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The state of digital asset management

This article appears in the issue November/December 2008, [Vol 17, Issue 10]
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As custom components continue to get built and snapped on, and the size and number of assets continues to increase, many industry veterans question which, if any, of the existing DAM vendors can keep up. DAM never enjoyed the huge explosion that the Web content management (WCM) market did, and we question if it ever will. DAM’s path is more a winding road than a trajectory, with descents and ascents, with all the passengers wondering if they’ll ever reach the top, and curious if the view will be worth all the ups and downs. Only time will tell.

The DAM marketplace and vendors

We break up the marketplace into three tiers, roughly from those that are more complex and appropriate for enterprise-scale implementations, to those that are simpler and more appropriate for workgroup or departmental implementations (and thus are usually cheaper).

Enterprise DAM

  • Open Text: Artesia DAM
  • Interwoven: MediaBin
  • EMC: Documentum Digital Asset Manager
  • ClearStory Systems: ActiveMedia
  • North Plains: TeleScope
  • IBM: FileNet/Ancept Media Server

Those vendors are considered the "major players" in the arena of digital and media asset management. Three of them—Open Text’s Artesia, EMC’s Documentum DAM and Interwoven’s MediaBin—are tools that came of age on their own, as products of independent companies, before bigger ECM players gobbled them up. Note that MediaBin and Artesia, in particular, largely continue to operate as entities quite separate from their corporate parents, while EMC’s Digital Asset Manager little resembles the original product, Bulldog. ClearStory and North Plains remain the two major pure-play DAM vendors, whereas IBM’s partnership with Ancept Media Server, while not a single-company solution, offers an interesting paired offering for media asset management in particular.

What all those vendors have in common is that they’re quite malleable platforms, ones that you should consider if digital or media asset management are core to your business. They’re also rather expensive ($100,000 on the low end, $500,000 on the high end, just for licensing), and designed to integrate with larger ECM or enterprise architectures. However, that doesn’t happen easily: Adopting and maintaining any of those tools takes a great deal of work.

Mid-market challengers

DAM and MAM tools fulfill many different needs, and some of the most common scenarios for DAM are workgroup or departmental, whereby a marketing team needs to manage all the assets related to a brand. In those situations, it’s rare that the assets are used outside a core marketing or creative team (until the final product, such as a brochure, is created). There’s heavy need for integration with desktop applications, such as Quark Xpress or Adobe InDesign, and also collaborative commenting as marketing collateral is created.

Occasionally, those scenarios must scale up to agency models, in which assets are distributed well beyond a single creative team to partners and customers. At some point, those departmental DAM systems might need to integrate with larger enterprise platforms. Those vendors thrive in workgroup or agency scenarios, but in some cases are challenging the larger enterprise vendors, as they take on larger and more demanding DAM and MAM scenarios within existing client bases. They tend to offer solutions at lower price points (in some cases, starting as low as $5,000), but aren't as proven with large (100,000+) collections of assets as enterprise DAM vendors.

Widen, a software-as-a-service vendor, is by far the largest vendor of the four in terms of staff and revenues, and challenges ClearStory for SaaS business. Canto is known for its strong workgroup thick-client (but not enterprise) implementations, while ADAM and WAVE take a platform approach, allowing extensive customization of tir tools.

Niche solutions

  • Xinet: WebNative Suite
  • MediaBeacon: R3volution Enterprise DAM Suite
  • Chuckwalla: Chuckwalla 5.8

Those vendors focus on a particular aspect of DAM or MAM, and have a very small market share. Xinet is targeted for scenarios with complex pre-press workflow needs, while MediaBeacon is a pioneer in various forms of XMP support. Chuckwalla, meanwhile, focuses on pre-press and e-learning.

We look at all those vendors in-depth and evaluate their tools in our recently published Digital & Media Asset Management Report.

Pitfalls and best practices

Most DAM system customers who end up disappointed can trace their problem to an inadequate and/or unstructured technology selection and implementation process. It’s essential to follow a methodical review process based on actual system and usability testing rather than on long lists of check-box requirements. Throughout the process, you want to assess the vendor as much as (or more than) you would the product. Key areas of exploration here are:

  • maintenance and support,
  • integration and partnerships,
  • strategy and roadmap, and
  • viability and stability.

DAM projects, like all IT endeavors, can easily fail. It’s essential to follow the lessons of others who have gone before you. Among the dozen best practices we identify in our report, these stand out:

  • Obtain strategic direction, a suitable budget and a mandate for necessary changes.
  • Involve system users in the selection, design, implementation and testing of the system.
  • Understand the different roles and motivations of consultancies, integrators and vendors.
  • Anticipate future expansion in both your number of assets and your technical architecture. 

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