Understanding The Differences And Similarities Between WCM And DAM – Now And In The Future

Irina Guseva, writing on econtentmag.com considers the ‘intersection between DAM and WCM’ in this article:

It is important for organizations to start realizing that DAM really is more than just a storage of assets and that WCM’s primary function is not media and digital asset management. If your incumbent Web CMS could suffice for your minimal DAM needs, you might be able to avoid the need to invest in traditional DAM technology. But the “how” here is more important than the “what.”” [Read More]

For the most part, I would agree with her conclusions about critical differences between DAM and WCM as it stands right now, but I wonder for how long her advice will remain current.

We have talked about possible convergence between these two markets and how trends appear to be driving that forward currently, especially with WCM making inroads into DAM territory (all points also raised in the article above).  As Irina says, in the early days, the two technologies were never considered related to each other and for customers who bought DAM solutions from the digital video archival systems company I worked for in the mid-nineties, the idea that their video content might appear on websites was still a fanciful ‘blue sky’ concept they didn’t really need to consider.  Similarly, a little later, when budget conscious managers thought they could save some dollars or pounds on a separate DAM product by re-using the ‘photo library’ component of their WCM or ECM solution then the results were usually unsuccessful and often ignored in favour of an existing desktop app that could do the job properly.

So, what is different now?  The first point is that unlike a few years ago, people now operate online far more than they once did and the capabilities of what can be done in the browser have improved (still not really to any satisfactory level, but the momentum and desire to change this is building).  While there is still a significant amount of print media and non-digital distribution, it is undoubtedly entering a sunset phase.  In the past, the DAM system might have stood between all these points in days when ‘cross media’ was still a fashionable term and organisations still had to hedge off their use of different media channels to maximise audience exposure.

A trend driving DAM features is to allow users to access media and leverage the capabilities of DAM closer to where they are using it.  If more content is heading towards online only distribution, that favours WCM as the platform of choice, with DAM becoming a subsidiary solution.  When I discuss DAM requirements these days with prospective end users, integration with their WCM is increasingly required, with many expressing the opinion that they would prefer that their end users would not even be aware that the DAM system exists.

While I would agree that if you are considering DAM solutions right now, it is important not to mix the requirements up and keep a clear series of objectives in mind, I do believe that the era of the independent free-standing DAM system has begun it’s decline as the market for digital media management matures.  That being the case, in the future end users may be less interested in a separate DAM product and their requirements will fragment and stratify into two distinct camps:

  1. A media delivery and manipulation framework they can use as though it were a utility
  2. A front-end ‘plug-in’ for WCMs to cover some of the more esoteric requirements (like video editing).

That isn’t to say the two are entirely mutually exclusive, but I don’t think vendors in the DAM market have the scale or clout to cover both bases over the long-term – the complexity of both will get too great for their resources to handle as independent entities.  Those in the less visible, ‘back-end’ will be in competition with some mega-vendors who want to dominate any available platform and either directly compete or make it very easy for another specialist to leverage their infrastructure to rapidly offer these services.  Vendors who position themselves in the more visible front-end market will face competition from WCM platform vendors and specialist component developers who are eager to take chunks out of niche asset manipulation markets.

Within the next few years, both WCM and ECM may drive a coach and horses through the middle of DAM and change it beyond current recognition.  When that happens, it may have ceased to be a case of:

“Shall we use our WCM system to do this, or buy a separate DAM?”

and more like:

“Which components do we need to use with our WCM or ECM platform to achieve our digital media asset management objectives?”

In the short-medium term the advice offered in the article is absolutely correct.  Given that DAM systems tend to remain in use for many years (5+ being a fair estimate in my experience) one would need to consider how capable a given product is of managing this impending transition.  Much depends on how willing DAM vendors are to to come to terms with this modified role and the fact it is the features and capabilities offered by their product, rather than the experience of using it that users will increasingly ask for.   This may be a bitter pill for many DAM vendors to swallow, especially those who have invested significantly into their systems in the expectation that the current raised awareness of DAM and interest levels in it would be maintained indefinitely.

Share this Article:

Leave a Reply

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