What’s Holding DAM Back: The Customers

This article by Jeff Lawrence of Celerity is the first in a series of three others around the subject: “What’s Holding DAM Back”.  The other two articles cover the Vendors and the Media.


It all started with a simple question for vendors, but it led to a larger and much needed discussion about the entire digital asset management (DAM) industry.

At the beginning of the year (2015), I wrote two articles for CMSWire: A Sneak Peek at DAM’s Roadmap for 2015 and Beyond and DAM’s Roadmap for 2015 and Beyond: Interoperability, Analytics. In these articles, I asked DAM vendors to describe their 2015 roadmap and to share their visions of where the DAM industry is heading beyond 2015.

My articles immediately sparked an avalanche of conversations within the DAM community.  This prompted Ralph Windsor of Digital Asset Management News to write two follow up articles, DAM Innovation: Who Hit The Pause Button? and DAM Innovation – Who Hit The Pause Button? (Part 2) that offered a critical assessment of the DAM Industry.

David Diamond of Picturepark said, “You guys have really started some heated (and welcomed) conversations within Picturepark with your articles and responses about the 2015 DAM vendor roadmaps. I can only assume (hope) that other vendors are doing the same.” I’ll let David Diamond dive deeper into the challenges, failures and lack of innovation by DAM vendors in his companion article What’s Holding DAM Back: The Vendors.

I tend to agree with the points that Ralph made in his articles about the vendors’ lack of innovation. It was a tough, but a fair review (as always) of the DAM industry.

Overall, I was a bit disappointed that more DAM vendors were not thinking outside the box and bringing forward truly transformative innovations. Or if they are working on these big visionary ideas, they were not willing to share those ideas just yet.

But hold on a minute!
Is it really fair to just blame the DAM vendors for a lack of innovation? Sure, the DAM vendors should be and can be doing much, much more. If you take a look around the DAM landscape, it would be difficult to clearly differentiate one vendor from another except for price, services, niche products and some additional features. I am not saying there are no differences in the DAM products. If you are looking for a new DAM, spend the time to clearly understand what your organization needs and choose wisely as discussed in my articles DAM Shopping? Use These Criteria to Find the Right Vendor and Digital Asset Management: Finding the Right Fit for Your Company. We cannot exclusively blame the vendors for the features or lack of features they are releasing with their products.

Types of DAM Clients
I am going to categorize clients into two basic groups: clients that are challenged with just keeping the DAM running and making enhancements to solve immediate needs, and clients with a strategic vision of where they need to go in the future. I understand there are many gradients between these two basic categories.

In the first group, the clients are so busy that it is often difficult to see the forest through the trees and are challenged with just solving the immediate problems and keeping the lights on. There is little or no time to dedicate to the strategic vision. It’s surprising how little of the DAM software’s capabilities are leveraged by most organization. DAM vendors usually do a good job of getting the DAM up and running, but do not have the deep understanding of your assets and business needs. Then you are left on your own to figure out how to maximize their DAM workflow.  I explored some ways to unlock your DAM’s potential in these articles Design Efficiency into Your DAM Workflows and Improve DAM Workflows Without Breaking the Budget. DAM clients need to work closely with their vendors to fully understand and unlock the full potential of the DAM.  Dedicate time to learn more about what your DAM’s capabilities. Read DAM Blogs, get involved with other DAM professionals, connect with DAM users to exchange ideas and hear about their challenges and what they are doing. Your responsibility as a DAM professional is to be a visionary to advisory group. Help shape and define the future of DAM!

In the second group, the clients are taking a strategic approach, developing a long-term vision and are creating a roadmap for where they want to be in 3-5 years with well established and thought out goals.

If you are in this category of clients and have innovative ideas, then you need to make your voice heard! Get on your soapbox, shout it from the mountaintop, write a blog, join a DAM group or start a new one! You can and should make a difference, but you need to get others to pay attention to your ideas.

Regardless of the client group, we must ask ourselves what we have done or are currently doing, to help guide the DAM vendors to create and develop the products we need and want? Do we work closely with the DAM vendors and effectively communicate our expectations for what we need and want from our DAM? How can we better influence the future of DAM? This comment may not sit well with some readers, but if you are not willing to form a partnership with your vendors and share your needs, then how can you expect the industry to create the products you want and need. Without good input from the clients, the vendors are just guessing and will not be create the products to solve your needs.

I’m not suggesting clients operate in a silo, and do not provide feedback to DAM vendors or actively contribute on vendor’s advisory board, there just is not enough across our industry. Our voice is not as strong and not as unified as it should be.

Driving Innovation, the Impact of Client Feedback
DAM vendors are constantly trying to sell us more features, more modules. What is the driver for DAM innovation or lack of innovation? Where do vendors come up with the ideas for new features and functionality, if not from their clients? I would suggest currently, vendor roadmap is influenced by: industry, competitor, client and vendor’s own “Steve Jobs”.

Do the industry writers and the media directly impact the DAM vendors? Should I fall on my sword now and take part of the blame, perhaps! But I’ll let Ralph Windsor cover that aspect in his companion article What’s Holding DAM Back: The Media which will examine the good and bad impact the media has on the industry.

The vendors are responding to market forces and building new features and functionality that are being released by their competitors. In order for your vendor to remain competitive in the DAM marketplace they may feel compelled to add features that their competitors are offering. I am not suggesting this is always a wise decision, but it is a business reality.

On the other hand, DAM vendors are responding their clients’ needs to develop new features and functionality.  It’s the squeaky wheel scenario where the largest and loudest clients get the vendor’s attention. Vendors are listening to those crazy requests from the clients. I can assure you; I have made my fair share of crazy, but useful, requests for new features.  The vendors are listening, or at least the good ones are, and building those features that the majority of their clients have requested. But it’s a balancing act for the vendors, they need to evaluate the feedback (requests) from the clients and then decide what features to develop.  The features that asked for the most often, how easy it for them to build and incorporate those features (Low Level of Effort) to be competitive in the marketplace (competitive advantage). I found that joining together with other clients as a unified voice to request needed features is a highly effective method of getting new features you need added to vendor’s roadmap. A single voice becomes a chorus of voices calling for the same DAM features and the vendors are then compelled to respond. DAM vendors who sponsor user group discussions to engage existing and potential clients and lead these dialogues set themselves apart and typically provide a better client experience with features their clients want and need.

Unfortunately many of the clients don’t have the insight and vision of what they need and cannot see beyond their immediate challenges.

Those clients with vision often don’t make enough noise to encourage vendors to act. Furthermore the truly visionary ideas may simply be too costly and risky for vendors to develop instead opting for the quick short-term wins. The transformative ideas and vision of the future may be too radical for the vendors to even consider.

Lastly, DAM vendors may lack the leadership from a true visionary, like a Steve Jobs, to drive transformation. Vendors who do not have a “Steve Jobs”, will unlikely invest heavily on R&D resources and budget, or alternatively, their R&D resource and budget is only to keep up with the Jones’.

Change how we think about our vendors?
DAM clients need to change the way they think about vendors. DAM’s are very expensive investments for your organization and you need to find a way to maximize that relationship. Clients need to form a partnership with the vendor and become involved with the vendor’s technology roadmap. By becoming involved, the client will be able to help influence the direction by developing the features that are truly needed. Ask the vendor for a seat on their client advisory board. Participate in their developer forums. Get to know the vendor’s key decision makers and product owners. The vendor is looking for ideas and you need a conduit to communicate your needs and wants. If the vendor is not willing to be your partner, then maybe you need to find a new partner.  Keep in mind all vendors want to create great products that organizations want to purchase. Most vendors are eager to hear about your challenges and help you find solutions.

What can be done or what can you do to help DAM vendors?
If the DAM clients spent the time maximizing the full capabilities of their DAM and providing proper governance, policies and procedures around the management of their valuable assets … well it might be a slightly different conversation.

I am confident that if the DAM clients asked for the tools they truly needed to maximize ROI and bring workflow efficiencies to their organization the DAM industry would respond with innovative new features to address their clients challenges. If the industry doesn’t respond, then it will cease to exist, as we know it today. Is the DAM industry dying or just transforming into something new? David Diamond will shed some light on this topic.

Going back to basics and improving the core functionality is certainly worth doing, but I am not sure the vendors can avoid offering new features and functionality. More than likely there is a balance that needs to be struck. Deciding on what features to work on, now that is an interesting challenge. You can lead the direction of these discussions, so get involved, offer new ideas and you can help change the direction of the DAM industry.

The industry is ready for a disruptive technology that will transform asset management, as we know it! I wonder where it will come from? The DAM Industry, the Storage Industry, the CMS industry or someplace we never expected.


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  • How do you think the 10 Core Characteristics of a DAM posted by the DAM Foundation plays into the ideas presented in the article above? Do you think the “DAM is dead” quote from your previous work and mentioned by both Ralph and David in their previous articles is a response to the 10 Core? Is the 10 Core “back to basics” or moving forward as you propose?

    So much to think on here. Thanks!

  • Elizabeth,

    It’s an interesting question.

    Full disclosure, I am a DAM Foundation Board Member.

    The Ten Characteristics of a Digital Asset Management system, that are outlined by the DAM Foundation http://damfoundation.org/?p=31619, still form the foundation for a DAM system. In fact I would suggest this might be an opportunity for customers to work closely with their DAM vendors to ensure they meet the minimal requirements to be certified as a DAM by the DAM Foundation.

    The ideas conveyed in this article only reinforce the need for DAM Standards and Interoperability between systems.

    In regard to your question about the “DAM is dead” quote from my previous article, I truly believe that even a DAM that is not directly exposed to the end user will need to meet the same qualifications. The only difference is that those capabilities may be surface through a different system. Think about DAMs that are interconnected with a CMS. The CMS user may not know they are actually using a DAM when they search for an asset to be published and yet the DAM is behind the scenes doing the heavy lifting.

    Lastly, “back to basics” or moving forward. It’s probably a little bit of both. Some vendors may need to go back and resolve core issues. Others may want to consider a larger rethink and start fresh. Then there are the new kids on the block who are starting from scratch and could become the vendors that disrupt the DAM Industry. It will certainly be interesting to see who moves the industry forward. Like I said in my article, the industry is ready for a disruptive technology that will transform asset management. The DAM Clients have an opportunity to play a large role in influencing this direction!

  • I may have a little different take on this because I think DAM is fairly mature. Adding new features has to be carefully considered because there are other systems and even categories of systems that do functions clients need quite well. The API is key. While you don’t want every DAM installation to turn into a development project, developing integrations make a lot of sense. We focus on Canto Cumulus and there are existing integrations to various PIMs, CMS, Adobe CS, Amazon S3, Azure, other CDN and many other systems which can just be purchased and the integrations can even be further customized.

    DAM is a core system which should be able to manage all assets but the focus needs to shift from DAM being primarily a MarCom solution to being one that manages and distributes assets for any need. Libraries should hold all of their assets in one to distribute to subscribers. Law enforcement/security should keep all of their digital evidence there. Retailers should link DAM to PIM for all sorts of uses from web e-commerce to traditional advertising to packaging.

    Clients and vendors need to discuss solutions in a consultative manner. The focus should not be on selling DAM but providing a solution. When this approach is taken, problems get solved. Most DAM systems can work if they have a decent API and the development will be reasonable of solutions are focussed on and further more, the integrations can be evaluated from a cost benefit perspective. This should be quite sufficient for any needs. I’d actually like to hear of requirements that can’t be addressed reasonably this way.

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