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How to Pick a DAM Platform

Whether you’re starting from scratch or migrating from an existing DAM platform to a new one, there are three core principles that can guide your system selection process:

  • Engage (your team)
  • Explore (your needs, requirements, and goals)
  • Evaluate (systems that will meet your objectives)

Engage

To ensure a successful DAM-picking process, you need to make sure you’ve engaged the right people. To do so, ask and thoroughly answer three questions:

  • Who will use the DAM?
  • Who will manage the DAM? (e.g., taxonomic and user-experience governance)
  • Who will maintain the DAM? (e.g., IT and security)

Once you’ve identified the people in those three categories, you can work with them to move on to “Explore.” Before we move on, though, two notes:

Senior Leadership Involvement

Really, there’s one more critical addition to the working team: senior leadership. A DAM is a significant investment for any organization, and ultimately senior leadership will make the call. Whether a senior leader is engaged as part of the “working team” or, perhaps, is somewhat removed from the fray depends on your organization’s size and culture. So does exactly who that senior leader is (the CEO? the CFO? the CTO? a Marketing/Communications leader?).

Users are the Key

If you had to pick one group of people whose involvement is most critical, it’s an easy call: users. “The first thing you should always be focusing on is the users,” said Aldis Senior Librarian, Phil Seibel, MLIS. “You want to know what people need. The system is there not for the assets or the cool technology – it's there for the people. Make sure you've got all the players in the room and involved as quickly as humanly possible. Because nothing stops the process like it not being involved.”

Explore

Now that the players are identified, it’s time for conversations to begin. Lots and lots of conversations. Whether these conversations happen one-on-one or in groups is up to you – and probably dictated in part by your organization’s size and cultural norms for such a project – but it’s probably a combination of the two.


However the conversations happen, you’ll ask the following questions of everyone, including yourself. (Probably more than once.)

  • What are your goals? (What does “good look like”?)
  • What are your specific needs and requirements? (Force a granular level of detail.)

User Journeys

It’s important to develop user profiles and user journeys for each. Here’s a starter kit of questions to ask your working team, to make sure you’re uncovering current and future user journeys:

  • Who will use the DAM most frequently?
  • Define the most typical workflows. (Walk me through a “day in the life” of an asset.)
  • Will senior leadership use the DAM? How will that differ from everyday users?
  • Will people from outside the organization use the DAM? What level of access will they require?
  • How will users access the system? On-site? Remotely? Both?

We could go on, but you get the point. Once the conversations begin, you won’t have a hard time following up the answers to these questions… with more questions.

Evaluate

Before we dig into the last phase – Evaluate – it’s important to call out the most critical aspect of the evaluation phase, which really begins in the previous phase:

How will you measure success?

Taking what you’ve learned in your conversations about the needs, requirements and workflows of your whole working team – the people who will use, manage and maintain the DAM – force yourself to clearly articulate your goals in choosing the right DAM.


Phil Seibel, again: “Understanding needs is one thing, but figuring out how you're going to decide that you've met them is another. It’s easy to get to the point where you're like: ‘Yeah, it works. The switches all flip.’ But once the rubber hits the road, that might not mean it’s really, really working, for the people.”


It usually means a LOT of goals, with a lot of detail, and writing them can feel like a tedious, academic process. But you’ll be glad you did the work.

The Process

  1. Using those detailed goals, you’ll develop a consideration-set of DAM platform vendors, based on available information (white papers, webinars, case studies, the usefulness of their websites and the content on those sites, etc.)
  2. Then schedule demos, letting the vendors know in as much detail as possible what your goals are, so they can show how the platform meets your specific needs with a focused and customized demo.
  3. You might schedule a second round of demos with a smaller subset of vendors who make the first-round cut. Make sure to equip the vendors with fresh information, so they can come in with answers to the more-detailed/deeper/richer questions in this second round.

Making the Choice

If you’ve done your due diligence, by this time in the process you’re dealing with the best of the best (for your needs), and making the final choice might be more art than science. For example, you might be influenced by qualitative factors – like how well you and your team click with the vendor reps – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But here are a few specific questions that will help bring rigor to the final steps of the process:

  • Which systems solved the most problems out of the box?
  • Which systems are the most cost-effective?
  • Which systems will allow fluid growth over time?
  • Which vendor was the easiest to work with during the demo process?

Tips if You're Starting From Scratch

  1. Identify and engage your stakeholders. If an organization has never enjoyed a good DAM, it’s even important to find influential evangelists who can help rally the DAM cause.
  2. Bring in IT as early as possible.
  3. Even though you won’t have an existing set of DAM workflows to document, don’t shortchange the ‘Explore’ phase. Take as much (or more) time as you would if there were a DAM in place to document the following: asset inventory; current workflows; and ideal/future-state workflows
  4. Bring that same level of detail to the vendor when the time comes for demos. Don’t let the vendor dictate the parameters of the demo, because in the absence of detailed needs/requirements, they’ll gear the demo to suit their own interests, not yours.

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