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Where content meets technology

Jan 10, 2012

Digital Asset Management: Inventory or Production?

I have been doing a lot of work in digital asset management (DAM) over the past several months. One thing that strikes me about digital asset management software is that a majority of the market focuses on solving the problem of organizing and finding digital assets rather than the problem of producing assets. This is understandable. After all, digital assets (like images, videos, and audio recordings) pose a real problem for organizations. Digital assets are bulky (take a lot of storage), hard to find (at least without metadata), and expensive to produce (you need software, skills, and most importantly, taste to develop these things). Without a digital asset management system, these valuable assets get lost in a chaos of local and shared folder structures with no identifiers other than arbitrarily assigned file names.

The promise of alleviating the pain of losing and duplicating digital assets is compelling and has driven growth in the DAM segment of content technologies. DAM also nicely complements Web Content Management (WCM) because digital assets are so often used in web publishing. In fact, you see lots of WCM platforms integrating with DAM software or adding light DAM capabilities (basically a folder structure of assets with searchable metadata) to their solutions.

But what of the other side of management? The DAM market is considerably weaker in solving the problem of managing the production of digital assets. Products that were designed as digital libraries typically lack robust functionality for workflow, versioning, and managing the raw materials that are required to generate digital assets (filters, fonts, effects, etc.). This type of functionality is critical for large marketing departments within global organizations that are constantly producing, localizing, and publishing digital assets such as videos, images, banner ads, and flash movies. This was the business problem I was trying to solve.

After some research, I found two products that excel in managing digital asset production: ADAM and Vyre (I am looking forward to seeing Vyre's new Creative Workflow product). I shied away from Documentum for other reasons. Adobe CQ DAM probably has the most promise for digital asset production because of its upcoming integration with the market-dominating Creative Suite (Bridge and Drive in particular). That said, when you buy CQ DAM today, you are getting more of a platform than a DAM application. The "Press Center" application, which Adobe demos as its DAM, is essentially a website (built on CQ WCM) for browsing digital assets. The building blocks for digital asset production (versioning, workflows, triggers, etc.) are all there, but it takes a lot of services work to build a digital asset production management system. Look for some changes in the upcoming 5.5 release.

Another interesting technology in this area is Saepio MarketPort. The best way to describe MarketPort is that it is like those websites that allow you to build your own greeting card, photo-book, T-Shirt, or mug. You select a template and then input text and images to fill the placeholders. But instead of creating a T-Shirt or mug, you are creating a marketing asset like a flyer or banner advertisement. This is great for franchise or distributed companies that want to empower their subsidiaries with self-service creation of marketing assets. But it is very different from the creative workflow that I was discussing earlier.

There is also a category of software called Marketing Resource Management (MRM) but I found that market to be fragmented and poorly defined. The products that claim to be part of the MRM segment do very different things. Some focus on planning and reporting. Others focus on project management. The content repository functionality in these products tends to be on the weak side. Plus, they tend to require large amounts of implementation work to deploy.

The DAM (and MRM) market is broad and can be confusing. The good news is that if you are just looking for a system that will centralize the storage of digital assets and allow users to easily organize, find, re-use, and repurpose existing assets, there are a lot of viable options. You can focus your selection on aspects such as usability and price. But if you are looking for a platform to coordinate a large team of digital asset producers, the market gets a lot thinner. When evaluating DAM products, make sure that you know what scenarios you are trying to support. Demonstrations of search, renditioning, and cropping are compelling; but do they do not fully address the needs of a large, specialized production team.