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Turbulent times for DAM

By Alan Pelz-Sharpe

Ovum defines digital asset management (DAM) as the process and technology of digitizing, logging, storing, managing, tracking and distributing rich media assets through multiple channels. The definition sets out some general guidelines and limitations for digital asset management. The processes used to transform and receive such complex media into a DAM system are very involved. It would be easy to summarize digital asset management as simply being a subset of content management. Even though they share many of the same technical components, that would be oversimplifying what are, in fact, complex and difficult issues. Full digital asset management falls well outside the competencies of most CM vendors.

DAM technology provides us with the ability to extract full commercial value from rich media. To date, that value has been seen as limited, and with the dot.com bust, digital asset management has found itself in the doldrums. A more pragmatic approach to content management (CM) that encompasses the management of all content and related business processes is ensuring that digital asset management has a future, albeit one that is a small but important part of a larger market.

Digital asset management is entering the most volatile period in its brief history. It will be a period of consolidation that will see many smaller vendors either be acquired or fold. The more established data management and content management vendors will quickly embrace DAM functionality and offer it as their own. Therefore, buyers of digital asset management should be cautious of change over this time.

Digital asset management is set to become an integral part of the overall enterprise content management market. However, a significant and more specialized set of markets, such as security and broadcast, will still remain. Corporate buyers outside of those niche sectors should wait for integrated CM solutions to appear, rather than moving immediately to best-of-breed solutions.

DAM technology has come a long way over a short period of time, and has generated a great deal of interest. Until search technology moves forward to tackle the issues of image-based searching, digital rights management issues are resolved, and broadband is more universally available and utilized, digital asset management will struggle to move to its next generation.

When it does, it will have a major impact on CM and data management in general.

The DAM market

There is a perception among major media organizations that the vast archives of media they hold is of great economic value, and that at some point that can and will be exploited.

Current experience suggests that this is not necessarily the case—in a world of infoglut, who needs more? In fact, extracting value out of dormant media archives is difficult, and is taxing even for those with the richest resources. With the dot.com bust and increased skepticism of the value of e-business in general, this is not a positive market for digital asset management to trade in.

However, even though the DAM market remains small at $92 million globally for services and licenses, it is growing. Ovum's (ovum.com) market forecast is shown in Figure 1. Although there are a small number of key independent players, many of the larger IT software developers also want to move into that space.

We believe that the core broadcast and media DAM market will continue to grow over the next five years at a CAGR of around 11%. However, even greater growth may be seen (though hidden) within the broader ECM market, when established CM players start to provide DAM-like functionality as part of their broader offerings.

At present, companies such as Artesia and Documentum, which this spring acquired Bulldog's DAM technology, dominate the independent DAM sector, with a dozen or so smaller vendors also active in the market. Major vendors such as IBM, Ascential and Unisys are eager to move in and ultimately dominate the DAM market, as are some of the more established CM players such as FileNet. There is probably room for one or two market leaders, because domain experience counts as much as actual technology in many sectors. For example, even though a company such as Documentum may be able to offer a good technical solution, it might be difficult for it to sell into the publishing industry without extensive domain experience. Its acquisition of Bulldog not only provides the company with added technology for its portfolio, but also the domain experience to move into the broadcast market. Therefore, for the time being, smaller players will continue to own such vertical sectors.

Understanding the life cycle of the content and the needs of the users does not come quickly or without pain. However, some independent DAM software vendors have already made deep inroads into media-rich territories. The scale of the task ahead for those vendors cannot be underestimated, because it will be difficult for them to stay ahead of the pack over the coming few years, with few having annual revenues of more than $20 million. The marketing, R&D and sales budgets of those vendors is so much smaller than their prospective competitors in the wider IT and CM space.

There have been some wild market projections for growth in the DAM market, with predictions running to billions by 2004. On close inspection, there is little to suggest that the market will grow to anything like those proportions, although we do forecast that it will continue to grow strongly, in contrast to some other CM sectors over the coming years. For now, however, it remains a relatively small subset of content management (just like Web content management), and will remain so for the next two to three years.

After that time, we will start to see an increasing blurring of the boundaries between the offerings of incumbent CM vendors and those of existing DAM vendors. There will also be increasing crossover with some of the streaming media vendors.

What is so special about rich media?

All content is not equal—managing data that has been output from a RDBMS, a Microsoft Word file or a video stream are quite different propositions. The goal of information management is to treat them all equally, but the reality is that structured and unstructured data remain very different beasts to tame. Figure 3 shows the range of content that needs to be handled.

CM software is good at handling unstructured text—or vector-based content. For example, if a Word or TIFF image has the title, originator details and "date created" fields in the metadata completed, then the file can be stored logically and searched for using that information. With good metadata management, most unstructured files can be ordered and distributed with a high degree of accuracy. CM software does that well and extends the capability to HTML content, Active Server Pages and Java Server Pages, and the management and order of entire Web sites. Most of those pages and files, whether enterprise- or Web-focused, are text-based in some way or another, and it is possible to search (and categorize) the actual content of the file without the need for comprehensive and accurate metadata.

Rich media needs to be managed in much the same way. The problem is that audio files, for example, that simply have the title, ID number and date created are providing only basic metadata that severely restricts its reuse and purpose. It is far more difficult to extract metadata from rich content than from text-based content. Streaming or direct-feed broadcast content is even more difficult, because it is constantly updated and has a s

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