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Why Modern DAM Systems Are So Much More Than Shared Folders

by Naresh Sarwan on November 9, 2011

One of our featured DAM vendors, Widen, have released a blog post: “A shared folder is no substitute for DAM software“.  They pose several reasons why:

  • Limited security
  • Lack of back up (replication)
  • Need to invest in IT equipment
  • Lack of proper version control

The shared folder is a tempting, easy fix for providing widespread access to digital assets. All you need to do is put all of your assets into a shared folder on the company network and—presto!—there they are for everyone to use. It’s such an easy-sounding solution that many a company falls into the shared folder trap. However, once they realize that shared folders don’t allow for effective management of their assets, and that it’s not as cost-effective as they had hoped, they usually switch over to real DAM software.” [Read More]

This article isn’t bad but as with a lot of the vendor articles, they end up reading like miniature sales pitches that your average tight fisted IT exec or COO can knock down very easily when faced with the need to find reasons to not spend any money.  For example, the lack of replication, most corporates (and even SMEs) will point to their existing tape or disk back-up they already need to have in place anyway (and is ‘sunk cost’ as far as the business is concerned because they will still need it even with a separate DAM system).  On the need to invest in IT gear, the counter argument is that this is offset by a need to spend budget on vendor’s DAM licence and the cost for that might not be born by the IT department but the end user’s own budget instead.  It’s also a little contentious saying that a shared folder behind a firewall is less secure than an Internet hosted vendor product that potentially everyone is the world could get to via a public network (although it is the case that employees who do have access to the network can usually gain access with very little effort unlike a proper DAM system).

I can see why Widen have picked these characteristics of shared folders,  but I think they’re pitching at the wrong targets here.  The last point, the versioning is one of the better out of those offered, the other factors that shared folders can’t compete with at all include the following:

  • Searching – when you lose something, you’re into the operating system’s own very poor search system (if it even works properly on the network).  DAM systems usually have way better search tools.
  • Re-purposing assets by generating them in different versions, cropping, changing colorspace etc without deploying tools like Photoshop (and having to buy separate licences for them).
  • Collaboration on projects by sharing selections of assets and other social networking features.
  • Metadata – the opportunity to search by metaphors other than folders and use terminology that relates directly to the business.
  • Integration with Web Content Management and other asset origination tools like InDesign, Quark Xpress or even video editing suites.
Not to mention the ability for many DAMs these days to talk to LDAP and Active Directory so users can login using the same credentials they use for the workstation where they access their shared folders.
Modern DAM systems offer so much more than shared folders, but it seems like the DAM vendor industry isn’t very good at properly communicating the benefits of their products using anything other than older technologies as the benchmark.  It’s a bit like selling TV sets by saying the sound quality is better than a radio.  In my opinion, the DAM sector is going to need to up its game and improve how it communicates the benefits of its products with the target audience to get that remaining 50% to move away from their shared folders before someone else does it instead.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Tom November 10, 2011 at 12:11 am

Good post! You have pinpointed much better the differences between DAM and shared folders.

Nicolas A. Jimenez November 21, 2011 at 7:09 pm

Thanks very much for adding to the DAM discussion. We understand the criticisms of our post, but we think it’s worth noting that different differentiators become relevant (or at least more relevant) at different stages of the DAM acquisition/implementation process.

We have plenty of blog and other content highlighting the importance of the functions you named. Our intent was to offer something slightly more relevant to those who were making decisions about whether they needed DAM at all (regardless of vendor or feature set).
You can see our thoughts in an update on the Widen blog post.

In any case, we do appreciate the constructive criticism and are glad that our content is sparking a truly productive discussion beyond our blog’s borders.

All the best,
Nicolas A. Jimenez
Widen blog editor

Naresh Sarwan November 22, 2011 at 3:27 pm


I acknowledge your response, but I still think your reasons for that post are flawed. If you use a title like “A shared folder is no substitute for DAM software” and then only talk about features where a shared folder can potentially compete with a DAM system then there isn’t a lot to go on.

Search is a massive benefit of DAM systems over shared drives. All DAM products worthy of the name have this feature and it is arguably the #1 business case for buying one, but it doesn’t get mentioned in your article. Shared folders don’t generally have very good search facilities, DAM systems often do. Why not include that but do discuss version control?

Furthermore, I can’t agree with the suitability of your examples to illustrate your case. Your contention that I take local firewalls for granted is because they are present in most moderately sized businesses. I acknowledge that you may have come into contact with customers who don’t have security at all, but the problem is the exact opposite in most organisations I have dealt with. A more significant issue is external partners being able to get secure access to assets that are locked up behind a corporate firewall – this is where externally hosted DAM systems really start to offer major advantages over shared folders, but isn’t mentioned in your article. To work around this, many would-be DAM users rely on free tools like YouSendIt or DropBox rather than a properly regulated DAM system that can be audited and scrutinised.

I think where you have got into difficulties with this piece is on concentrating on the negative reasons to not use shared folders rather than the positive benefits of a DAM system. Because of that perspective, you have painted yourself into a metaphorical corner and left yourself limited opportunity to widen the scope of the article (if you’ll excuse the pun :))

I acknowledge Widen’s considerable body of DAM related information collateral (we have featured a number of your articles), but I do not think you have not represented either your firm or the DAM industry as effectively as you might have done with this piece. I do have to say also, that Widen are by no means alone in that respect, large swathes of the marketing material produced by vendors in the industry is woefully inadequate at spelling out the benefits of the product and why people should buy DAM systems, but it needs to get better and quickly as there are larger external competitors eyeing this whole sector with interest.

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