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Understanding The Key Themes of Successful Digital Asset Management Initiatives

by Ralph Windsor on June 26, 2015

This week the DAM EU conference was held in London.  As with previous years, I was unable to attend this event due to some client upgrade roll-outs that I get co-opted into troubleshooting around this time, although I was able to get along to the London DAM meetup in the evening and see a few people who did go.

An article with that covers the conference which was picked up by Tim Strehele’s Planet DAM feed was DAM is not a system, it is just a tool by Gabriela Stripoli which is hosted on LinkedIn.  I am aware many people make use of LinkedIn’s content publishing platform, although I do find it a bit of a distraction having an item I am interested in framed with contributions from other randomly selected authors that read like the business version of copy from a typical woman’s magazine (’15 ways to dump your boss’ etc).  Setting aside the numerous issues I find with LinkedIn, however, the article itself has some good points which include a few choice quotes from some well-known people in DAM that I will discuss later.  The key point I got from this piece was the following:

DAM is not the main reason of change. A digital reality is what drives this change, and as a DAM admin, or a digital asset manager, you need to balance the corporate current culture with the new requirements of a digital era to ensure the strategy being deployed is successful. DAM is just a tool in response of a bigger cultural change that happened due to an increasingly digital universe, in which creation starts from several points, in the midst of complex workflows.” [Read More]

This seems to be the same idea that I have been advancing for some time now as to why DAM is more in demand than it used to be: there is more digital content in circulation than there has ever been before and it looks set to increase at an exponential rate, so it follows that systems and methodologies are now being devised to help manage all of it.  They are just the tools to do the job, however, not the reason you have become interested in DAM in the first place.

The basis of the article is that technology decisions tend to have less of an impact on the chances of a successful initiative than adoption, metadata and governance.  Gabriela illustrates this with some soundbites from various speakers.  For example, the following from Kristina Herz of Historic Royal Palaces:

DAM is an ongoing process, transforming the culture of organisations to think digitally, and there is no system that can do it on its own.” [Read More]

Although I agree with this, a challenge I am finding frequently now is that these phrases have begun to sound like DAM clichés (even though I fully understand that the intent behind why they are used is anything but) and people either switch off or do not properly come to terms with what they mean in terms of getting positive results from their DAM initiative.   Many clichés are often true, but the meaning of the words they are composed can become hollow as a result of repetition and there is some risk as a result that end users of DAM will write these good intentions down in funding proposals etc but not really understand how to apply them.  The DAM community needs to expand its focus to include some tactics necessary to implement the strategic vision.

There is another quote from Michelle Jouan (who also organises the London DAM meetup):

I would suggest start small and build on, because starting big to cut it down is really difficult” [Read More]

This is one of these ‘voice of experience’ points about DAM which prospective DAM users also usually agree with.  Unfortunately,  they then often proceed to do the opposite by over-loading the scope of their DAM initiatives (both in terms of the software and what they plan to get from it in the first phase).  It is closely related to the previous point about DAM being an on-going process which you need constantly assess and re-evaluate.  A counter-argument I have heard is that the way corporate budgets are structured encourages overblown projects because the managers responsible for DAM initiatives fear they won’t be able to get any further funds for follow-up phases.  In many organisations if budgets are not spent before some arbitrary date (like a fiscal year end etc) then the residual capital is automatically confiscated and re-allocated.  Apart from petitioning the bean counters to understand the nature of what is involved in DAM initiatives (and pointing out to them that phased implementation over a number of years will reduce the risk of the funds being wasted) I do not have a simple answer to this problem.  That said, I suspect this is going to gradually change as the cost and failure rate of bloated initiatives (and the technology solutions which accompany them) becomes more widely acknowledged.

The last point is by John Horodyski:

An asset is not really an asset without metadata” [Read More]

This is something I have said also for many years.  I consider the point when I grasped that you cannot have an asset without metadata to be the stage when I had understood the true nature of what Digital Asset Management is all about.   This is a difficult one for some who are new to the DAM field to grasp at first, but it is essential to successful DAM implementation.  Most people start out thinking about DAM in terms of files + metadata.  In reality, a file is binary data plus a stub or small subset of metadata necessary for a file system to store it and you to be able to see a representation.  Eventually, the file as a free-standing digital entity is going to become less significant because the data it represents will increasingly get accessed over cloud services (or ‘the internet’, as it used to be called) and may ultimately never get stored on the device which you are using.  At this stage (which we are fast closing in now) the difference between generic file metadata and any other kind of metadata you might be interested in will disappear.  The reason the term ‘asset’ is used is to signify that value is being added to the binary essence, the principal attribute of which is that you can find it.  Lost digital data is of no use to anyone, this is why metadata is widely acknowledged as being a critical component of DAM.

The reason why Gabriela’s article is worth studying (especially for anyone new to DAM) is you have many of the key operational elements introduced: the significance of metadata, the tactics and strategies you need to deliver DAM in a low-risk manner and the necessity to understand the on-going nature of how (and why) you will need to continuously review and optimise it.  I don’t know if she plans to write other items about DAM, but if so, I look forward to reading some more of her thoughts about our subject in the future.

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