As a DAM technologist for nearly two decades, I have continued to marvel at the disparity between the concept of digital asset management (hereafter: dam), as articulated by brands, and the realities of Digital Asset Management (hereafter: DAM), as defined by the technology vendors in the space.
The differences between dam and DAM could not be more clear. I imagine this as a text exchange between three people:
“User” who knows very little about technology but wants to solve business problems related to assets
“dam” the ideal digital asset lifecycle concept from the User’s perspective
“DAM”: the actual solutions offered by traditional DAM vendors
User: “Can you help me plan my content strategy?”
dam: “Sure! That’s a critical part of the asset lifecycle!”
DAM: “Content what? Just give me some assets to hold on to.”
User: “I don’t have any assets yet, I need to create them first. Can you help me with that?”
dam: “Of course! Creating assets at scale that will empower downstream creative workflows is a super important stage of the asset lifecycle!”
DAM: “Say what? Just point me to a folder of assets and I’ll ingest them.”
User: “Well, the assets can be coming from many places, can you help me collect and organize them more efficiently?”
dam: “Yes, I realize that vendor supplied imagery, third-party produced content, and user-generated content are all part of your asset supply chain these days, and should be intelligently managed as independent workstreams.”
DAM: “Workstreams...? You’re talking fancy talk. Just have each uploading user fill out a form to tag assets with metadata.”
User: “My ultimate goal is for all these assets to flow into their distribution channels seamlessly. Can you make that happen?”
dam: “Absolutely. Assets are on a journey to one or more destinations, and it’s my job to get them there quickly, safely, and accurately.”
DAM: “Assets live in a repository. You can give someone a download link to a subset of assets based on permissions, and let them get what they want.”
...and so on.
Finally, after years of watching DAM reality fail to address the dam dream, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. Brand organizations have educated themselves through one or more painful DAM implementations that didn’t address the core business problems they sought to solve.
New technology vendors are bringing a fresh, modern perspective to dam, by building on the market needs, not an antiquated idea of a static asset “silo.”
Consultants are educating clients on how to develop real-world Use Cases in place of massive “laundry lists” of feature wish-lists that fail to capture the actual business requirements.
Progress is being made, and I think a big part of that is scrapping the legacy industry definition of DAM, and looking at Digital Asset Lifecycle (or Digital Asset Supply Chain) as a core competency that must be built within the brand. Forget the specific technology tools (at least initially), and define the capabilities needed to support the CMO’s vision for the brand. Remember that the asset lifecycle is circular, and should spring from real-world data-- conversation rates, A-B testing, social media feedback, etc. that drives content strategy, planning, creation, approval, transformation and distribution-- in turn, creating the next round of feedback.
Within this framing of Digital Asset Lifecycle, it becomes clear that different organizations have vastly different DALs. A fashion brand creating thousands of photo assets per week across multiple locations around the world has almost nothing in common with a cultural heritage institution, such as a library, digitizing rare books. The fact that many DAM vendors claim, with a straight face, to serve both of these scenarios equally well with a single tool speaks volumes about their perspective on what “DAM” means. They essentially hand everyone the same bucket and say “put your stuff in here.” I’m not the first to observe this, and over the past decade or so, traditional DAM vendors have recognized that their offerings are perceived as “jacks of all trades, masters of none” for this very reason. So instead of designing purpose-built solutions that address a distinct Digital Asset Lifecycle, many responded by offering to add layers of complexity on top of their generalized repository, all at a premium price. The answer became “We can build whatever you want, just say yes.” Needless to say, this has been a windfall for DAM vendors, and a very dicey proposition for clients, because a core part of designing a DAL is understanding the business needs of the client’s vertical market.
I always envisioned a dam market filled with “vertical” solutions -- a DAL for pharmaceutical, a DAL for fashion, a DAL for insurance. We aren’t there yet, but I think the wind is shifting away from “one size fits all” DAM to more bespoke DAL.
Check back with me in five years and we’ll see if I’m right!
Eric is a pioneer in digital capture systems and image processing workflows. He piloted DAM integrations at major government institutions including the US Air Force, Navy Visual News Service and Defense Intelligence Agency. Eric serves as VP, operations & strategic growth at Capture Integrations and helped craft ShotFlow software to work in conjunction with Capture One Pro. He helps brands scale and unify product data, sample merchandise barcode tracking, imagery requests, and post-production. He is also an event speaker, technology liaison and father of six!
Amplifi.io thanks Eric for his thoughtful insights.