lack of interest users have in the act of cataloguing assets with descriptive metadata which would allow other search strategies to be more effective.
Part of the reason for this is the nature of the task and the environment which the DAM is being deployed into. With a lot of corporate DAM solutions, just getting staff to supply assets at all is a significant effort. In a CMSWire article yesterday, Irina Guseva described how silos of digital assets exist all over enterprises, even those who have implemented DAM:
“All too often, even if there is an existing DAM system in place, the assets tend to be scattered around the enterprise. This is not necessarily because employees are trying to circumvent a DAM system they dislike using. In most cases, it happens in small and large companies alike simply as a matter of convenience. Creative folks have terabytes and petabytes of space on their own servers or hard drives, and it is generally more convenient for them to store assets (and especially creative files and work in progress) close to their hearts.” [Read More]
That resonates with my own experience and it seems to be an on-going problem with all DAM implementations. Most organisations (especially larger ones) are usually of the opinion that there are volumes of noteworthy digital assets which they still have yet to uncover, let alone introduce to their DAM of choice.
Those who have a dedicated human Digital Asset Manager who can be called upon to take on some of this work have an obvious advantage, but not everyone can justify that expense. Even if they are able to set aside the budget required, clearing backlogs of cataloguing work is a never-ending process that looks like it will become increasingly demanding, to the point where delegating the work to the asset suppliers appears to be the only sustainable long-term option for them also. As was discussed last year, in the future, Digital Asset Managers are likely to become more like DAM Executives or Educators rather than necessarily being so hands-on with this task themselves.
I will accept that motivation to catalogue diligently is higher in some organisations than others, for example, sports or museums and heritage sectors. With more conventional business oriented subjects, however, that seems to level off fairly quickly and many users regard applying metadata as an irritation they want to be able to bypass as quickly as possible or ideally avoid it entirely. The snag with that perspective is that it is in conflict with their other role – as asset users who want to be able to quickly find relevant assets. At that point they bemoan the fact they cannot find anything and that a lot of irrelevant material is being delivered to them in search results.
It is easy to spot the central issue here: it is about time and as is widely understood by most people, time = money. Cataloguing assets with metadata involves an investment of time, if not committed during cataloguing, assets become liabilities that cost later during the usage stage of an asset’s lifecycle. The cost is generally far higher once cataloguing is completed and an asset is released since it may need to be used multiple times and each failed search incurs an additional expense. Further, there is no limit on the potential losses that can be accrued, it might be nothing at all for unpopular assets or it could be many thousands for more significant items where not finding an asset introduces a consequential expense like having to pay your printer or agency to find or even re-originate the missing asset, as described in Irina’s article.
On these pages, we have done to death the many reasons why quantitative pre-implementation DAM ROI models do not add up, but it is important to note that the issues described in this article are after a DAM solution has been deployed. This points to some reasons why just implementing DAM will not automatically save you money and how it might even end up costing you more than not having a system at all. Cataloguing and searching are like the Yin and Yang of DAM, the two processes have a symbiotic but potentially conflicting relationship. If you cannot resolve the two, you will almost certainly fail to achieve the full potential ROI available.
I do not believe there is a ‘silver bullet’ one-off solution that will address all these issues. The various automated techniques have a role, as does using keyworders and picture researchers or batch metadata tools provided by the DAM system vendor, but no one method is exclusively effective. A practical approach is to treat this task as an operations management exercise, which means analysing the nature of the activity and breaking it down into a series of processes and guidelines. Metadata cataloguing is a like any other business activity and there are nearly always at least a few unexplored opportunities to make it incrementally more efficient (and often quite a lot more than that).
In the rest of this series of articles, I intend to analyse the components of an efficient metadata operations management strategy and how you can might begin to combine these together to optimise DAM ROI. I will cover most of the various possibilities, including the role of automated metadata technologies and using external assistance from third party suppliers, but most of the key areas of interest will relate to people and how they may interact with the process models and management techniques discussed. I will not be providing a series of ‘how to’ metadata operations recipes, as that is unrealistic given the diversity of DAM use-cases across all our readers, but the articles should offer a few tactics and strategies you might be able to apply to your own situation with productive results.
Part 2 – Segmenting Assets Collections is now published and available to read.
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