Glamour and Guts: The Two Faces of DAM

The roots of digital asset management (somewhat distractingly and sometimes amusingly shortened to "DAM") are firmly planted in the media/entertainment and the print/publishing marketspaces. Movie studios and newspaper conglomerates, international news agencies and advertising movers-and-shakers—these were the first types of organizations to embrace digital asset management. As a result, it should be glamorous and exotic—as Paris Hilton would say: "It's hot."

Well, OK, I guess. I have yet to find a deep well of hotness, but I WILL say that DAM is leading the way toward a fantastic vision that goes way beyond the mere information management and content delivery that we know today.

Movie studios and television production groups use DAM to manage their intellectual property and their production processes. In that sense, DAM is sort of exotic. Imagine being able to search for a certain word spoken in a movie soundtrack ("search: Rosebud"), or sort a server full of video clips by "girl," "guy" or "horse." It really starts to get into Star Trek territory. .That's the sparkling vision; the reality is a little grittier... but it's still pretty DAM cool.

What DAM Is, and Isn't

First, let's get our terms straight. After all, practically ALL assets are digital these days. A Word document is, technically speaking, a "digital asset." So how come DAM isn't "everything management?" (I would argue that "content management" suffers from a similar overstretching of definition, but that's for another article.) It's really just a matter of connotation and common usage. "Digital asset management," the term, has come to mean the "better management and control of customer-facing content, including rich media and visual content such as video, animations, images, logos, presentations, audio clips." And so forth.

These types of assets can and should be considered separately, because they represent unique challenges. From an IT perspective, rich media files are really big and complex. There aren't a lot of great technologies for searching, outside of searching the metadata... which may or may not exist, or have been created accurately. There are a bunch of standards for the filetypes themselves, and for the ways in which metadata is embedded into these files. For these reasons and more, DAM is a unique discipline apart from run-of-the-mill content management. The analyst firms have a similar problem dealing with content management in all its forms. Forrester breaks enterprise content management down along three lines: "transactional content"—loan documents, for example; "business content"—Word documents, email; and "persuasive content"—and this is any content that is used to promote or sell an organization's products and services.

It is this category—persuasive content—where digital asset management is emerging as a mission-critical tool, for many reasons.

How DAM Works for Business

DAM—in addition to capturing the imaginations of media-centric companies—is also very important to the highly branded consumer-centric organizations such as consumer-packaged goods companies (food makers), manufacturers (automobile makers) and everything from sneakers to cigarettes. I spoke with Brian Meek, director of product marketing at Interwoven, regarding all things DAM-related. He shared this basic overview:

DAM has three main areas of function. First, to facilitate the work of those responsible for producing and managing marketing collateral. Where are all our product images? Where's our library of current and approved logos? Where are our stock photos that we can draw upon to embellish a presentation? Sometimes the processes these creative professionals manage are spread across geographic boundaries, and sometimes they are outsourced to third-party business partners and agencies. The resources themselves are likewise spread across departments ("Where's that PowerPoint preso the VP marketing used three weeks ago in his meeting in Istanbul?") and vary in physical attributes ("Is it a 500-meg TIFF from the ad agency? Or a GIF I can drop onto my desktop?").

So the need to consolidate and normalize not only the collateral throughout a company, but also the parts and pieces necessary to produce that collateral for the creative and marketing professionals, is the first job for DAM.

Secondly, Meek points out, DAM can serve as a sort of central library—a "self-service brand portal," Meek calls it—for all of an organization's employees... not only the marketing professionals, but other groups such as legal and sales, as well as external constituents such as business partners. This function, reckons Meek, is the "overriding objective of most corporations putting together a digital asset management system." Creating a central repository for "all the approved, up-to-date stuff."

Because this is the usual objective for companies purchasing a DAM system, pretty much any of them will provide this functionality "right out of the box," says Meek. However, you generally want to embellish and stage content to meet your specific requirements. Meek compares it to a "brand guidelines manual," that all companies have, that states how the company's logo may be used, what colors are approved, which version of the logo should be used in this circumstance, etc. A DAM system allows you to automate that type of branding guideline manual, and place it in an accessible brand portal which "front-ends" the underlying collateral and materials

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