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These questions (and your answers) are key to implementing a successful DAM system

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Putting in place a digital asset management (DAM) system is a complex endeavor. Projects that wrangle, organize and make an organization's assets and data accessible are by nature intimate affairs that require all involved, including consultants, to get deeply engaged with the workings of an organization and its operations. A successful DAM project precipitates a lot of important questions, many of which I’ve outlined below based on my years of experience as a user and consultant.

To turn out well, these projects require intimacy, good communication and trust. With DAM, the team you assemble must understand your organization’s needs and challenges as well as the state of the industry as a whole. Your project team must help you with this initiative and translate the range of business, creative, distribution and archival needs into effective processes with optimized design, taxonomy and actionable tasks.

Employers are best served if they look at DAM as library-centric projects that use technology, rather than as technology projects that support library functions. There is a difference. When business inefficiencies are colliding, the knee-jerk reaction is to loop in the IT folks to “just figure this out.”

But digital asset management is not another IT project. DAM is organizing data and assets to make them transparent and easily accessible. The users’ experience as well as their perception of value will grow if your approach is organized in conjunction with the DAM technology you and your employer choose. It’s about tailoring DAM to your organization’s needs.

In a CMSWire.com article from this summer, Melissa Webster, an analyst for content and digital media technologies at IDC, recommended picking someone to spearhead the effort who would serve as a champion, but also inviting to the table anyone who could have a stake in the system’s success. Webster added, “Adoption is the real key to DAM success.”

If you’re committed to a DAM project, begin with these questions:

  • What is the chief problem (i.e., capital “P” problem) motivating your efforts?
  • Is solving that problem strategic? Is it driven by growth or your overall success as a business? Often, DAM systems built for department-level needs fall short for enterprise-wide needs. Make sure you’re building on a scale that meets not only current needs but also anticipates and allows for future growth.
  • If you already have a DAM system (or multiple systems), is it underperforming? Has it met overall expectations
  • Is the DAM project a cost-saving effort, or an opportunity to reduce inefficiencies, streamline workflows, and maximize opportunities? Is it all of these?  Common project drivers for organizations include addressing:
  • The creation of too many content silos (e.g., time, success and growth have now limited collaboration).
  • The accumulation of too many assets, struggling to find what’s needed, which dictates the need for DAM to streamline content, brand and version control and overall rights management.
  • Creating or purchasing the same content because employees can’t find and leverage what they already have.
  • Spending too much time manually moving assets and data across different systems within the enterprise.
  • Accumulating cluttered, at-risk storage with too many duplicate assets and unauthorized, unusable derivatives and works in progress.

I know an employer that has a DAM system, actually four systems. These systems don’t talk to each other, and they manage and identify assets with different naming conventions. But there isn’t an “organizational will” to change things. For your organization, sparking a change might take a visual cue for your executives: Ask them to picture the organization’s stockpile of hard drives getting bigger and bigger – a reminder of the liability this represents. Mitigating liability is a phrase that has successfully motivated many a project.

Regardless of which of these questions leads you to your chief problem, you need to act. So the follow-up questions are:

  • Do you know what you need to do?
  • And, just as importantly, do you know how to do it?
  • Do you have the perspective, expertise, time and resources available to be successful?
  • And if so, is a DAM project the best use of your and your staff’s time and resources?

If you’re informed, involved, forthright and realistic, you’re more likely to succeed with a digital asset management project. Take a deep breath, relax, look inward, soul-search.

  • Will you be engaged in the discovery, design and implementation process?  
  • Do you plan to tackle this on your own as a D-I-Y project?  
  • Are you willing to re-align your workflow and your organization to maximize the value-add of an effective asset management system?

The details of an implementation can be its most problematic aspect. People often begin a project with an overarching goal, developing steps and tactics and dividing responsibility. Before you begin to address the details of your digital asset management project, decide how truly invested you are and whether you and your team have the time and expertise to proceed. The answer will tell you if you’ll achieve a successful outcome.

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