DAM Guru Program Members Respond To DAM Innovation Slump

This guest feature article was written by Ben Smidt using contributions from members of DAM Guru Program.


What’s Holding DAM Back?” is the title of a 3-part series put together by DAM News on why digital asset management (DAM) may be stagnating in the industry. As Global Program Manager for DAM Guru Program, and one who is entrenched in the DAM community every day, I thought it would be interesting to ask the membership of DAM Guru Program to comment on the articles.

The series tackles the “why” of the DAM industry’s software slump by attempting to blame several culprits: DAM customers, DAM vendors, the media sources that cover the DAM industry, and the media created to promote DAM, such as infographics, articles, webinars, etc.

Each piece was authored by a well-established professional on the sales or consulting side of the industry, though none of these people are among those I would consider to be typical DAM users. That in mind, it was interesting to read what DAM Guru Program members had to say about the articles.

I have a strong belief that the more data and thoughts we gather, the better we can decide on the direction in which our industry proceeds.

The Customer is in Control

What I found most fascinating about the “customer” piece by Jeff Lawrence was the idea that the customer can affect the roadmap of the vendor. Part of me desperately wants to believe this notion and embrace the thought, but my more logical side says that this is not likely.

The reality is, if DAM software buyer has done the due diligence in research, there should be little need to become involved in, or concerned with, the roadmap of any vendor technologies. Additionally, the notion of customer involvement assumes that customers have a clear understanding of the needs they would like fulfilled.

I found myself in agreement with DAM Guru Program member and GlaxoSmithKline Content Librarian, Lisa Grimm, who responded in part to Jeff’s piece with the following:

“Customers aren’t demanding clarity, much less innovation. It’s almost depressingly common in our field to discover that the only person in an organization who truly understands how DAM works (or, perhaps, how it should work) wasn’t involved in the purchasing decision; they’ve often inherited something that wasn’t truly fit for purpose, and they don’t have the budget to do much about it. But if the customer does not budget for enhancements or new systems, vendors can’t be expected to pay particular attention; understandably, they’ve moved on to selling their existing solution to a new client. Yes, new features may roll out if a bigger client demands more attention during the implementation phase, but after that, the feedback loop goes quiet.”

Grimm highlights a common consensus among customers: a vendor is not inclined to listen thoughtfully to customer feedback, unless those customers have deep pockets or, because customers simply might not be asking the right questions, or fully understand what is possible to improve workflow processes. Grimm also speaks to the idea that the right people need to be in the room when the decision process for a DAM system takes place. Failure to do so will usually result in a less than ideal product choice.

Successful technology is pretty straightforward. When we go to use it, should function as expected. If it doesn’t, you may have a problem.

To this point, I found the remarks of DAM Guru Program member and Getty Images Search Editor, Tracy Wolfe, quiet satisfying:

“In order for DAM to move forward, it must provide an imperceptible level of service, not feel like a roadblock. Simplicity, streamlining and standardization are far more important than flashy and sometimes useless features that superficially address the latest trends.”

I believe many feel this way. We don’t care what technology a system was built on or the name associated with it; we just want it to work to streamline our flows and increase our efficiency. This is what DAM can and should be providing to the end user.

For me, after reading Lawrence’s article, my thought on the matter remains the same: the customer is responsible for making the DAM system they have chosen as successful as it can be. If you do your homework, through evaluation of multiple systems, there should be zero questions about the system’s capabilities.

All customers should fall under the second client type that Lawrence has labeled: those who look at the big picture with a strategic vision of the company’s future, and have thought about how a digital asset management system fits into it. This is a more successful approach to identifying a DAM system that will allow a company to scale more efficiently.

Vendors are the Villains

When I read David Diamond’s article, which takes a vendor-as-villain perspective, I couldn’t help but agree. Specifically with his portrayal of vendors as it relates to innovation.

As Diamond so eloquently states, I know for a fact that ‘vision’ hasn’t been entirely absent from the DAM industry. The problem has been that no DAM vendor has had the balls to act on any vision presented to it.”

For me, this statement ties directly back to a point Lawrence makes that there is no “Steve Jobs” of the DAM industry. I could argue there are, but the vendors these people work for don’t have the vision or balls, as Diamond said, to take the leap, make the commitment and become true leaders in this industry. If they did, it would be a game-changer.

DAM Guru Program member and Digital Asset Manager for the Scotts Miracle-Gro Company, David Nguyen, takes a moment to echo this thought through his response to the series:

“Digital Asset Management has made few improvements in the last few years in how well it actually manages digital assets. DAM solutions all seem to suffer from a lack of vision in how digital assets will be used and how to make that process better. Businesses are hungry for systems that provide processes that solve real problems. Often features and new user interfaces only seek to solve individual problems instead of providing intuitive solutions.”

Consider for a moment if a DAM vendor did choose to take the time to better define what digital asset management is in the industry. Throw away any preconceive notions of what it should be and consider what it could be.

I know for a fact there are some visionaries in the industry that are doing just that. Looking at some of the responses I received from DAM Guru Program members about this topic, it appears there are some users in the industry thinking the same.

For example DAM Guru Program member, Julie Shean, who serves as Technical Architect for The Metropolitan Museum of Art, offers some insight, while she addresses both vendor and customer perspectives on innovation:

“It takes more than a year to choose [a DAM], more than a year to implement one. Enter enterprise IT software fatigue. We have web content management systems and, in the museum world, we also have collections management systems, library catalog systems, constituent relationship management systems, and on and on. Oh, and then there’s SharePoint. How many of these are we planning on connecting the DAMS to? I’m sure you’ve noticed that many of these other systems are encroaching on your turf.”

Maybe the solution to improving the advancement of our DAM industry is not by inventing new terms or trying to complicate the process and function of DAM; rather, maybe the solution is to consider how integration can work with business solutions. I enjoyed the perspective from Nguyen about the DAM industry’s overall function:

“The Industry does not need more bells and whistles, but instead needs to focus on producing results. In all honesty, DAM software should really only be about 10% of a solution and the other 90% should be about integrating business processes that improves results.”

Wolfe adds:

“Vendors should stop grandstanding and making up silly buzzwords and devote that energy and fervor to really investigating user needs and ideas, becoming true partners. I agree with something in each article of What’s Holding DAM Back – from the fact that there is no Steve Jobs of DAM, that there are people in the industry that can be trusted, and that ultimately the more substantial opportunity for DAM is when digital assets can be integrated with concepts like Linked Data and the Semantic Web.”

Like anything, it is easy to sit on the sidelines and critique or make suggestions as to what would be the best course of action for vendors as it relates to moving the industry forward. However, as was illustrated in each perspective of the series, it is not simply one aspect of the industry that controls the direction of our path.

Media Makes a Mess

One of the most influential areas of the DAM industry is that of the media. Those who report industry news and vendor offerings can control the mind-set and position of the general public. Digital asset management media outlets are to be the impartial voice that can shed light on topics and issues around our industry.

What I found to be most powerful about Ralph Windsor’s article on media within the DAM industry was the topic of education. Having worked in the education sector for many years, I strongly value the power that free or low-cost, high-quality, educational materials can have on society. I believe in transparency and the ability for all to have the opportunity to learn, without the need for significant funds to do so.

I couldn’t agree more with Windsor’s remarks regarding some of the educational media materials found in our industry:

Much of the advice offered is of a facile nature and it consists of telling readers what they should be doing, but skimming over how to actually do it.”

The lack of standards within the DAM industry and the veil of secrecy that’s cast over areas such as metadata and taxonomy is concerning. Grimm said it nicely when she recapped:

“Standards are again top of mind in Ralph Windsor’s piece on the role of the media; his points about the truly alarming lack of metadata knowledge give one pause, and the difficulty in measuring ROI certainly takes time away from crafting the perfect taxonomy model. Some DAM vendors have clearly given careful thought to the role of taxonomy and metadata, and considered how users, both administrative and end-user might interact with that metadata (even if they don’t know they are doing it). But that’s not true across the board, and if DAM enhancements have fallen to someone who lacks experience in that space, it’s difficult to move forward true functionality improvements, since all real DAM functionality flows from useful, well-managed, metadata.”

My thought is, let’s remove the veil of secrecy around the true heart of digital asset management – metadata. Let’s provide the media outlets with educational insights through different forms of media content to get the attention that garners the publicity to improve education to the masses. I step back and see this as an opportunity really for vendors to provide honest high-quality tangibles to customers, as a way to increase knowledge and success within the industry through media content materials. Shean blatantly and wonderfully suggests a perfect example of this potential opportunity:

“I have to say, the constant re-positioning and Digital Marketing management suite-speak is incredibly off-putting to those of us not in that (evidently lucrative) sector. We don’t need to hire the librarians, you do. It’s all so DIY. Can I make a suggestion? Why not come up with a best practices example taxonomy and metadata field set for each of the market sectors you cater to? And implement it. Too much work?”

Shean is exposing a flaw with our perspective on how vendors achieve success with customers. The expectation should not be placed back onto any customer. The burden lies with the vendor, who should strive to educate those they serve, so they may have successful outcomes. Clearly, individuals with experience and expertise exist within the industry, and I see it as the role of the media outlets to draw these individuals out of the shadows and engage and challenge them to become a more integral part of the DAM industry. (As is the charter of DAM Guru Program.) An educated industry is a stronger industry. As Wolfe says:

“Most importantly, DAM administrators and users should continue to take advantage of every opportunity to learn what others are doing. There are informative and high-quality conferences, blogs, discussion groups and educational opportunities available. Knowledge is power. There is strength in numbers. Choose your battles wisely.”

This is where collaboration can occur, and I believe that collaboration between individuals with diverse backgrounds and across different industries is how we advance the DAM industry. Sharing the knowledge from different perspectives is critical to better understand how we can make the informed decisions that lead to DAM success. Of course, in today’s society, it is hard to rationalize giving away so much information (so much of ourselves) and asking nothing in return. But the goal remains the same for me: educate with no agenda.


Overall, I found all perspectives from the DAM News series to be of high value. I also found the perspectives shared by DAM Guru Program members to be an added bonus. Tapping into the knowledge of everyday DAM users has helped shed more light on how customers, vendors and media can work together to have mutual positive outcomes.

As noted in Windsor’s article, it’s clear there are leaders in the DAM industry and there are valuable educational materials available for consumption. What’s important to take away from the piece is that customers rely on media outlets to provide them with the best educational options. Guidance from media is pivotal in driving traffic to the right sources, so that potential customers can be adequately educated on the topic of digital asset management. This educational preparation is valuable when they begin seeking out vendor technologies. To use Windsor’s words:

“If those with a misguided and limited understanding of the subject get their way, [DAM] will not ever become [a standard enterprise technology], and that will be what ultimately holds Digital Asset Management back from achieving its true potential.”

I believe strongly that any industry stands to be better off with more educated individuals in it. This means not just customers or users of DAM technology, but also the inclusion of vendor employees and those who in the media sector report on the topic. If leaders and experts in diverse industries could come together to share ideas and test real solutions, based on feedback and brainstorming, we might have a chance at advancing our industry.

Unlike the computer industry, we don’t yet have our “Steve Jobs” to solve problems for us. But if we focus on what is best for the future of the industry – long term – and setup key models for sharing and consumption, we may have a chance at innovative success in the DAM industry that benefits all.

More comments on this topic from these and other DAM Guru Program members are available at the DAM Guru Program website


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