When do you need a DAM system?

When exactly do you need to consider a Digital Asset Management (DAM) system? A file system allows for management too, but once you get past a couple of thousand files, it gets impractical managing digital assets such as images, drawings and texts, using only the OS’s file system.

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Having a lot of files on a desktop computer or a network even, isn’t reason enough to invest time and money in a DAM system. It’s when other factors kick in, that you should consider buying a DAM.

Time is money

The oldest reason in the book to invest in a DAM system — that it can be hard and time consuming to find the right asset — still seems to be valid. In a round table discussion in the LinkedIn Masters of Digital Assets group, almost everyone listed this reason as one of the major ones.

Eric Reber, Digital Assets Archivist at Georgia State University says: “Assessing the value of DAM we utilised a “time is money” framework. We looked at how many hours our photographers spent distributing materials or reshooting things that could have been reused had we had an efficient means of retrieval. We also looked at how much time our clients (GSU employees) were investing in coming to our office and browsing.”

Richard Butlin, Program Manager SAP DAM at Open Text agrees: “In my opinion, the time is money approach resonates across all industries. I agree with many of the comments here that one of the primary benefits of any DAM system is to enable individuals to find media assets quicker.”

Butlin points out that media files are quite different to documents: “In some cases these are extremely large files and difficult to move about. They are often in ‘exotic’ formats that not everyone can access and even when they can open them, it is not easy to understand their context, where they have been used, whether they are the most recent version, whether they have been approved for use and what their licensing information implies.”

Johan Leide, Fotoware Senior Consultant at Buildpix in Sweden, says: “The time spent on searching for images is a no-brainer.” Another very important functionality for his clients is the possibility to “transfer knowledge from individual persons” into a system that is available to all stakeholders.

And David Diamond, Director of Global Marketing Picturepark and formerly Director Marketing at Canto, says people typically come to DAM after years of suffering disorganised file servers, or dealing with too many lost files.

Mission critical

In terms of DAM, mission critical pertains to files getting lost or corrupted. Mission critical files are those that are of such an importance that without them the business would come to a halt or would be seriously crippled.

It all depends on the company’s activities and market whether you define a file as mission critical or not. For example, a design firm will seriously suffer if drawings and illustrations are difficult to find, get lost or are stolen or copied.

A petrochemical factory will need the CAD drawings of their pipelines. Their “mission critical” is of a different type than the designers firm’s as loss of drawings may mean imminent disaster.

Most businesses will need a DAM system as soon as their patents, CAD models, digital mockups, drawings and legal documents surpass a certain number and are in danger of going out-of-sync. The latter is an issue in networked environments where it is hard to enforce uniformity. A DAM system will then help to maintain a uniform approach.

Butlin: “Depending on the industry you could definitely say digital assets are mission critical. Consider the broadcaster that has switched from tape to file and their schedule depends on the availability of an asset; a marketing company that launches a campaign with stock images that are unlicensed or expired; the product company that advertises the wrong product in promotions or at point of sale. All of these can have serious consequences on the business.”

And Diamond: “With regard to determining the value of a digital asset, I encourage people to think about two things: The cost of replacement of that asset, and the cost of damage control if the asset is erroneously distributed or leaked. Each organization would have to decide for itself the threshold at which an otherwise ordinary ‘file’ becomes a ‘digital asset’.”

Brand management

Brand management can be another reason to invest in DAM. With brand management, one asset by itself may not be worth much, but combined with others (think of a font and a logo taken together) it may be invaluable. Uniformity across communications with the world at large means a centralised control and a revision policy for anything that pertains to brand image. DAM in this sense becomes the central repository and management hub for marketing and public relations.

If a brand isn’t guarded carefully, it will eventually cost money. The investment in a DAM system must be weighed against damage to the brand. What happens if you leave the assets in the hands of people of which some may not apply brand guidelines and rules correctly?

Butlin yet again: “When you look into specific requirements for say marketing then there are other considerations like ensuring brand consistency, particularly with extended supply chains and partners. (…) We even see new potential for companies who have product or brand related assets where they can exploit this material by licensing and gain new revenue streams.”

Ricky Patten, Director and owner of DataBasics in Australia, gives the example of a retail store which is standardising the various brands they used to have into one. In this process their are centralising their marketing team into one office, and are implementing DAM to support this larger team.

“One of my standard questions to ask a prospective customer is: ‘Do you understand the value of your assets?’,” he says. “I am most interested in the ‘understanding’, not the quoted value. If they have an understanding, a workflow can be built on this to maximise their return on investment. If they only have a known value, it narrows the benefits they would gain from DAM (to be only perceived increases in efficiencies, i.e. much lower funding would be allocated.”

DAM helps, but is it enough?

Reber cites the elimination of the need for clients to come to the office and browse, as well as wasted media (CDs), as two of the major reasons why his organisation’s DAM investment pays off. “Our assets are now available to all of our campus communicators via the cloud and our interface is intuitive and easy to browse so we no longer need to hold the clients’ hands through their curation process,” he says.

Mark Davey, President at the DAM Foundation, however, seems to think DAM users are satisfied too quickly. “Even those who have a DAM system, have not joined the dots and recognised the shift and value in their digital assets. If they had, they would already be starting to build on the DAM stack, factoring in metrics at granular levels to fully understand, not just digital assets, but the intangible assets associated with engagement and human feedback,” he says.

“Evaluating the full potential can only be achieved when metrics start at the same time as when asset creation starts. Next come the life cycle of assets, their reach, use and re-use. And until the single version of the truth can be measured dynamically, wherever these assets are used and re-purposed (internal/external usage), and most importantly the rights assigned and the metadata freed across the internet, yet controlled fully at the DAM level.”

Davey believes the DAM Maturity model helps spell out where you are and where it is going.