Do you need a Digital Asset Management (DAM) System?

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We won’t bury the lede. You probably don’t need a digital asset management (DAM) software platform. There are cases where using one makes sense, but these are rare for general-purpose CMS implementations. In this article, we’ll go over the problems that DAM platforms purport to solve, what you should focus on instead, and the unique circumstances where we would recommend one.

What is DAM?

Digital assets are files like images, videos, audio files, PDFs, and other types of media that are self-contained. Digital asset management has to do with the organization of all of these assets, so there is minimal duplication, and the assets are easy to find and use. A DAM software platform or DAM system is a suite of tools that promises to make this task easier, usually with a central repository and an integration into your CMS.

Some popular DAM platforms are Brandfolder, Canto, and Cloudinary. Big-name brands like IBM and Adobe also have their own offerings that integrate into their own suites of products.

Problems a DAM platform is supposed to solve

For many organizations, not much digital asset management actually happens. An editor uploads an image, names it, and uses it in an article. Then another editor comes along and might upload a similar image, calling it a different name. Add three years to this process, and suddenly you have 47 different headshots of the CEO sitting on your servers. The larger the team, the larger this issue becomes.

There are two problems presented here, both related.

  1. Lack of findability of assets. People can’t find what they need, even if they make an effort to search for it. The image folder is one big mass of chaos. Titles and metadata are nonexistent or unhelpful.
  2. Lack of reuse of assets. People constantly upload duplicates when they can’t find what they are looking for.

It is usually around this time that organizations start thinking about implementing DAM. But a DAM system doesn’t automatically help solve these issues. In order for the platform to be useful, authors need to add proper titles, taxonomies, and metadata. But authors usually hate doing this, and in the real world, they will generally skip this step or enter something quick and dirty without thinking about it. Now you have a much more expensive folder of assets, a folder that you still can’t find. New technology is often implemented to attempt to pave over organizational problems, but that only results in frustrated people and cracks in the pavement.

Content reuse is usually an idea that sounds better than it actually is. Fewer assets are in the system and are easier to replace globally when necessary. However, we find that this tends to be more wishful thinking than something that is actually used. Most assets are only used in one place, and authors don’t actually want to use assets that way, so the replacement scenario doesn’t come up often. In other words, lack of reuse is usually less of a problem than your think.

When you might need a DAM platform

We already said “no,” which will be the answer for most organizations batting around the idea of a DAM platform. But there are times when it makes sense, like when certain metadata is a hard requirement or when digital assets are the product itself. 

Some examples:

  • Rights management. If you only have rights to an image for a certain amount of time or for certain use cases, then the DAM platform can handle access control as appropriate.
  • Attribution. If attribution is important (like in the news industry), then that information can be stored along with the asset and brought over when it is chosen. This can also apply to things like captions.
  • Taxonomy. If extended taxonomy of assets is a core part of your product, then a DAM platform is a good fit. Think of use cases like museums, where information like artist, year, era, location, medium, and historical data are all a critical part of the assets they maintain. In these cases, the assets are the organization’s primary product to some extent.

Also, if you are looking to hire a Digital Asset Manager, a dedicated person who will help organize and catalog your digital assets, then you’ll want to give this person the right tools for the job, which might mean a robust DAM platform.

Questions to ask

Before deciding on digital asset management tools, you will want to answer some questions.

  • How will users find assets?
  • What metadata will be necessary? What are the hard requirements, and what are “nice-to-haves?”
  • Is there an existing integration for your CMS, or will you have to make one? If there is an existing integration, does it meet the needs of your content authors?
  • What is the process for adding assets? How many steps does it add for authors?

Conclusion

Technology always offers a seductive path, but too many technology solutions fail to deliver on their promises or add more overhead where it isn’t needed. This is usually the case when it comes to DAM software platforms and systems. Make sure the problems you are trying to solve are actually problems in the first place. If they are problems, make sure new software will solve them before you sign that big contract.

If you need help evaluating the needs of your editorial team, contact us. We have helped many organizations find harmony with their content management system.

Greg Dunlap

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Greg is the Director of Strategy at Lullabot who has been involved with Drupal for 8+ years, specializing in configuration management and deployment issues.

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