Like many areas, especially rapidly evolving technological areas, nailing down an accepted definition is hard. When trying to understand the core aspects and lay out appropriate contours, there is usually a mix of conventional wisdom and common confusion. The world of digital asset management is not immune from those effects. What IS digital asset management? What ISN’T digital asset management? What about Brand Management, or Content Management? Does any of it matter?
In this post we hope to provide some insight into where those core aspects and contours around digital asset management currently stand and also explore some areas of confusion and how both the term and the industry remain in flux.
One definition describes DAM as “a business process for organizing, storing and retrieving rich media and managing digital rights and permissions.”
Another states, “Digital asset management (DAM) is a content management system (CMS) that centrally stores and manages all digital files produced by an enterprise. It allows an organization to control and centralize management of digital content or data that is accessed or shared by staff members or other users.”
So what is it? A process or a system?
Well, it’s both.
If you are organizing, storing, accessing, and distributing digital assets, you are engaging in digital asset management, and you’re likely using some system to accomplish that activity, although it may only be folders on a desktop. Even if you are not acting intentionally with regard to your digital files, you are still engaging in some type of digital asset management (or rather mis-management) and using some system for executing that process, no matter how haphazard, ill-conceived, or poorly designed it may be.
For us at Image Relay, a definition of digital asset management is both about the process and the system because we believe that you cannot effectively manage your digital assets without giving thought to both aspects. We like to think of digital asset management as a solution. It’s the system that allows your process to function.
Hallmarks of DAM
There are certain things that a solution must address if it is to be digital asset management and some things it should address to have a chance at being effective.
Storage - The bits that make up your digital files have to live somewhere, so storage is fundamental to managing your assets. You can’t manage them if they aren’t there. This could be on a single hard-drive, on a single shared server, or duplicated among various servers and accessible via the cloud.
Organization - Library, folders, sub-folders, sections, etc. A digital asset management solution must have some type of organizational structure. Everything might be all in one folder, which is no good, or you can have a very tight structure with taxonomic rules applied so every file is exactly where it should be and nowhere it shouldn’t be.
Access - The files must be accessible in some way. Again, the files could be controlled and only accessible to one individual via folders on their desktop, or may be controlled by a central manager with permissions for many individual users or teams of users. Another important thing to consider when setting up, transitioning, or modifying DAM access is the difference between “Our Stuff” and “My Stuff.” Some files may be universal at the brand level and used across an organization, others may be limited to certain teams, and some other files may be the individual files of a particular user.
Security - Some security protocol exists for any type of storage, even if not intentional. At worst it just relies on luck, and at best there is a thought-out process of permissions, redundancies, and encryption that is known, followed, regularly managed, and reevaluated.
Distribution - Getting the files from their central location to other users or to another platform on which the files can be utilized is an important piece of digital asset management. At the lowest level, there is the ability to download a file, and then you may have common or more advanced functions like direct sharing with other users or publishing to content management systems or social media platforms.
Storage, organization, access, security, and distribution are the hallmarks of digital asset management, but as we’ve discussed, how each of these areas are accomplished can lead to various levels of success. And in terms of process versus system, a mis-used software platform can make for mediocre digital asset management, and so can an elaborate process built on outdated technology.
There are some other areas that digital asset management can provide but does not always. One area is collaboration. This has to do with the solution allowing different users to work together with digital files within the solution. Some solutions, like Image Relay, allow users to work together on a platform to collaborate on projects using the brand’s assets. Other areas include search capabilities and managing underlying metadata of files. More sophisticated features include versioning management and audit and analytics capabilities for understanding file usage and user activity. These types of functions help make digital asset management not only an effective way to manage your assets but also a way to ensure important business return on investment.
We see some other terms come up in discussions about digital asset management. Sometimes these terms get used interchangeably and that adds to the confusion some might have about this area.
Brand Management - You’re managing your brand’s assets, so it’s brand management, right? Right? Eeeeehhhhh, not quite. While digital asset management can be an important part of managing your brand, the words probably aren’t that interchangeable. Brand management can be a lot broader and include the overall management of the brand - the planning, analysis, and marketing of how the brand lives in the market. It’s not just about digital assets, it’s about price, packaging, and everything else about the experience that the customer has with the brand.
Content Management - This term gets thrown around a lot and has taken on a life of its own. It could be used as a synonym for digital asset management, but you’re likely to confuse people if you do. The big difference between content management and digital asset management is that content management has traditionally been used to refer to the systems with which someone publishes digital content. For example, in this area, Wordpress is one of the biggest players. While you can organize and manage files using a system like Wordpress, the purpose is to serve these assets to the web.
Rich Media Asset Management, Media Asset Management, Digital Content Management, Digital Media Management - Now we’re talking. These terms are pretty interchangeable with digital asset management. These terms all have the same problem as digital asset management in that they are pretty broad and generic words, and therefore open to interpretation. These terms have not caught on as much, and what’s worse, they even try to artificially limit the meaning of the term (we’re looking at you “rich media asset management”).
We’re not trying to tell you what term to use but we hope this might have provided some insight into what is and what isn’t digital asset management. There’s a lot more to know about what goes into effective digital asset management and you can check out our other posts for some deeper dives in those areas.
UPDATE - With the rise of blockchain and related cryptocurrency, such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, and more than 1000 other options, a new area is competing for a claim on “digital asset management.” Cryptocurrencies are assets and they are digital, so the “digital asset” part makes sense and then applying any type of management to those assets makes a strong case for why “digital asset management” can have this broader definition. It’s no doubt that in a short timeframe, “digital asset manager” will be a large field of practice and they’ll be managing portfolios and making trades just like traditional asset managers. What does this mean for the DAM industry? It’s probably time to start thinking about some new terms.