DAM and the Art of Governance

by Tracy Wolfe, MLIS

Governance is defined by Dictionary.com as ‘government; exercise of authority; control.’ In a digital asset management scenario, the most basic definition of governance boils down to which users have access to which assets and why. A solid governance strategy stretches beyond this to encompass the parameters of the system itself, as well as the information traveling with each asset within that confine.

Naturally, different DAM systems handle user governance differently with permissions on an asset level or more commonly, by folders or galleries in combination with user groups. Sound complicated? It can be, especially if proper planning, communication and documentation is lacking.

Do you really want the design studio preparing the annual report to have access to the photos of your company’s CEO at the holiday party? Are there rights managed images in your DAM and would it be costly and embarrassing to be slapped with an infringement for usage on the web if the licensing is for print only? Does this all make your head spin when you multiply the number of DAM users by the number of assets and possible combinations?

If so, do not fret. There are ways to simplify governance and to ensure that the proper folks have access to only the assets needed, no matter how your DAM system is structured. And, while a ton of articles mention that governance is important in terms of best practices for DAM, not many discuss how to actually implement a governance strategy, to discuss the topic with DAM users and stakeholders, to manage the inevitable changes and how to retain your own sanity in the process.

First and foremost, a governance strategy for digital asset management should be distinctly different from the IT governance plan for the organization overall. When developing a governance strategy for a DAM system, take into consideration the following things:

  1. What is your organization’s organizational culture? If the culture is somewhat loose, as in many creative agencies, simplicity will be key in establishing governance practices.
  2. If the DAM system will be used by multiple departments, set up a governance committee at the outset with members representing each user group and IT. Meet briefly and frequently – communication is key.
  3. Decide who will apply metadata, how will it be applied, and who will create the metadata. Will it be partially a result of embedded fields like IPTC or will there be a set of pre-defined elements or a standard employed like Dublin Core?
  4. Is there an established taxonomy or controlled vocabulary? If not, can you collect data to establish a controlled vocabulary? In conjunction with the vocabulary, can you utilize a single taxonomy or classification hierarchies organization-wide?
  5. Do you need a retention policy and retention schedules? Do your assets expire or lose relevance over time? Is there a need to archive assets after a certain point? Document all of this, no matter how minute or obvious it may seem now.

Whether you are launching DAM for the first time in your company, reigning in a system that has been in place for some time, or simply revamping the policies already in place, governance strategy should be well documented. A good DAM manager, like a librarian who is differentiating between reference-only items and circulating materials, will keep records. These may take the form of spreadsheets or flowcharts in a secure location delineating user group permissions, asset restrictions, metadata fields both required and optional, workflows, controlled vocabulary terms and taxonomy structure.

Additional tools can be used to store user logins, manage taxonomy, and automate metadata application, complementing and contributing to the governance strategy.

The most important aspects of the governance strategy are the organizational buy-in on the policies for digital asset management and the documentation of these rules. The benefit will be the ease of decision-making enabled by an established governance plan. Don’t worry about how formal or official these policies may be – the value is in having the discussions leading to the creation of the governance plan and simply in having it all written down.

About Tracy Wolfe

Tracy Wolfe worked as an advertising producer for 13 years and managed a digital asset management system at DDB. Tracy pursued an MLIS at San Jose State University as a result, focused on emerging technologies and has been working in DAM or search ever since. Tracy managed a DAM at Corbis Images for a high profile non-profit client and is currently working in Search Strategy at Getty Images. Ms. Wolfe’s interests include taxonomy, helping creative users find assets, and streamlining pretty much any process. Tracy has been involved with digital asset management for almost ten years.

Tracy has been a DAM Guru Program member since 2013. Connect with Tracy on LinkedIn.

Read more from the “Librarian Tips for DAM Managers” DAM Guru Program series »

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