Digital Asset Management Value Chains – Collaboration

After a brief pause, we are resuming our ongoing analysis of DAM Value chains. For those who are new to this subject, the introductory article explains more about what it is.  Next up on the list of subjects, is Collaboration.

What Is Meant By Collaboration?

In DAM terms, collaboration, means users interacting with their peers in relation to either assets or some composite activity (e.g. a project) where assets get used. It is possible to analyse this either by de-constructing it into a series of component parts that make up some collaborative activity or with reference to a specific item of functionality. Collaboration in DAM might therefore be composed of signals delivered between the system and the users to inform them about a recent modification or it could be viewed as some process like approval of assets. End users are likely to be more interested in the latter, developers and those involved with integration of DAM into wider business processes will care more about the former.

Why Has Collaboration Become Important?

Historically, DAM was more of a specialist production tool and would have been used by a small and select group. They wouldn’t need much in the way of electronic tools since there were either not many decision makers to worry about or, where there were external parties, getting them to use DAM solutions was impractical or just not feasible. In addition, many of the major users were in close physical proximity to each other so they were less useful. While production staff are still heavy DAM users, there are more stakeholders involved now and the needs of a typical solution have to adapt to reflect that.

Many DAM solutions are now used by large corporations with thousands of staff who are frequently geographically dispersed over multiple time zones. The fees paid to vendors by these customers are subsidising the majority of the development costs now and, therefore, they are increasingly able to dictate the functional agenda. This segment of the market faces these collaboration challenges:

  • It is no longer practical to rely on phone calls and emails to work on projects involving digital assets.
  • Using an asynchronous communication system like email offers an imprecise method for keeping track of discussions and auditing decisions as well as complications like emailing large files.
  • Generic community or social media tools like bulletin boards offer some advantages but still usually lack the ability to directly to asset records or specific groups other than with some fairly basic methods (e.g. pasting URLs to search results etc).

How Is Collaboration Employed In DAM?

Within the context of these limitations, it is also useful to examine the multi-faceted processes involved in collaboratively managing assets. These might include:

  • Usage oriented: deciding whether a request to download asset like a photo should be permitted (and all the associated review tasks required).
  • Approving the introduction (upload) of a new asset and how it should be catalogued. This could be relatively simple, such as which photos to make available from a shoot or it could get into more demanding production tasks like reviewing artwork and noting comments.
  • Creative asset composition activities. For example, choosing what images to use in a brochure or refining and EDL (Edit Decision List) for a video.

Many mid-senior users are effectively managers of content exchanges within their corporate DAM and they are required to get hands on with the logistics of this task as a result. These are the pressures and demands that are driving collaboration in DAM and therefore what will set the modus operandi of DAM Value Chains in relation to them.

It is possible to see two key themes emerging:

  1. Workflow within DAM generates many more signals (or ‘events’) where your colleagues interact with assets and generate activity that you might potentially need to be aware of.
  2. Users require increasingly more advanced methods to manage the data generated by those interactions so they can respond to only those that are of significance.

In other words, collaboration tools in DAM systems simultaneously offers an opportunity to control processes involving digital assets but they also create activity streams which, in turn, require management.

What Impact Will Collaboration And Its Role In Value Chains Have On The Wider DAM Industry?

The management of collaboration interactions within DAM is driving forward some of the more innovative developments in terms of capabilities that have not been seen before. This also highlights the challenge that those who still want to build the whole product in-house will face.

Many of the metaphors and styles used for content manipulation interfaces are familiar to DAM users. Although some existing asset manipulation tools have collaboration features, most can only work with one type of asset. This is one of the key strengths of collaboration integrated into DAM – the ability to access numerous types of asset and allow the underlying DAM application to link them together for custom use cases to suit each user’s needs. Collaboration is one area where DAM could assume control of asset manipulation features from traditional applications and also provide features that have not hitherto been possible. This is still quite rare for DAM and we are in the early stages of this process.

In my view, despite the perception (or propaganda some cynics might call it) that there has been rapid progress in DAM, in reality, the core purposes and corresponding features have not changed a great deal for decades, they have just got faster and (a little) easier to use. The real game-changing transformation has been the opportunity offered by internet/online communications. DAM systems still only scratch the surface of what is possible and vendors have been tied up with the challenges of just delivering product. Collaboration features in DAM might change this since they add a functional tier that has not been properly feasible (certainly at a level that many DAM users could realistically afford).

We have featured ConceptShare several times on DAM News because their tool is integrated with a variety of DAM products already. Those who have chosen to use it have evidently reached the conclusion that they cannot reproduce the same collaboration facilities cost-effectively. ConceptShare have directly identified the DAM segment. The delivery method where they connect into multiple host applications illustrates how DAM Value Chains might work as a prototypical model. DAM applications are their route to market (or channel) and there is a symbiosis now developing between those offering the core DAM product and the collaboration facilitators.

The market for collaboration tools has a dynamic which parallels an earlier period of the wider DAM market itself. In around 2000-2003 when DAM was still mainly in the early adopter stage, one of the more common phenomena was the number of ECM installations where either the primary ECM vendor or the IT department buying the application thought they could save money by rolling out some rudimentary DAM (usually referred to as ‘the photo library module’ or another equally disparaging description). Usually the results ended up being abandoned by the target users because they lacked sophistication and depth. A lot of the demand for web based DAM systems sold in 2004-2007 was likely to have been predicated on the failure of ECM tools to adequately address demand for systems to effectively manage rich media such as images and video.

It seems that a similar effect is in play now with content collaboration tools. Many DAM vendors are able to recognise the exponential growth in demand for content collaboration features by their users. However, a number look set to repeat the same mistakes that ECM vendors did over a decade ago by trying to provide hand-rolled features to avoid both integration challenges and also costs of licensing someone else’s product. The difference between then and now is that there are many more DAM vendors and significantly higher levels of cross-industry duplicated cost that could be easily trimmed back without significant consequence for end users in terms of functionality.

The more successful DAM systems that users are likely to gravitate towards are those where the ‘best of breed’ collaboration features can be rapidly deployed to users. A consistent user interface (or ‘experience’, if you prefer that term) is going to be important too. I would expect that those building content collaboration plug-in features are going to understand how they need to offer that for their DAM vendor customers.


An application environment as offered by a concept like the DAM Value Chain offers benefits for both existing DAM vendors who want to be able to quickly address end user needs and also the collaboration tool vendors themselves. The key advantage has to be interoperability – which we would anticipate being one of the most important commercial factors that encourages the development of DAM value chains. Those who are more widely connected and integrated into numerous peers and partner products stand a better chance of both surviving and prospering as a result.


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