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What roles are required for DAM Vendor Selection Teams?

This feature article was co-authored by Ralph Windsor, editor of DAM News and Charles Russell, staff writer for DAM News.

 

In a previous article, we explored the challenges faced when building a business case for DAM, the core drivers behind the decision to implement one and the methods for measuring potential ROI.  Once a business case has been demonstrated and a decision to proceed with an initiative has been given the go-ahead by senior management, the next stage is to assemble a selection team.  In this article we will cover who should be involved in the decision to appoint a given vendor.

Managing DAM Vendor Selection Projects within Wider DAM Implementation Processes

In order to bring due attention and focus to the process, the selection task should be regarded as a sub-project within the overall DAM implementation.  With that being said, it is important to acknowledge that the selection exercise should never be considered as the project itself.  The scope of implementing DAM solutions is far wider than simply choosing a product and it will be an ongoing process with stages before (and well after) a vendor is appointed.

The Selection Team: Who Should be Included?

As with any other project, DAM vendor selection tasks should be formally managed with a team that consists of suitably qualified stakeholders.  Below are some of the team members who are likely to be required and what they will need to contribute:

  • Key DAM Users
  • Metadata/Taxonomy Specialist
  • Technical/IT
  • Procurement
  • Data Protection
  • Project Manager
  • Project Administrator

Key DAM Users

By far the most important stakeholders during the selection process need to be the individuals that will be using the system.  Their feedback is crucial to gaining accurate information about how your DAM system will be perceived and ultimately whether or not it will be adopted.  This should go without saying, but nonetheless, it is still frequently forgotten in DAM initiatives.  If DAM solutions are not adopted, the ROI they achieve will be negligible and the business case invalidated.  Lack of adoption is typically the biggest risk that has to be mitigated for DAM projects.

If you already have an existing DAM solution in place (or a close alternative which is used like one) you need to avoid alienating those users by ensuring they are involved in the process of selecting a new one.  This will require you to be mindful of their accumulated knowledge of current workflows, turnaround times, bottlenecks and issues affecting system efficiency.  Their expertise will prove invaluable when assessing potential issues with both your vendor brief and any prospective DAM tool which is subsequently included in an evaluation.  At the same time, the selected solution cannot simply become a mirror image of whatever you are using now with all the same flaws and limitations.  As such, you need to utilise their expertise, but avoid missing the opportunity to improve upon whatever existing solutions are already in use within your organisation.

Metadata/ Taxonomy Specialist

The information architecture of your DAM solution is analogous to its DNA and has a significant impact on whether users adopt it or not.  Even if all the required functionality is present, if the metadata model is unsatisfactory, key users with responsibility for cataloguing and tagging may not know how to properly classify assets.  The result will be that digital assets will not get found and ROI will be drastically diminished.

The role of the metadata expert during the selection stage is to ensure that the candidate products have the required capabilities to both enable the implementation of a metadata model and to manage it later.  The specific functionality needed will be discussed in a follow-up article, what is required from the team member is that they understand the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of DAM metadata management and are able to identify if a candidate vendor’s tool possesses the necessary capabilities (and without being too difficult to use).

To reduce the risk of an unsatisfactory information architecture, it is recommended to include someone with expertise in taxonomies and metadata on your selection team.  That might not always be feasible, therefore two further options are for one of the key DAM users to fulfil that role or, alternatively, a consultant can be recruited.

The latter case is considered at the end of this article, in the first scenario (a key user) ideally this person will have both experience acquired during a prior DAM implementation (possibly at another organisation) and also theoretical knowledge.  Ideally the latter will be through a formal library science qualification (e.g. an MLIS), if not, then they will at least have made independent study of the subject.  Whoever fulfils this role needs to understand the importance of metadata and find the challenges it presents to be stimulating ones they are willing to engage with.

Technical/IT

Technical staff, in particular those from the organisation’s IT department have a role to play in a selection exercise, but they should be less significant than other members of the team.  If the DAM solution is to be hosted on-premise (i.e. used within your corporate network) their input will need to be greater than if a Cloud or externally hosted product is used, but this is becoming less common and an increasing number of DAM vendors are ceasing to even offer non-Cloud editions of their platforms.

Where IT personnel can play a particularly useful role is in a consultative capacity to fact-check the vendor’s technical architecture and to ensure it adheres to baseline standards in terms of IT security and scalability.  With that being said, they should not be responsible for making key decisions and care should be taken not to include excessive numbers of stakeholders on the selection team.  At most, two internal IT representatives should be assigned to draw together these numerous technical threads and present the requirements, considerations and concerns on behalf of all those involved.

Procurement

An individual with in-depth knowledge of the organisation’s procurement policies and corresponding compliance requirements should form part of your selection team.  This member of staff will be required to liaise with prospective vendors, including potentially their own legal counsel and that of the vendor when contractual documentation and terms need to be agreed.

If you have an existing procurement specialist within your ranks, be sure that they have:

  • Basic knowledge of the DAM software market and the nature of the solution that will be delivered.
  • Prior understanding of the way complex solutions are implemented, using a combination of software licences and professional services.
  • Knowledge of the issues associated with Cloud/SaaS service delivery as it relates to vendors.
  • Understanding of Master Service Agreements (MSAs) technical support and hosting agreements.

Purchasing more complex solutions such as a Digital Asset Management system requires the team members responsible to have a multi-faceted combination of expertise covering both legal/procurement knowledge and a rudimentary understanding of the major technical issues.  This should not be the first time they have procured enterprise software solutions, even though they may have acquired their knowledge via some other route than purchasing a DAM system.

Data Protection

The introduction of legislation like GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) has increased the significance of data protection and data safety issues when procuring complex technology such as DAM systems that will hold personal data.  Since many systems are now externally hosted on Cloud servers, the necessity to ensure that prospective suppliers have the correct procedures and policies in-place is increased.

Even though the solution may be hosted and managed by a third party, if it can be proven during litigation that sufficient due diligence was not carried out by the organisation, they may still be held liable for any of the supplier’s shortcomings and face penalties as a result.  For this reason, where possible it is recommended that a member of the DAM selection team has data protection expertise.  For larger projects, dedicated member(s) of staff might need be to be assigned to verify a prospective candidate’s compliance with data protection legislation.  For those organisations that operate globally (or across multiple jurisdictions) this is particularly important.

Project Manager

As mentioned in the introduction, DAM selection projects should be treated as sub-projects within the wider DAM initiative and as such require a project manager.  It is preferable to have the same project manager responsible for both DAM vendor selection and a wider DAM implementation project, however, if you have highly specialised and complex needs, someone with responsibility for just this task might be appropriate.  If that is the case, there should be frequent liaison and communication between both of these executive team members.

One of the key considerations for both DAM selection and wider implementation projects is managing risk.  The introduction of a DAM is expected to achieve a positive ROI for the business, therefore, there will be risk factors which can impair their ability to do so.  A schedule of risks need to be maintained in a log together with what methods will be used to mitigate them.  These should be considered not only before the selection task commences but during and after it.  Discussion of general project management activities is outside the scope of this article, however, where possible it is recommended that a formal project management methodology (such as PRINCE-II or PMP etc) is used to inform and structure the project management deliverables.

Ideally, the project manager will be both a member of your internal staff and an active user of the DAM when it is eventually launched.  The project manager needs be highly familiar with your business operations and your digital asset supply chain.

The project manager is the interface or facilitator who helps mediate between the technological issues and the demands of getting it to work successfully in the context of your organisation.  As well as an ability to pick through complex technical detail, they need to be able to see the bigger picture and understand the strategic implications of any decisions the project team has to make.

This topic is discussed in the section on consultants below, but usually an external supplier is not suitable as a DAM project manager.  Even though they might have extensive knowledge of Digital Asset Management, they will lack deeper knowledge of the culture of your specific organisation and its conventions, practices, history etc – these are as important (if not more so) than subject domain expertise.  A consultant can advise or augment an in-house PM, possibly by providing technical expertise, but they cannot replace one.

Project Administrator

The selection process will generate a lot of information – from taking the minutes of meetings, preparing documents, budgets and reports, scheduling and coordinating meetings, calls and appointments, and accurately relaying information between members of your selection team.  The project administrator is responsible for coordinating this activity and will perform a key role in assisting the project manager to ensure that the project is kept on track.  For smaller projects or teams where there are less staff available, it is possible to have a non-dedicated project administrator but keep in mind the high volume of information that DAM requirements tend to generate and ensure that they are not overwhelmed by it.

Working with Consultants

Many organisations who are establishing a team for a DAM vendor selection project may decide that they need some external assistance from a subject expert.  For larger digital asset supply chain solutions, those where there are many users or complex integration requirements this can make sense as it can reduce the risk of making uninformed decisions.  Below are some points to consider should you decide this path is suitable for your organisation:

  • Ensure you have clearly defined goals for hiring a consultant. What benefits do you think they will offer? What objectives are you aiming to achieve? What sort of budget will you need to set aside?  It might be on some of these points (especially the last one) that you don’t know all of the answers yet, but you should be able to have an idea of what you require from a Digital Asset Management expert before you appoint one.
  • When contacting consultants and asking for their input, do they define objectives, specify a clear set of deliverables and give you an idea of costs? Further, will they provide this in a written form that commits them to delivering what they say they will?  There should be at least an overlap between what you have identified in the previous point with the information they are presenting back to you, but without you needing to prompt them.  As part of their requirements gathering exercise, they should help you to define a consulting budget.  All of this should be recorded in a Statement of Work that they will write and you will review to verify it covers everything you need them to do.
  • Do they offer a fixed cost quote? A defined budget for the services they will deliver implies that their objectives are more likely to be closely aligned with your own as it is in their interests that the consulting work is delivered promptly and within your own budget constraints.   Sometimes there can be issues with services being deemed out of scope, however, selectively extending the scope (especially if you have allocated a contingency budget) is a more effective way to control your costs than simply offering an open-ended time and materials based assignment where you have to sign off timesheets week after week.
  • Are they flexible about when and where the consulting work is carried out? In a typical DAM consulting exercise, on-site expertise is most important at the beginning of a project when the consultant must interview lots of different stakeholders and help you to define the requirements more precisely.  Thereafter, it usually becomes less critical as the project progresses (particularly as the vendor is selected and you move into the implementation phase).  Any consultant you work with should therefore be flexible about when and where they will need to be physically present.
  • Who else have they worked for? What is their client list?  Are the organisations similar in size to your own?  Ensure you get references and verify that the profile of their experience is congruent with the nature of your organisation and how you operate.
  • Do they have expertise across the whole DAM implementation lifecycle? If you work with a consultant who only offers vendor selection services, they may not have the required experience to understand the implications of choosing one vendor over another.  Further, if you require a consultant at a later stage in the implementation process (e.g. for metadata/taxonomy design or user adoption) then you will have to hire a different consultant who will also need to be briefed and assimilate core knowledge about your organisation.  This will slow down the implementation and probably add to overall costs.
  • How long have they been involved in DAM? Digital Asset Management is a complex problem domain and requires a range of multi-faceted skills from low-level technical knowledge through to information architecture, metadata and business management expertise.  To be an effective DAM consultant, it is necessary to have had exposure to a lot of different DAM initiatives across a wide range of sectors.  At least ten years is the ideal benchmark in terms of experience, preferably across implementation, strategy and operational management of digital archives.
  • Do they possess technical, project management and business expertise? As alluded to in the previous point, a DAM consultant requires a multi-faceted array of skills to be effective across the entire implementation process. There are some individuals who focus one particular area (typically technical expertise).  If you have a particular specialist activity which warrants having one person dedicated to that, this is justifiable, otherwise you need consultants that can cope with all the stages of the DAM implementation process.
  • Are they a reseller or partner for a given vendor? This point should be obvious, but if the consultant is a reseller or professional services partner for a vendor (i.e. they are non-neutral) then they cannot be involved in selection exercises because they are unlikely to be impartial.  There are a very small number of exceptions to this rule, for example if none of the vendors they represent will be invited to pitch, but this scenario tends to be unusual.
  • Will they train you and your colleagues to provide the required knowledge transfer for the long term sustainability of your DAM? Some consultants are unwilling to actively participate in client knowledge transfer or acknowledge their sources (i.e. who or how they acquired their expertise from).  This can demonstrate a level of insecurity about how well qualified they are to offer advice to clients and questions what real experience they have.  Good consultants are supportive of your long-term goals and see their role as an educational one, first and foremost.

Two longer articles detailing the attributes of effective DAM consultants are also available on the features section of the DAM News website.

Conclusion

This article should give you an insight into the type of personnel that usually need to be involved a typical enterprise DAM initiative and if you use external help in the form of consultants, what attributes they need to possess to achieve optimum results for your organisation.

As always with this kind of discussion, the advice is presented as best practice rather than a prescriptive recipe that must be followed to the letter.  With that in mind, you may wish to adapt some of it to your own circumstances for a variety of reasons, such as cost or available resources.  This is reasonable, providing you do it consciously and are aware of any risks that you may need to mitigate as a result.


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