Solving The DAM Implementation Doughnut Problem

On DAM Guru last week, there was an interesting interview with Laurel Calsoni, who you can follow on Twitter @DigitalArchivst.  The item is a good one and Laura makes a number of points I would agree with.  There is one, in particular, in answer to the question “what is your greatest DAM challenge?”

My problem with DAM stems from DAM staffing – lack of or just lopsided. It seems that companies are willing to license and install the DAM software but stop short of having a proper DAM team in place for the initiative. There are requests for managers to lead a DAM effort but not to implement. My question is, who then is doing all of the work? As a hands-on digital archivist, my love is the content and I want to stay as close to the assets as possible.” [Read More]

This is a problem I have observed also.  It seems like a lot of people want to talk about Digital Asset Management, but there are a much smaller volume of volunteers to actually manage the digital assets themselves.  In part, I can see why this is the case, because the core of the task is about cataloguing which many people find unappealing due to the repetitive nature of the work and mental effort involved.

In DAM now, you get two over-represented interest groups: the technologists who are keen to talk about systems-related issues like features, storage etc and the strategists that prefer to skip to the end and consider what the business implications are – almost as though the problem will solve itself.  This is apparent on the occasions when I am invited to advise people about some facet of their DAM provision.  For early planning-related assignments, there is usually a management-heavy stakeholder team most of which it usually transpires won’t actually be using the DAM much themselves.  This isn’t always the case, but it crops up often enough for a pattern of behaviour to emerge across organisations of all kinds.  Once the system is rolled out, this group cease to be highly active and a much smaller selection of personnel remain who have the more significant task of getting assets into the system, encouraging adoption, dealing with vendor support, solving findability problems, managing workflow etc – all the ‘real work’ of using the DAM, in other words.

There is what I can only describe as a ‘doughnut’ effect developing in DAM with an excessive amount of attention given to the technology or strategy extremities and a schism opening up in the middle where most of the long-term issues are to be found.  This is symptomatic of problem caused by DAM being regarded as ‘a thing’ that you can just purchase and then move on to other more pressing concerns, rather than an on-going process that requires continuous refinement and review.  I am aware that one of the techniques some people use to encourage DAM adoption when a new system is rolled out is to hold internal introduction sessions involving the distribution of baked goods to attendees to try persuade their colleagues to turn up, so from that respect, you might wish to refer to this as the ‘post-doughnut problem’!

I do have to acknowledge that many of the senior stakeholders alluded to have a lot of other business/technology issues that require their consideration and it isn’t practical to expect them to focus exclusively on DAM.  To counter that point, however, since digital assets are now becoming an integral element of modern business operations, this adds further weight to the argument that dedicated DAM departments are needed, staffed by people whose job is entirely about solving Digital Asset Management issues.  If the volume and distribution of digital assets is going to grow exponentially (and who would argue against that?) then the depth and scope of the DAM task is becoming too large and important for it to be something that only gets a fraction of the attention of the people who will make critical long-term decisions about it.

One final point worth making in respect of this topic relates to the article Deb Fanslow wrote for DAM News last month: Who Needs a DAM Librarian? Part I: Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are.  In terms of personnel who are adequately qualified to do the work and (perhaps more importantly) want to, those with library and information science skills are likely to be the best source of available expertise.  Whether they like it or not, most organisations are now custodians of burgeoning repositories of rich media.  While there is a lot of research cash being thrown at automating the management of all this, as was discussed last week, it both won’t be practical to leave it all to the computers for a quite a long time to come and those that have developed and tested a strategy using more manual methods will be far better placed to leverage innovations in this field anyway.  To do that, you need people who are willing and able to make DAM their exclusive professional specialist subject so they can build up the required level of understanding, expertise and knowledge to do the job effectively over an indefinite period of time.

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