Max Dunn

Max DunnWhat companies/organizations have you worked for as a DAM professional? What was your role at each?

Rather than being a pure DAM professional, I am a document automation programmer. I have had only two jobs in my 25-year+ career: I was a software engineer at Bertelsmann during the 1990s, and I have lead Silicon Publishing since founding it with our CTO Alissa Whitney in 2000.

In the late ‘90s at Bertelsmann, I built several DAMs, but we didn’t call them DAMs at the time. Rather, they were systems that managed assets for Bertelsmann printers. The functionality of these early asset management systems didn’t stop with digital assets, but included automated pre-press and database publishing functionality, and was always deeply connected to workflow management. The first “DAM” that I encountered was Canto Cumulus. I played with it as a desktop product, but it seemed extremely limited, and crude compared to the systems that we had built for use in real-world production environments.

At that time, I was deeply interested in SGML while watching XML (envisioned by Jon Bosak as “SGML for the web”) take shape. Metadata was exciting to me, as were early concepts of the semantic web. The web seemed like the ultimate asset management software, while those early DAMs looked more like slices cut from more broadly-based publishing solutions, packaged into stand-alone products of their own.

As Silicon Publishing (2000 on), we solved database publishing and online editing challenges. To do this, we would create DAMs from scratch, much as we had done before at Bertelsmann, or we would interface with up and coming products such as Xinet and MediaBeacon, which pioneered DAM as we know it today. I attended Henry Stewart conferences, and my initial reaction was that the DAM movement was pretentious, and out of touch with reality.

That impression was tempered, however, when I had the honor of working with Jason Bright. Getting to know him and the MediaBeacon product led me to a deeper appreciation of the positive aspects inherent to the DAM vision. Seeing DAM software and the DAM culture evolve for the past 20 years has generally washed my initial skepticism away, although I still have many strong opinions and ultimately see DAM as what you and your organization make of it.

How do you describe Digital Asset Management to others?

DAM is something you do already, no matter who you are, and whether you use software that calls itself DAM software or not. In essence, it is the process of managing digital assets, whether you are a kid working with photos in iCloud or Instagram or a multi-billion-dollar corporation managing the graphic assets that define your brand. The challenges are much the same, despite the differences in scale. Can you find what you need? Do you have a hundred copies of everything? Is there an “EvenMoreFinal” folder on your hard drive?

Whether you’re an individual or a corporation, a software tool won’t help you by itself. Successful management of assets is instead an intense, engaged process, which starts with conscious organization and a consistent, defined workflow, software system or not. Casual or passive DAM implementation can perpetuate bad processes or poor organization, so its initial setup and configuration must be approached with understanding and care.

DAM software offers the greatest value to those working with an individual or corporate mindset that values good asset organization, and who will invest in continually refining their practice of asset management. Anyone can see the benefits of this: you can find what you need quickly, avoid redundant inconsistent versions, and manage content variations with automation, etc. But the cost is the investment of time, which often includes defining and refining processes.

Far too often I have seen organizations think that if they purchase the DAM software, it will somehow magically solve their process challenges (and way too often DAM sales staff let this myth persist). No matter how powerful DAM software is, it is just a tool.

What’s the most important thing for someone new to DAM to understand about DAM?

What I just said: DAM is a process. DAM software can be a powerful tool supporting that process, but successful asset management depends on very conscious and organized definition and implementation of a process that works for your organization.

If a team is new to a new form of DAM, whether through process re-engineering, migrating to a new system, or both, there is a good chance that some or even all team members will have to adapt their practices to make the change a positive one. They need to know what the benefits are, and the level of sacrifice required to attain them. It is healthy to engage those using the system at the outset of planning migration.

How did you learn DAM? Any recommended sources?

I was very fortunate to learn DAM from our partner companies: MediaBeacon, Bynder/WebDAM, Day/Adobe, ContentHub/Sitecore, Hyland/Nuxeo, etc. (such names invariably come in pairs these days, thanks to acquisitions and mergers). Our company offers a “Silicon Connector” product, so we see DAM mainly from the perspective of those people who work directly with Adobe creative tools.

The two books that anyone who is serious about DAM needs to read are Peter Krogh’s “The DAM Book” and Theresa Regli’s “Digital and Marketing Asset Management.” These cover the basics extremely well, and whether you’re DAM-interested or not, both are just plain great works by exceptionally brilliant people.

But like software, books are also just part of the puzzle. DAM is ultimately learned by implementing or participating in an implementation. Ideally a successful one, but if not, then it can serve as a learning experience along the road to a successful one.

What is your ongoing greatest challenge with DAM?

In our work with DAM, APIs are often a challenge. The notion of an “API-first” DAM is a great one, as is the concept of a “headless CMS.” Interoperability is so critical, that the strongest DAMs are those with good APIs, as well as a good process to manage the evolution of the DAM itself and those APIs. Good software does not sit still. Ever.

In terms of the human side of an implementation, the biggest challenge is breaking through the myth that a software purchase alone will transform your workflow. No pain, no gain.

What is your vision for DAM? What will it look like in 5 years?

I have seen DAM slowly but steadily improve: cloud-based DAMs are now the rule more than the exception, there are better and more cost-effective tools, and there is a greater awareness of asset management, with more available information about it.

It’s hard for me to predict the future, but I hope to see greater modularity, extensibility, and interoperability from DAM software, along with further evolution in terms of best practices in asset management. AI is already having huge impact and will no doubt continue to do so.

What was your biggest mistake with regard to DAM?

I have been part of both successful and unsuccessful DAM implementations, and my biggest mistakes have probably involved staying too quiet when I saw an approach pushed forward that I thought was unlikely to succeed. The lesson here is to call out bad architectures early and often, even if you ruffle a few feathers.

What was your biggest success with regard to DAM?

We have some very successful integrations of our online editing software with DAMs, in which the users don’t realize that they have left the DAM while using our software to edit content. This is the modular vision we had for many years, one which is only recently becoming a reality.

If you weren’t doing DAM as a career, what would you be doing?

Spending time with my kids out in nature and trying not to bore them by talking about metadata too much.

What more would you like to learn about DAM?

I am thankful to be working with a leading DAM software vendor on a serious integration with our Designer, and in that context I want to explore the places that creative work and DAM overlap. With all our DAM partners I am excited to look at how our Silicon Designer product, as well as Adobe products, can connect to their systems in new and interesting ways. Ultimately, we serve organizations that publish, with focus on the creatives who make that publishing happen. I cherish any time I can spend engaged with solutions that really work, to understand how the related software can evolve and how best practices can be codified and repeated.


Max is President of Silicon Publishing You can also connect with him on LinkedIn

This interview was published in DAM News on 29th November 2021. For more DAM News interviews, see the interviews index page.

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