A Critique Of Digital Asset Management Industry Trends

Edward Smith writing for CMSWire.com discusses some trends he sees in prospect for the DAM industry.  They are:

  • Bigger assets and more of them
  • Greater integration with other business systems
  • Used across the business rather than by just creative teams
  • Automation and streamlining of the asset and metadata ingestion
  • Increased server-side and cloud processing

This one from the penultimate point about metadata ingestion (which I’ll come back to later):

As DAM is no longer a tool used solely by creative professionals or subject matter experts, casual users need easier ways to upload and tag assets. This means relying on automatic metadata generation and extraction and capturing upstream metadata by using forms like custom XMP File Info panels.” [Read More]

Watching DAM trends is a favourite activity of mine and one I’m fortunate enough to get paid to do by a few of my clients.  They prefer me to be uncompromising about the prospects for the DAM industry rather than gushing about how fantastic and world changing the technology is.  Ed’s list of points isn’t bad, but I would contend that a few of these are more statements about what is already happening rather than predictions specifically.  I typically examine the wider business implications of these for both end users and vendors; my jaded cynicism, however, is a luxury afforded by the fact I don’t have to sell DAM solutions to customers (nor talk a superior into buying one).

On the first item,  I think this is more observation than trend but Ed is absolutely correct here.  The amount of digital media in circulation is going to keep going up.  I’ll hesitate to say it’s inevitable as nothing is in my view, but setting the philosophy aside, end users will create more and more digital content then need to put it somewhere.  The HD video point is probably why it’s going to get bigger, although whether much else apart from HD video is actually going to increase is less certain.  The implication of having much larger collections is that finding your stuff is likely to get harder also.  This trend isn’t covered – maybe because no one has a good answer for it yet.  Unless you really get to grips with metadata and really tackle your search capability and ‘findability’, you’re going to put more media into your DAM and find even less of it than you do now.

The greater integration point is probably a bit of a ‘no brainer’ (to use the American expression) but as we discussed yesterday, exactly how you pull that off will be a complicated exercise.  The decisions about this are being ignored by managers and glossed over by the engineers – so expect a pretty big credibility gap between what you should and can actually be able to do in that respect.  This post by Matt Mullen of Real Story Group is about one of the best I’ve read on the practical realities of integration.

On DAM no longer being a tool exclusively for creatives or ‘Expansion from a Creative-Workgroup Silo into an Enterprise-Wide Resource’ as Edward describes it, I would argue that trend is already in progress and many DAM systems are not just used by marketing departments.  I think they are somewhere in the middle of the DAM adoption lifecycle – they certainly weren’t the first and most of the DAM requirements I have  read in the last few years tend to be enterprise-wide ones.  I have observed a decline in demand for the department-level DAM (which would concur with Ed also).  Whether that is because the available budget is not sufficient and end users need to group together with others, or because there is higher level recognition that you need something that can be used across the business, is hard to say; a bit of both seems like a fair assessment.  An interesting potential future political issue with enterprises and DAM systems is that I would expect the marketing communications department to still want to be in overall control over them on the basis that the assets are stored are often macromms related.  Expect some (further) fireworks between the IT and marketing people as they both scrap it out for who should be in charge.  That dispute alone will no doubt drive demand for SaaS or pure Cloud DAM as the marketing department try and escape the clutches of their IT colleagues by going it alone – I note that many DAM vendors operating in this market have already picked up on that in that in their sales promotion material.

The automation and streamlining of the asset and metadata ingestion point is a bone of contention.  A few weeks back I wrote an article where I expressed certain concerns about automating metadata entry which was in response to one of Ed’s earlier articles also for CMSWire.  If there are more assets in your DAM (see the first point) then finding them is going to get harder.  To make it easier, your business will need to do a better job of metadata cataloguing.  It is possible you can try and delegate some of this out, but my suspicion is that information architects, taxonomy consultants, metadata experts and anyone prepared to get their hands dirty doing actual in-depth keywording and cataloguing are going have very full appointment diaries over the next few years.  The end users of DAM systems will want to continue to just chuck their stuff into the DAM using the fancy new HTML5 drag and drop uploaders that vendors will provide – and then will also simultaneously complain that they can’t find anything either.  As a collective group, they will be able to hold this contradictory position due to the asynchronous way in which they will use their DAM systems as both asset suppliers and as end users who search for them also.  The increasing cost of getting consultants in to try and help optimise the ‘findability’ of assets may spur growth in some of the automated tools and the semantic web etc, but I still don’t think they will do the job as well as real human beings.  I can foresee a lot more capabilities to try and make metadata entry less painful for end users, but in all likelihood it will be put to use by off-shore metadata suppliers or the aforementioned consultants.  If you are buying into DAM, this is the ‘elephant in the room’ problem that you absolutely have to develop a strategy to deal with – or you’re just wasting money.

On the last point about cloud processing, I can’t disagree with that.  The declining budgets of IT departments and desire to reduce their own management burden seems likely to encourage more end users to use outsourced options delivered via cloud providers.  An interesting sub-plot developing is the way more IT departments are getting less hands-on and more about overall IT strategy – including various points in between.  Although ‘Cloudbursting’ isn’t an ideal term, I do note more scenarios where the IT department will make use of Cloud facilities to avoid capital expenditure on items like Storage Area Networks (SANs) and Amazon’s recently announced Glacier service is clearly intended to compete with off-site tape archival.

Overall, Ed’s list is a pretty good assessment of trends, but I think the analysis might be a little facile if you are a manager wanting to try and get 2-3 steps ahead to consider what the future implications might be for your longer-term DAM requirements.  To be fair to him, CMSWire tend to prefer shorter pieces,  rather than multi-page essays or whitepapers, so that potentially does limit the amount of detail that can be covered and an in-depth critique probably wasn’t the intention of the article either.  In all likelihood the trend analysis will be a task every business manager must conduct themselves with reference to their own situation and his article gives you a few more useful pieces of the puzzle – so from that perspective it’s well worth taking note of.

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