More Digital Asset Managers Or More Digital Asset Management Education?

Yesterday, DAM Foundation published an item by Elizabeth Keathley of Atlanta Metadata Authority: Staffing for a DAM: Finding Successful Digital Asset Managers.

To clarify (for anyone who might not have understood the difference) “Digital Asset Managers” is usually a reference to a real human being who has responsibility for a collection of digital assets used within their organisation, as opposed to Digital Asset Management software solutions. In years past, this might have been a role fulfilled by someone with a job title like ‘Photo Library Manager’ – or similar depending on the type of media involved. It would be inaccurate, however, to say that this is simply an updated job title, there is a lot more to it than that, as is apparent from the article.

Elizabeth has written a comprehensive piece which covers a number of areas in some detail, including:

  • The job functions of digital asset managers.
  • How much they are typically paid and differences across sectors and age/experience groups.
  • Their backgrounds (both educational and social factors such as class or ethnicity).
  • Typical job titles and role descriptions.

The role descriptions especially look potentially useful for anyone who has to recruit a digital asset manager as well as a few tips on hiring in freelance/contract help to assist with asset cataloguing tasks.

The conclusion has some interesting points which I would mostly agree with. The final paragraph, I had to think about, especially towards the end:

Whether your DAM succeeds or fails will depend on your organization’s commitment to staffing the DAM with enough people to meet its goals. The successful adoption of workflows and the socialization of a DAM are highly dependent on the employees and leadership of a DAM team. When hiring for these positions, it’s critical to employ people who are dedicated to self-development and who are highly engaged with their professional community. While some IT functions can be outsourced through a service and support (SaS) agreement with a DAM vendor, and bulk arrangement and description can be handed over to metadata contractors, much of the everyday work in a DAM can be handled only by full-time employees dedicated solely to the DAM. As mentioned previously in this chapter, anyone who tells you otherwise is likely selling you something.” [Read More]

I believe Elizabeth is currently right, but there are some on-going changes to the nature of the Digital Asset Manager job role and how they interact with the collections they manage as well as the users of them. On the point about selling you something, I suspect this is aimed at either at the less scrupulous vendors who tell their sales prospects that with their DAM solution you don’t need anyone to do cataloguing, or those outsourcers who claim to be able to take on the entire metadata cataloguing and library management task without any in-house resources being needed. Needless to say, I completely agree with her opinion of those commercial interests that still pursue that approach.

On the requirement to have a dedicated member of staff to act as a Digital Asset Manager. If your organisation can afford this then it is, indeed, worth its weight in gold. I have worked with a few clients where they have fired the aforementioned photo or video library manager having invested into DAM software on the false premise that they are not needed any longer because the system has replaced the need for them. A few months later they often end up re-hiring their erstwhile employees again (usually on a more expensive freelance basis) when the value of their knowledge becomes clear and someone is still needed to maintain the collection and track down those hard to find assets that have not been catalogued as diligently as they should have.

So the business case for having a full time Digital Asset Manager is not too difficult to rationalise, however, the limitations of corporate (or public sector) budgets are not always as obliging as they need to be.

I work with a few clients in B2B sectors where investments into DAM need to be met exclusively by the marketing department. B2B marketing is typically has lower levels of funding than B2C because a lot of the marketing communications does not involve the scale of investment into advertising like TV commercials and billboard posters etc. Their motivation for implementing DAM is to leverage staff time and avoid increasing head count. They cannot afford a dedicated employee just to look after digital assets (nor a fixed contract with a services provider) but like most other DAM users, they need to be able to find assets quickly across an ever-growing collection of digital assets.

You can argue that perhaps some savings should be found from somewhere to fund the salary of a dedicated employee to manage your digital asset collection and (depending on how budgets are currently being spent) that might be a good option. However, my suspicion is that the wider macro-pressures that have lead to DAM software solutions and Digital Asset Managers being needed originally will soon lead to the nature of the job function changing quite substantially away from being directly involved in the hands-on maintenance of the digital asset catalogue and more towards education programmes.

With DAM, the devil really is in the asset detail. In whatever small or large way is required, metadata absolutely has to be unique for each asset because the raison d’être for having one in the first place is being able to find stuff – especially a single, specific item of media. The volume of digital content produced globally is rising exponentially. You can argue with all the other predictions about DAM that industry commentators might make (and we do that a lot in this publication) but you won’t find many people that will stand in opposition to that one.

The implication of both these independent facts when considered together is that the only way in which digital asset catalogues will continue to be relevant and useful for their primary purpose (finding assets) is if the organisation can keep pace with this growth in asset volumes and also maintain cataloguing quality. The lone Digital Asset Manager will not be able to deal with all of this. Even if they have assistants to help them, their time also will get rapidly utilised. Outsourcing can help, but even if you are using skilled cataloguing personnel (e.g. picture researchers etc) they won’t know your business and all the characteristics or details which make it unique.

I have read various articles about automated cataloguing and generation of metadata, but I have yet to find an example of an automated system that is really anything more than an intriguing artificial intelligence toy. In my opinion, it will be decades (or even longer) before these have a role beyond being ‘cataloguing assistants’ which prompt the user to add some metadata that they might have otherwise not thought of. The nature of the human languages and the numerous different ways they can be interpreted makes this a very complicated problem to solve and (as you would expect) human beings are massively more efficient at processing linguistic nuances than any machine oriented technique will be for many years.

The only practical and sustainable way that digital asset catalogues can grow rapidly and still have something approaching worthwhile metadata applied to each asset contained within is if the task is delegated out to the users who originally supply or generate the assets. This quasi ‘crowd-sourced’ technique might be sustainable but the quality control issue is a huge one. This is where I think the Digital Asset Manager role will need to head towards; as Digital Asset Management Education Managers who will probably spend less time dealing with decisions about individual assets and increasingly in a more executive capacity analysing wider trends and troubleshooting when user feedback and/or metrics start to suggest problems are developing.

To put it simply: we’re all going to need to become Digital Asset Managers now. We are going to depend on expertise and communications skills of those who have already acquired that knowledge to learn how to do it properly and tell us when we are not. So while I would agree with Elizabeth’s conclusion, in considering how the role of Digital Asset Managers will change, the points in her excellent job functions summary that relate to Digital Asset Management education and training are likely to become especially significant in the future.

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  • Everyone who is on their second and third iteration of DAM starts to take the process seriously, too many failures in the industry meme that explains, it is people, process, technology. If they get the trifecta and enough stakeholder buy-in, the projects get traction. Until this is understood, failures will be the norm.

    I am pleased to see the silo mentality fall when the businesses fiefdoms realise they gain more control and learn from the whole business. DAM is the one ring that rules the assets intelligence. This is the power base and should have as much scrutiny and oversight as financial assets.

    That day is coming, but not without the education process that goes with it.

    Bring on the librarians … thanks for sharing the article


  • In addition to education, digital asset managers must also determine functional requirements for the DAM, especially as groups within an organization come online. Customizing the metadata templates, look/feel, and functions for each of these user groups will encourage adoption. Besides which, digital asset managers serve as cheerleaders to further entice use of the system. Great reaction, as always, Ralph. I’m very happy with the DAM Coalition and Elizabeth’s insightful article too.

  • Congratulations on another excellent article.

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