Now Is The Time To Look Properly At Digital Asset Management

There is an article that was highlighted on the DAM News LinkedIn Group by Don Gaster earlier today by Richard Butlin with the title: Time to Look Beyond Digital Asset Management.  This is one of these items where I think the title is wrong and I disagree with quite a number of the arguments advanced, but some of the core points made by Richard are valid and worth paying attention to.  I have had to carefully select a suitable quote, but this seems like a fair summary of the thesis of his argument:

The true justification for the management of digital assets comes from both the traditional centralization proposition and the ability to deeply and seamlessly integrate into business solutions and processes to streamline and automate content intensive operations.” [Read More]

I will return to the positive elements later, but I can’t ignore the rest of it which I don’t wholeheartedly agree with.  First of these is the the title: Time to Look Beyond Digital Asset Management.  I don’t believe the items he mentions are ‘beyond Digital Asset Management’, they are what Digital Asset Management should be all about right now.  It is true to say that they were woefully ignored by those on the sell-side of DAM for 20 years (including his employer, OpenText, as well as the majority of other vendors, consultants and analysts) but they are always were (and still are) well within the scope of what Digital Asset Management should be about.

For anyone who wants to argue this point, I recommend they first forget about the grids of thumbnails, search fields and ‘lightbox’ icons etc that spring to mind when the software side of our subject comes to mind and properly read the words again: ‘Digital Asset Management’, i.e. you have a collection of digital assets which you need to manage.  When you stop thinking of technology and consider the process, itself, this seems like quite a diverse and wide-ranging topic with a fair bit to think about – that is because it is (and always was).  Consider that 20 years ago people had digital assets they needed to manage, ten years ago they still did, it hasn’t changed now and it won’t have in another ten, 20 nor probably a further 100 years.  So, it isn’t time to look ‘beyond’ Digital Asset Management, it’s time to give it the proper attention it deserves – right now, not at some non-specific point in the future when the next edition of some vendor’s product is finally released.

The term digital asset management is one of these strange technology expressions where rather than it becoming dated shortly after it was coined, it has become more relevant and a surprisingly accurate and versatile summary of the nature of the activity being carried out.  20 years ago, it wasn’t a good description to use if you were trying to sell DAM software (as anyone who had to persuade people to invest in one during that era soon realised).  Now , however, it has come into its own and has proven to be more resilient than it first appeared.  On that basis, looking beyond Digital Asset Management seems a bit premature and appears to be a recommendation to destroy a significant accumulation of value (and therefore previously committed costs also).  In these cash-strapped times, that doesn’t seem like good advice, so I recommend looking at DAM now, not whatever might follow it (if it ever arrives).

The other element of Richard’s piece which I don’t agree with is his characterisation of libraries.  I don’t think he has a complete understanding of what a library really is.  To be fair, my own grasp of this subject is quite a lot less robust than it should be and is based on quite a limited amount of research carried out in the course of my job (I don’t have any kind of library science qualification etc).   Richard’s perception of the term ‘library’ seems to be ‘warehouse of content’.  I believe a more accurate description of a correctly functioning library, however, would be something more like ‘knowledge exchange’.  The books, digital assets etc are entities or containers, but they need a skilled librarian to help users extract the maximum value from them.  The point of a library (as I understand it) is to leverage investments into knowledge-based assets (and the cataloguing thereof) so more value can be obtained from them than it cost to acquire each of the items contained within.  The fact librarians are skilled at and usually trained to do this is why they are in-demand now to manage Digital Asset Management initiatives, they have an implicit grasp of the subject which a lot of other people lack.

Based on Richard’s article, I would have to conclude that the vendors might not always be best-placed to advise on managing DAM initiatives because they are excessively technology-oriented and don’t fully understand the context in which they are operating (in addition to the conflict of interest issues that some frequently exhibit).  I would have to acknowledge that lots of other groups of stakeholders in DAM initiatives don’t get this either, but that is the point: you cannot be dismissive of certain roles based on a misunderstanding of what they bring to the table.  To answer one of his other issues about why there are numerous DAM silos in enterprises, I would propose that this is the real reason, it’s less that no one wanted to integrate them, more that not enough understood that they even needed to do it at all.

If this was the extent of Richard’s article, I could end it here (and I probably wouldn’t even have bothered to write about it).  Where it has far more merit is in his observations about where solutions could be enhanced.  Below I have paraphrased the items he mentions:

  • Gathering relevant data as assets flow across business systems and using that to generate relevant metadata, tracking usage and and deliver assets directly to the point where they will be used.
  • Awareness of the context in which media is integrated, to automatically publish new content when products change.
  • Understanding how assets are used and their effectiveness.  For example:
    • If a logo is updated the impact that has on other dependent collateral
    • For product assets in an e-commerce setting, capture page impressions to determine whether the asset is having a tangible impact on sales.
    • Are customers interested in the carousel of product content or do they engage more where video is used?
    • Do they watch the video to the end, is it too long, are there specific parts they watch?
  • Discrete media services such as adaptive delivery to support flexibility and responsive storefronts.

The first point in particular is one that others in our industry have been making for a while now.  I think this might be the best observation and it concurs with the thoughts about digital asset infrastructures which both myself and John Price (Richard’s colleague at OpenText) have also made in the past.  Lines like “Libraries of content have been with us for some time, it is now time to move beyond the library.  It’s time for Media Integration.” make good marketing copy, but they reveal more about the lack of understanding DAM vendors have (or certainly had) about the Digital Asset Management subject until quite recently rather than any kind of need for a new paradigm.  One point with integration, in particular, is that this implies DAM vendors collaborating with each other and not just with a few select ‘partner’ firms in non-competing markets.  As I have noted before, a bigger silo with more rooms in it, plumbing and electricity is still a silo and if that issue isn’t addressed, it will repeat ad-infinitum and this subject will continue to be the perennial one that it has been on DAM News for a number of years now.

In essence, I think Richard has some good instincts with this, but he needs to fade down the propaganda and mythology advanced by some of the DAM latecomer analyst interests (i.e. that no one thought seriously about this stuff until approximately 2012 and it’s all some subset of CXM) and dial up the analysis on how to achieve this integration in a manner that doesn’t involve asking the clients to hand over yet more shareholder’s funds for another shot at the pot of gold at the end of the DAM rainbow.  I note from the comment made by Don Gaster that many of his clients are mentioning these topics and I have heard the same too, however, my perception is they also want to evolve what they have and develop upon their investments (which cover numerous different solutions in some cases).  They don’t want to trash everything and have to pay to do DAM all over again, but with a different name and a new set of risks to manage.

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  • Ralph, thank you for helping to dispel the myth that librarians just manage static collections of content containers (a.k.a. – books). Libraries are absolutely about the value proposition of aggregating information, describing it so it can be discovered (search and retrieval), and distributing it for reuse – no matter what container the content happens to be in at the moment.

    A library is a complex ecosystem of people, processes, information, and technology, whether physical or digital. Information in any form is first and foremost centralized, then consistently cataloged using standards to not only describe the assets themselves, but the relationships between other assets, people, organizations, etc. This is done through metadata and controlled vocabularies (a.k.a. taxonomy) of course, but there is always a primary focus on users, and how the information is distributed within not just the library’s own systems, but also various content aggregators outside their own ecosystem.

    If you think about it, stamping a library book is embedded metadata. Inserting a library card with the patron’s name on it is embedding workflow metadata into the asset, so it gets where it needs to go, and comes back ready for the next reuse. The card catalog is the predecessor to the database record, with metadata and cross-references to boot.

    Today, libraries are mastering the management and distribution of all types of content, regardless of container, and aggregating that content outside of the library, where their users are. Libraries are at the forefront of the semantic web as well, divorcing data from their records so information can be related across disparate systems and schemas. Libraries are about connecting people to information – not just housing it.

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