What is Digital Asset Management?

Many people may never have heard of Like many others, I hadn't heard of Digital Asset Management or DAM, an acronym that's the source of a million bad jokes. That changed in autumn 2015 when I began exploring a new career path. Opportunities that had seemed certain hadn't opened up as I'd hoped they would, so it was time to change tack. (How I came to choose DAM is a story for another post). By February 2016, I'd submitted an application to enter the Digital Asset and Media Management MA at King's College London. In April I received an unconditional offer to enter the programme. In September 2016, I was walking past the photos of famous alumni on my first day. As I sat down in a big lecture theatre, something I'd never experienced before as I did my BA with the Open University, I still didn't really know what DAM was.

So, what is DAM? Neat explanations of DAM can be hard. I used to describe it as digital librarianship. That's kind of accurate and the DAM MA at King's is accredited by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP). Over time though, as my knowledge of DAM developed, I began to use an example instead. For a recent assignment (in which I received a distinction) I needed to describe what DAM is and began by walking readers through the essence of DAM using an example from my own life. An edited version of that walkthrough is below.

Please bear in mind that this is pitched at a basic level, so if you're already in DAM you're not likely to learn anything from this. Also, DAM is capable of supporting different functions and businesses, so how it's used can vary. This is a general overview of DAM, no more.

Hopefully, this will help you understand, but if you've got any questions, feel free to leave one in the comments or to contact me. I hope this helps!


Technology and Practice

DAM is both a technology and a practice. Both elements are important for the development of effective DAM strategies and the management of DAM systems.

As a technology, it comprises the hardware, software and relevant infrastructure necessary for DAM to work. DAM systems are typically either a cloud system or an on-site system. As a practice, it includes the management of assets stored on those systems, promotion of the DAM system and ensuring that each user has the appropriate access level. Both of these are high level definitions and involve far more work than this simple description implies, but this is enough for this post.

DAM products are primarily Software as a Service (SaaS) or cloud-based models with the traditional on-site option becoming less popular. In the SaaS model, an organisation only needs to provide computers which are used to log in to the online service that also stores the digital assets. A SaaS system is easy to use because little to no technical skills are needed to implement it and they can scale dynamically in terms of the number of users who can access the system or the amount of storage available. However, there are fewer opportunities to customise the system. An on-site system requires the corporation or organisation provide all the hardware, including storage, and acquire the correct licenses for DAM software. Underestimating storage requirements or user numbers can result in not having enough storage space or not being able to give people access to the system. Overestimating can mean wasting money on storage and licenses. Striking a balance that permits growth without wasting capacity is difficult. Appropriate IT professionals are also required to set-up and maintain the hardware and software. There are also hybrid options where the DAM service is in the cloud, but the assets are stored locally.

Whether an organisation uses SaaS or on-site DAM, a digital asset manager (whose title is not shortened to DAM) will be needed to maintain the system. They will manage the digital assets, including ensuring that they are being ingested (uploaded to the DAM system) correctly and that metadata is being applied correctly.

Media assets can be almost any type of digital media file (see figure 1).

Figure 1 - The many forms digital assets can take ( What is DAM - the discipline and practice of Digital Asset Management )

Figure 1 - The many forms digital assets can take (What is DAM - the discipline and practice of Digital Asset Management)

As figure 1 shows, rich media can be any digital media file that is valuable to an organisation.

However, a file cannot be a digital asset unless it can be found by everyone who needs it and who has legitimate access to it. Let's take a look at how we can achieve this.


Solving the DAM problem

See what I mean about bad jokes?

One of the big problems that many organisations are encountering is how can they find one file among thousands or millions? If they can't find it, then that perfect image for their marketing campaign might be unusable, a legal agreement might be impossible to find risking legal problems or a digital product might be impossible to sell. Not being able to find individual files became a problem for me with just dozens of files. As I began accumulating texts for my dissertation, finding one that I'd stored in OneDrive became a tedious slog. You can see the problem in action in figure 2.

Figure 2 - Poor management of files leads to confusion

Figure 2 - Poor management of files leads to confusion

Figure 2 shows how untenable this had become. Files rarely had memorable names, so I needed to open each one in turn to see if I had the right one. I needed a more effective strategy.

I developed a list of requirements and compared these to Bynder’s Orbit service. (Yes, Orbit is more of file management service than a DAM, but it's a neat way of illustrating the point). I predicted that it would meet my needs and uploaded all files to Orbit. I applied the techniques that I described above, ingesting every text into the system, renaming each file using a format I had created, and applying tags (a form of metadata). As a result, I can now find anything I need easily (see figure 3).

Figure 3 - Screenshot: my texts stored in Bynder Orbit with a search for 'metadata'

Figure 3 - Screenshot: my texts stored in Bynder Orbit with a search for 'metadata'

Figure 3 shows how I can now carry out a text search to filter assets, a process aided by being able to preview assets without opening them. Now, I can find what I need in seconds not minutes.

If I was running into this problem with dozens of assets, imagine how bad it must be for organisations that have thousands or millions.



Yes, there is more than that to DAM, or there wouldn't be an MA in it! However, this small-scale example captures one key part of it. DAM enables organisations to regain control of their files, of assets that are their products or part of their ability to control their business. Organisations that can't find what they own or keep track of whether they even have the rights to use such files are storing up problems for the future.