DAM: It’s Not Just For Disney Anymore

By that headline, I do NOT mean that the media/entertainment companies are no longer interested in managing their digital assets... completely the opposite is true! And I don’t mean to single out Disney... any media, entertainment, news and publishing business whose products ARE rich media—movies, video, music, Web content—still relies on very complex, very specialized digital asset management (DAM) systems to conduct its daily work.

But just as true is this: the general business application of rich media (such as training videos, PowerPoint presentations, Web graphics, logos, product images, podcasts and many, many more) has reached a tipping point for the business of managing rich media. And the value of even less glamorous assets, such as engineering drawings, CAD files, blueprints, maps, diagrams, industrial plans and charts, only increases as the means of exploiting them by the rank-and-file employees becomes easier and more accessible.

"Five years ago, 90% of our revenue came from media/entertainment companies, with 10% being Global 2000-ish," remarked Mark Arbour, the general manager of the Interactive Content Management group of EMC. "Now, I wouldn’t say it’s the other way around, but it’s probably 60/40 in favor of Global 2000 (general) business."

This shift away from the "high-end" application of DAM among the few largest media powers to the regular Joes who need to run their business better is the key trend in the DAM marketplace. It has led to the inevitable schism between "pure-play" specialized vendors and the more integrated, general content management providers. It has driven prices down. It has led to more simplicity and a better end-user experience. And it has opened up an entirely new way of looking at the value proposition for digital assets.

Almost entirely. Because despite the emerging acceptance of rich media sources into your run-of-the-mill business processes (much more on that later), DAM remains a separate and not-quite-equal specialty. As Michael Snow, product manager at Interwoven, points out, "You can’t really look at content management as an overarching theme for all content—you really have to break it down into the specific demands that each type of content requires. Whether you’re handling a video, or a PhotoShop file, a design document or a raw file from a digital camera, each has very specific requirements. Because of that, you want a system that deals with those specifics."

"Let’s make it clear," adds Scott Bowen, president of the Artesia Digital Media Group of Open Text. "Our roots are in the media businesses. Our users are in the creative community and work with tools from Adobe, Apple and Avid. They use raw materials from digital cameras. Our user is NOT the average knowledge worker, who uses MS Office tools."

And therein lies the fundamental challenge for DAM and rich media users across the board: Digital assets should be thought of as value-creation tools for the enterprise, just as important to the company as its documents and reports, with the same ease of access and seamless integration with myriad business processes. Yet, rich media, by its very nature, is inherently different, and needs to be treated with specialized tools, systems and processes. At least, in the fall of 2007 it does. I wanted to know if that was changing.

"In the term ‘digital asset management,’ the most important word there is not ‘digital.’ It’s the second word: ‘asset,’" says Scott Bowen. "And what’s an asset? Any piece of content that has true value to a company. It could have intellectual value, it could have financial value or historical value. The knee-jerk reaction by those who are not completely familiar with DAM [count me in that group, Scott] is that DAM is relevant only to the media/entertainment industries. That’s only because, it just so happens that companies that rely on intellectual property are often media companies, and media companies happen to have lots of rich media content... non-document, non-textual. So we work within a paradigm for treating content as an intellectual property asset that requires rigor around metadata. Metadata are the keys to the kingdom in our world—securing an IP asset, describing it, articulating it with everything from a robust metadata scheme to taxonomies... that’s what we do," explains Scott.

"The global driver for any general business company to buy DAM is to get better customer interaction," says Mark Arbour. "To deliver a richer experience through their website or online catalog. It’s marketing; that’s the main driver. The big companies—Global 2000—want a better and closer relationship with their customers, and they want to be able to deliver a rich user experience through ANY channel. On top of that, they want to track how the customer is using those media assets (such as CEO statements, ads, Web content) and determine what’s working and what isn’t."

Scott Bowen agrees that the marketing departments of the world’s largest companies are emerging as the early adopters, for clear and compelling reasons: "I can tell dazzling stories about the biggest media and entertainment companies in the world, and that’s certainly where DAM got its start, but that’s not the exciting part. It’s the penetration of DAM into the corporate community and the government marketplace that encourages us." He continues: "Marketing, like entertainment, is a persuasive experience. The marketing department is not there to save money; it’s there to spend money to drive revenue. They use intellectual assets to persuade their constituents. They use flat panels in elevators, screens on gas pumps, digital signage, product placements... there’s a mass proliferation of potential consumption points for messaging. The marketing department is driving all the demand. The typical marketing organization looks the most like a media company, in the underlying infrastructure and process as well as the file types and tools it handles."

He goes on: "The typical CMO is not going to talk about cost-containment. I call it the difference between an ‘aspirin’ sale and a ‘candy’ sale. Is it a headache, like regulatory compliance? That’s what a lot of the ECM vendors do, providing aspirin to the CIO, and that’s good. But when I walk into the marketing department, it’s more candy than aspirin," says Scott.

And for any marketing guy, "candy" is revenue generation. "DAM will be adopted when the management of content becomes considered strategic to the business," says Michael Snow. "When you manage digital assets that are critical to your business, then it is already strategic; you can get to market faster, your salespeople have the latest and best content available to them 24/7. A salesperson can go to the customer’s site, select slides that are not only laptop-ready, but also blessed and approved by the marketing department, put together a presentation... all online. That’s a strategic, business-growing application."

DAM for the Masses
I guess the careful and effective management of ANY asset, whether it’s digital, rich or whatever, is self-evidently valuable. But part of the fallout from DAM’s legacy as a big media toy is that the average folks believe it’s too expensive, complicated and ... well, too fancy for little ol’ me. So, I ask whether the marketplace is trying to get by with the content management tools in place?

"The nature of the tools and technologies and the workflows are drastically different than those used in ECM; that’s why there are still boutique DAM vendors running around who don’t provide ECM. We think DAM is an important part of an overall ECM strategy. But unlike traditional ECM, you’ve got a few special challenges: you’ve got to be thoughtful about how you integrate into a Macintosh environment. You have to figure out how to work with PhotoShop, Illustrator, time-based media like video and music and audio," says Scott.

"My argument is that they (DAM and ECM) are converging," says Mark Arbour. "There are obviously differences, but there’s a lot of commonality. Most people don’t have a separate repository for rich media. They want to use rich media, but they also want script management or contract management attached to those media assets. The value of a complete content management system is much greater than a standalone DAM system. I’m not saying there aren’t unique requirements for DAM—very large file handling, media analysis, transformation capabilities... you obviously need to understand the nuances of rich media versus, say a Word document. But if you can do it all together in the context of a common master metadata database for all your information, you get a lot more value.

"People have told me they don’t want the complexity of a full-blown ECM system," continues Mark, "because all they really want is a video archive. But you can use just the DAM components of an ECM system if you want to, and just not turn on the Web publishing or records or whatever. The cost is very comparable to a standalone DAM system, and you have the option of expanding into ECM functionality in the future."

"Most of the players in what we call today ‘content management’ have their roots in very specific places—either doc management and workflow, or Web content management. Our roots go back to Internet search, collaboration and knowledge management. Traditional content management vendors consider DAM an add-on to a platform that has a completely different kernel philosophy under the hood than we do. We look at it from an intellectual
property viewpoint, putting management rigor around those assets and—more importantly—putting that asset into play across the organization, where it can create value, derive revenue or increase efficiency," says Scott Bowen.

Best Practices Ahead
There are stages by which organizations can approach its entry into the DAM world. I wanted to know if there were any "best practices" for approaching DAM.

"The biggest problem is that people don’t even have a central repository for digital assets... that’s the first step," answers Michael Snow. "An insurance agent in the field may not have the ability, at 11 o’clock the night before a presentation, to go to a site where the latest, greatest and approved content is waiting for him to pull together a presentation. Just providing a central place where he could go for approved content is hurdling over the first major barrier," says Michael.

"The secondary layer adds complexity," he continues. "What if I need a low-res version of a video, and all we have are broadcast videos? What if there are 100 different slide presentations, and I need slides 1 and 2 from this presentation, and 4 and 5 from another? How do I do that, and know I am getting the approved content of those slides? There are folks out there, many of whom were the early adopters, who are well into their third, fourth or fifth phase. They’re looking at the future, and looking at both their internal and external constituencies’ needs for approved content."

But even for the average "late adopter," the drive to get control over rich media assets is making its impact. "A ton more customers are realizing, as Web 2.0 overtakes the world, that video is such an important medium that they HAVE to provide a way of managing it in an online environment," states Michael. "It’s the flood of content that is causing our customers to say: ‘We need to find a way to get a hold of this NOW because it’s becoming way too cumbersome to manage it in the ways we have in the past. A fileshare is not significant enough anymore."

Other outside forces have, like many areas in the KM world, driven the demand for technology solutions, sometimes in unexpected ways. I asked Mark Arbour for examples: "Training is a growing area. With all the attention on corporate governance, companies have to provide training, and they have to prove their employees take the training, and take the right version of the training. Also, a lot of life sciences companies use DAM to manage standard operating procedures, and the training associated with that. Training plays a big role in compliance, and DAM plays a big role in training," Mark says.

DAM is certainly here to stay, and here to stay in organizations far afield from the entertainment and media companies of the past. This is an ongoing and extremely active segment of the marketplace that I, for one, look forward to watching. 

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