Feedback from the IEN 2019 DAM Practitioner’s Summit

The Insight Exchange Network (IEN) staged its second annual DAM conference in New York this January.  Last year’s conference, ‘The Digital Assets & Content Leadership Exchange’ garnered positive feedback from DAM Guru Program members, which was kindly compiled by Carol Thomas-Knipes and is available to read here.

We posed a series of questions to delegates who attended, the responses for which are presented below.  A number of common themes have emerged from this year’s round of feedback, including the importance of the Digital Asset Manager’s role, the misunderstanding of how to achieve and measure ROI, and the general level of interest aroused by discussions surrounding user-centric issues such as poor adoption due to insufficient training.

A lot of responses were collected, so we have separated the article into two parts.  The first includes insights from the following gurus:

The follow-up piece features the feedback from these delegates:

We would like to thank everyone who responded for giving us their feedback and allowing us to share it with the DAM community.

What were the most useful insights you gained from the IEN conference?

Tracey Wolfe

From Margie Foster in the Executive Roundtable:

 – Set up a side chat channel for DAM team kvetching. Important to commiserate regarding requests and issues from users. Venting is good – sometimes leads to solutions too.

– AI is not an OR situation (AI or humans). At this stage it is an AND – AI must be monitored, auto tagging reviewed by humans.

Anne Graham

My biggest takeaway from the IEN DAM conference was that despite superficial differences like the culture of the organization, type of asset, and location within the corporate structure, everyone is really dealing with the same issues. We’re trying to balance user access versus intellectual property rights, to educate our users and stakeholders on the importance of proactively managing assets, and looking for opportunities to automate to mitigate decreasing headcount. It’s helpful to come together with people who face the same issues and talk to them about their solutions.

Fred Robertson

The focus on end users was really interesting and repeated a lot throughout the conference. Empathy for them, investing in them, listening to them, meeting their needs, speaking for them, etc. We’re nothing without users and it was nice to hear so many folks talk about how they engage with their users and how hard they work towards rewarding them. Quotes like “walk the customer journey”, “meet users where they are” and “listen to the naysayers” have all stayed with me.

 I also especially liked the American Cancer Society (ACS) case study. That was an eye opener. It really showed the amount of dedication that can go into the process and reap huge rewards for everyone involved. Would love to see more of these. The 2018 conference had a couple of these which were also really great.

Pauline Lopez

The best part of the IEN conference were the insights it provided into a Digital Asset Manager’s role in their company, the support they are given or need to seek, and their expectations about their position. While other DAM conference place the focus on new cutting edge technology or impressive large-scale projects, this conference was a great reminder that the success of a Digital Asset Manager is not necessarily linked to the technology that they choose, but instead depends on the relationships that they can develop and the goals that they set for themselves.

What DAM-related subjects are currently the most interesting for you and was that reflected at IEN?

Anne Graham

I’m currently in the process of standing up a couple of new systems, developing a metadata schema, and updating policies and procedures. These initiatives take resources to implement and maintain. I think an overarching theme to the conference this year was effective resource management, whether it’s staffing, funding, or time. I found it informative to learn how DAM professionals are managing their current resources and how they’re trying to expand user services. It’s a topic that’s constantly on my mind.

Fred Robertson

I was quite taken with the ‘Elevating Your Role’ discussion. Allowing a panel to talk about how they came to the role and what they’ve done professionally seemed to be a crowd pleaser topic and one that would really benefit future attendees. It felt like a real and genuine sharing of stories and ideas. I’d love to see more on this topic.

 Coming out of the conference I’ve been thinking a lot about the topic of sustainability and ways in which to illustrate the ongoing value in a DAM. Other ideas which were talked about that struck a chord include – committing to maintenance, scaling a DAM and building cross functional relationships. These lead me to thinking about finding ways to communicate with users that are not disruptive and allow for constant engagement with users and hopefully building a user community.

Pauline Lopez

I’m really interested in how to find success and adoption with your user base. While there wasn’t a direct panel on this at IEN, this thread often did come up across panels, since it’s such an important topic for Digital Asset Managers.

Do you think the ROI from DAM is properly understood by users? If not, what would help to demonstrate its value?

Anne Graham

Users don’t understand the value of media management because it’s only apparent when there’s a problem: assets are lost or corrupted, rights holders threaten legal action, or systems interfere with day-to-day activities. If everything is going as it should, media management is invisible to users. I think we as DAM professionals must move beyond the notion of ROI, because we’re always going to be cost centers, to one of added value. As an example, consistent and relevant metadata adds value to an asset. Regular monitoring and reporting ensure long-term preservation of assets. DAM is a value chain.

Fred Robertson

I do think ROI is understood by users. I just don’t think that they spend a lot of time considering it. While they do want to know what’s in it for them, they really just want to get what they need and keep moving.

 To that end, if we’re successful with our DAM, the ROI for users is their ability to work faster and our ability to relieve them of tasks which take up too much of their time or that are better suited as tasks for the digital asset manager. 

 Personally I think management doesn’t properly understand ROI as it applies to DAM. Mostly because they do not understand DAM. Their expectations need to orient more towards having a knowledge base that informs them first (about how DAM works) so they can better focus on ROIs which are both attainable and properly aligned the business need. They also need to fully support and participate in any change management initiative if they want a true and accurate ROI.

Pauline Lopez

Most users I’ve worked with do understand DAM systems can create an ROI through efficiencies gained and errors avoided. However, leadership may not always be so ready to embrace that a DAM can provide ROI, just because they are so far removed from day-to-day tasks.

 I think demonstrating the value of a DAM should be tackled in a few ways. Of course, you can survey your colleagues, gathering numbers about hours spent per task, see where a DAM can save you time and then calculate ROI in dollar amounts. Another approach that I plan on taking is to conduct the Maturity Model survey that Henrik de Gyor spoke about at the conference. I’d like to survey my department currently to get a baseline reading of where they feel we’re at and then continue to send out the survey every six months to see where we’ve made improvements. While the survey doesn’t explicitly relate to ROI, it does a good job of illuminating the frustrations employees feel when operating in the Ad Hoc or Incipient levels and the potentials available to reach Operational and Optimal levels. No one in leadership positions should want to know that their employees are operating based on outdated, unadvanced asset management models and that they’re not putting in any efforts to improve their situation.

Has DAM really innovated in the last five years and if so, in what ways?

Anne Graham

DAM has some significant innovations on the horizon, like AI and machine learning, which may be able to automate some aspects of asset description and preservation. However, I don’t think these have come to fruition. Skilled professionals are still needed to construct and maintain the data models, metadata schema, taxonomies, ontologies, retention schedules, and preservation rules. In some respects, the profession is cutting-edge. In others, it adheres to established practice in archival science, information science, records management, and digital and physical preservation.

Fred Robertson

This one is hard to answer since I’ve only ever been involved with DAM systems I have managed at any one time – which is not a huge variety. Without close examination of other tools it’s hard to know about innovations and difficult to pay attention fully to industry trends.

That said, over the past two years I’ve been involved in the implementations of two different DAM systems. In both cases I felt too many compromises had to be made because the chosen system either couldn’t do simple tasks or required expensive customizations for functionality which really should have been included out of the box. Developers put up too many roadblocks throughout these processes and failed to understand the most basic of needs of a DAM.

 Additionally, throughout both projects I was unable to participate in the process at a level that allowed my expertise to be a constructive addition to development. Here again is where I feel management and even operations or systems managers do not understand the role enough to allow the asset manager to be (at the very least) an equal partner.

 I describe those examples because they’ve left me to wonder why companies (large ones at that) are making sure poor system choices. Systems which show a lack of understanding or innovation in their functionality and the ability to fulfill many basic requirements as DAMs. I’m sure there are systems and innovations which I am unaware of. Admittedly it is an area where I feel my knowledge is lacking.

Pauline Lopez

I think that the image of a perfect end-to-end system that can take a digital asset from its inception to its final home in an archive has not really materialized. It seems that now the goal is to almost make the DAM disappear for the user. The Digital Asset manager continues to provide organizational structure and metadata for the asset through a DAM, but through APIs, the user accesses the assets in the environments where they need to conduct their work.

What topics would you like to see discussed in greater depth by the DAM community?

Anne Graham

Coming from a digital archivist background, I’m always interested in seeing how DAM/MAM vendors and professionals apply the OAIS Reference Model and the Trusted Digital Repository Checklist (ISO 16363) to the preservation of digital objects. I’d like to see more discussion of how adoption is being achieved, as well as dealing with obstacles.

Fred Robertson

I’d love to see more case studies like the ACS one this year. Also, less redundancy of topics or generic overviews – there wasn’t much of this, but a couple of times it felt like we were repeating ourselves. More success stories – or even failures – would be great.

 The Maturity Model discussion was a nice dive into the topic and I found it very useful. I would love to see something similar done covering Governance. A panel or case study with examples of how asset managers build a governance board and what their interactions look like. I think this would be tremendously helpful.

 I’d love to see a panel of systems and/or operations managers – not digital asset managers per se – but DAM Product owners or stake holders within large companies who can speak about the best ways to influence management and instill the need and importance of DAM. There are many stories about tools being purchased by companies where the asset manager is not included in high level conversations around system selection – mine being a first-hand example. I’d love to hear from people in those roles who understood the need to rely on an asset manager for input, to involved them in the process and were successful doing so.

 Lastly, I think a discussion around how to manage both work in progress (WIP) files alongside or separate from final marketing assets and creative file packages is a topic that begs a panel and/or a case study. I think it’s one of the biggest challenges for asset managers and was touched on at the very end of the conference during the final panel and left me wanting more.

How do you see DAM developing over the next few years based on both what you know from your own experience and what you learned at this event?

Anne Graham

It’s my hope that DAM practitioners can move the discussion of asset management from ROI to the value chain framework. I think that will elevate our expertise and experience within organizations and the profession. We have a lot to offer, but I don’t think anyone is currently taking advantage of our true potential.

Fred Robertson

This year’s event reminded us that Artificial Intelligence (AI) still has a way to go before it can be a reliable tool to use as part of any DAM system. But I do see it developing further and likely becoming a useful extension (in some form) of DAM systems in the coming years.

 My hope for DAM over the next few years is for greater adoption by companies large and small and (hopefully) as a result, larger asset management teams. For all our frustrations as asset managers and being (in most cases) a department of one, I feel the move towards building larger teams, either directly focused on asset management or through user groups or governance boards, that the role will continue to be elevated. I realize this is ambitious thinking, but I do think the needle is moving in that direction. No matter how slow.

 The unfortunate development I see continuing with DAM is the continued proliferation of add-on tools and feature sets which are either unnecessary or not universally useful. Various web products designed for social and/or third party posts – Amazon, etc. – which add complexity and confusion rather than providing meaningful functionality. I’ve been on too many sales calls where the pitch never really lands because the tool has to fit into parameters which are so narrowly defined as to be not relevant to the business case.

What was your overall experience of IEN and would you go again?

Anne Graham

I really enjoyed the intimacy of this the IEN DAM 2019 conference. I felt engaged by my fellow attendees in ways that I don’t at larger meetings. The panel discussions were provocative and conversational rather than didactic and I especially enjoyed the discussions that sprang up organically between sessions. I will definitely return.

Fred Robertson

My overall experience was very positive. I’ve been to both IEN DAM conferences and I would go again as well. I think as it evolves it might need to think about new ways to engage repeat attendees who seek further development and communication with their colleagues and who might not need to attend each panel or presentation. I’m not sure what that looks like exactly, because I really do love the intimacy of the room and the way in which we’re able spend focused time discussing things with our table mates between presentations. I liked the breakaway portion in 2018 where we formed groups and collaborated, but again, I’m not exactly sure how that might work if brought back.

 Ultimately the opportunity to meet and talk to other DAM professionals is the real reward. I leave each day wishing I had more time to talk with more attendees and share experiences of working in Digital Asset Management.

 This year’s conference was significantly shorter than last year – a day and half instead of nearly three days – which was unfortunate. I’m sure there was good reason to shorten it but would have loved at the very least a second full day.

Pauline Lopez

I thought IEN provided a great alternative to vendor-heavy conferences. No one was there trying to sell you anything and you got to hear from DAM veterans with 20+ years of experience under their belt. I really found that valuable and I would go again.

The second part of this series presents more feedback from other IEN delegates.

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