Finding Signs Of Life In DAM: Diagnosing What Has Gone Wrong

Subscription Only

This feature article has been contributed by Ralph Windsor, editor of DAM News.


Recently, among some who have been involved in the DAM industry for a long period of time, there has been what can only be termed despair at the lack of progress the market has made when measured up against other enterprise software segments.  

Subscription Required

You need an active DAM News subscriber account to access this content. If you already have a DAM News subscription, you can log into your account here.

Share this Article:


  • Excellent points, Ralph. I also think a big piece of the “no one wants to enter metadata” situation is the lack of understanding and accountability from leadership within organizations on the value of information management – including, as you mention, metadata and the digital supply chain as equally critical to business as the physical supply chain.

    I agree that DAM professionals will never be able to keep up with the amount of assets that need to be catalogued; it needs to be an organization-wide effort, with buy-in from executives, and accountability across the enterprise. And yes, AI will help alleviate some of the burden as it matures, but it’s just a tool. And every tool requires human oversight, maintenance, and resources – search engines need to be tailored, algorithms need to be trained, and vocabularies will still need to be maintained.

    Despite the fact that many organizations do understand the value of digital marketing, they haven’t seemed to connect the dots with how data and metadata originate and flow throughout and beyond their organizations to support critical business decisions. Part of the problem is also the mindset that there’s never enough time, money, or resources – so the dictate is to do the minimum now to get things out the door, then worry about the ramifications later. From my experience, it seems that “there’s never enough time to get it right, but there always time to do it over.” Planning, creating policies and procedures, delivering adequate training, governing, and optimizing processes and workflows along the digital supply chain always takes a back seat to the short-sighted goal of meeting immediate deadlines.

    DAM is not just the management of digital assets – it’s how effective management of those digital assets enables the larger digital supply chain to deliver information in support of critical business decisions. Leadership wouldn’t dare make decisions without accurate financial data, yet the data that describes their content is deemed of little value. DAM needs to tie in to the metrics that matter to leadership, and, as you outlined, use the supply chain metaphor that they already understand. Perhaps then the value of data and metadata (the “I” in “IT”) will become a critical topic within boardrooms, and cultures will shift to support accountability for creating quality data and metadata to support organizations’ information ecosystems.

    Companies who are in the business of creating content have of course had to figure this out early on. At some point, everyone else will need to realize that we’re all content creators and publishers now!

  • Hi Ralph, Thank you for this incredibly well written and on target DAM state of affairs. Like, many in this industry, we too find the current disconnect between where DAM currently lies and where we all imagine it should be to disappoint.

    Anyone who has invested time, sweat and brain cells expected by now to see DAM to be universally understood and occupying a place within the software ecosphere more closer to the center of gravity, i.e, the C Suite, than the digital equivalent of the asteroid belt.

    You wrote, “Whenever I engage DAM vendors about the metadata issue, with a very small number of exceptions, they quickly want to come off the subject and move towards something they regard as more interesting (although image recognition has become the latest shiny new distraction of choice, as I discuss below).”

    I too had the same experience. I have spent every opportunity over the past years trying to engage DAM vendors at every opportunity with the aim of offering up a host of solutions to this 800 pound gorilla like pain point only to be ignored, rebuffed or just plain stared at with incomprehension.

    All of us at Microstocksolutions LLC naturally saw ourselves as “that” missing link.

    We assumed that it would be obvious to DAM vendors that there was a lot to be gained by hearing about how we have for a decade been the primary provider of ingestion, curation and metadata solutions for the stock media industry.

    On any given day, we manage the metadata on more than 10,000+ visual assets.

    If anyone had the in-house expertise to help DAM clients and DAM vendors understand and make the connections between their assets and ROI, it was us.

    The continuously repeated mantra of “Because there are no ‘customers’ to satisfy, there is far less of a motivation to catalogue digital assets properly” simply doesn’t hold water.

    Everyone on planet Earth who hasn’t been living under a rock or in a cave for the past two decades now has minimal digital experience expectations; much of which has been developed via Google.

    Providing a Google like metadata experience is what we do, and what quite a few well-known metadata industry pros also do.

    Artificial intelligence (AI), as you rightly pointed out, is not even close to solving any of these issues. Think of AI as the office intern. Young. Not very knowledgeable about exactly what you or your needs are, and in need of full-time management and oversight.

    And while we have not yet given up, we’ve had to realize that if the DAM vendors weren’t going to accept advice or be willing to learn how to better serve, then we were going to take our message directly to the corporate world.

  • Spencer Harris

    This is a great article and really on point with what the underlying issue is for DAM adoption amongst users. I have spent the past 18 months rolling out a solution and trying to get our team to use the system. To this day adoption is still really low, and the number one reason they give for not adopting, I can’t find what I need and the old way is faster (which is hoping on the file server and manually searching through folders).

    I have noticed from observation that their complaint is valid. There have been time after time where I have watched our users type in a partial file name or project name to search for what they are looking for, knowing a head of time there is less than 20 options out there, but yet the search results are in the thousands and in some cases tens of thousands.

    Part of what I have noticed is that unless otherwise specified, DAM searches always start broad and will search almost every metadata field with the goal of returning as many results as possible. This strategy of more is better, is not very effective. It overwhelms the users.

    In my eyes there are two main users of DAMs, internal staff and everyone else that is external to the company. Right now most DAMs are layout and behave in a way to make searching by external staff as successful as possible by, again being as broad as possible in order to give you as many choices as possible.

    The reality, most DAMs are implemented for internal staff use as their primary reason. Use by any external users is a side ‘benefit’. What this means, is that the internal user thinks and searches differently, mostly by using institutional terms and other identifiers such as job or project names and numbers. Yet, the search interface and organization of assets are not easily customizable to this approach. DAMs need to have two different interfaces, with two different ways of searching, organizing and accessing the assets.

    Internal interface should never by default be set to a broad or general search, but the most common way internal users think to search by. I have worked for both an internal, corporate marketing department and an AD agency with dozens of clients. In both cases the internal staff most commonly want to search by a job/project name and/or a job number. If we could automate metadata tagging to even just these two popular metadata terms, it would improve searching and user adoption in volumes I can’t even quantify.

    Likewise for other types of organizations, what are the top five ways users look for assets? Those need to be the standard search options. In the event someone really wants to just ‘wander’ through the DAM like they are casually window shopping at the mall, then there can be an option for that type search. But, in my experience users are going to the DAM looking for specific content, not general wandering.

    The external facing interface can keep with the Google-esk style to searching. Tagging for that user group is where there bigger effort can be spent depending how important the company deems it, like in the case of Stock Agencies.

    And to the point of AI for keyword generation, when it comes to keyword generating for internal user benefit/use it will never really know what institutional information will need to added to an asset. Automatic keywording based on any sort of organization the assets have within the DAM (such as folder structure or collection) is going to be the closest thing to accurate AI.

    My biggest point for all of this, if it isn’t clear by now, DAMs need to be designed with internal users as their primary focus and their success in finding their assets. Because right now, they are designed more for the external user.

    I spent the last year in demos of over two dozen different solutions. I didn’t walk way with really any one particular vendor in mind that I felt solved this problem. There were a few where you could spend a lot of time (and money) customizing the interface to be more internal user friendly, but nothing that was more ready out of the box.

    I think the first DAM vendor to adopt this mindset and design the interface accordingly, will have this biggest competitive advantage over the rest.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *