by Kyle Henke
So, you’ve had some time with your DAM. You know its strengths, but now you are starting to experience its quirks and inconsistencies. You are starting to develop a wish list of things you wish it did. Or the DAM doesn’t even do what you intended it to do in the first place. Even after all the planning, testing, and best intentions, you still find yourself making compromises and creating workarounds to fit the DAM rather than optimizing your DAM so it works for you.
Sound familiar? Be reassured you’re not alone. DAM systems are complex; the technology, data, and workflows can make everything feel tangled and convoluted. Those workarounds add up to a lot of lost time and frustration in your day-to-day work.
So let’s fix it! Get rid of the quirks, the inconsistencies, the compromises. Let’s make your DAM system work how you need it to work. If you address four key components—technology, data, people, and workflows—you can give your DAM a major upgrade.
Let’s start optimizing your DAM!
A DAM system review will provide a clear overview of your system, how it works and where it falls short.
Let’s start with the parts and pieces. Try not to think of your DAM as just technology you have to deal with. Understand what’s under the hood. The hardware and software components that make up the system are crucial to meeting your daily workflow needs. We suggest occasional DAM System Reviews. Are all of your components compatible? Should you go to the latest version of software? Is your hardware meeting your needs or are you ready for an upgrade? Are there plugins or other software that can help your staff work more efficiently?
DAM system review
Get to know your system, test the components and workflows—upload files, practice tagging, organize content, ask for input from your system users. Work through your system, identify the cracks and see how you can, actually, fill them. A DAM system review will provide a clear overview of your system, how it works and where it falls short. A review will help you generate a plan of action to enact changes based on identified priorities. You should not perform a DAM system review as a placeholder for change but as a beacon to light your path forward. Maybe you can perform the review yourself, or perhaps you can utilize the help of experts who have the experience to successfully identify issues that impact your system and team. Even better, experts that can identify and fix your problems—configuring your system to work the way you need.
Once you’ve done a thorough review of your system, remember that the DAM is just a tool. Let’s focus now on what you can do to fully exploit that tool and use it wisely.
A DAM stores and archives your data. You ingest and upload your entire library into the DAM and your data now lives there, and it waits. It waits for someone to call for it. To find it. But how? Maybe you created the file, uploaded it yourself, but that was years ago… what was it called? When was it made? What about searching for a file that you didn’t create? You may not even know what you’re trying to find. That brings us to Data.
Data is the stuff—your stuff, your marketing team’s stuff, the stuff that freelance artists created on projects made way back when. As you ingest data into your DAM, that data needs to become an asset that has value. Assets are meant for use, reuse, and repurpose. Your data needs proactive engagement to become an asset and provide the best return on investment. The best action you can take is to organize and describe your assets with a systematic approach, so they are searchable and discoverable. This is why you have a DAM; otherwise, you just have random data with no organization or effective way to find or discover the assets you need.
Metadata makes assets discoverable
Good organization and descriptions require a solid metadata plan. In short, metadata is data about data. We’re going to focus on three types of metadata to help you find your assets: technical, administrative, and descriptive.
Technical metadata includes information about the file format, how the data is structured, how to use and render the asset, behind-the-scenes details that may not affect your day-to-day, and usually (in a well-optimized system!) won’t need to be entered manually.
Administrative metadata includes information necessary to manage the asset over time. This can include information about the asset’s preservation and accessibility, as well as rights management. You can set up access and permissions in your DAM with user roles and groups, and you can even automate the process upon ingest if you want.
Descriptive metadata contains everything that describes your assets and answers questions. When it comes to finding, discovering, and reusing your assets, your best ally is descriptive metadata. Who is in the image? What are they doing? Where was the photograph taken? Every detail in descriptive metadata helps lead you to what you are seeking. A common problem in DAM systems is that descriptive metadata isn’t standardized and structured with identified rules and a clear strategy. Without standards and regulations, descriptive metadata can be like the wild west. Even with the best intentions, individuals interpret and disseminate information differently. How one person describes something may differ from another, and how one person searches for something may differ from another. That makes metadata design and management vital to your DAM and long-term success.
Can’t find what you’re looking for in your DAM? An investment in metadata management can offset the investment necessary to create new assets allowing your legacy assets to be used and reused more easily. With no policy or organization strategy, assets lose value, and the investment made in their creation and maintenance diminishes. It may not shine as bright as the assets themselves, but metadata management, with an internal taxonomy, workflows, and organization, enhances your ability to find, discover, use, and reuse your assets. When assets are searchable and discoverable, you can utilize them more effectively. You made the assets, so don’t let them hide in the deep recesses of the DAM. Find them. Bring them to light and capitalize on your assets.
The quality of a DAM system depends entirely on the people working in the system. A common challenge with DAMs is consistency. How people work within the system needs to be consistent and purposeful. How one person interacts with your DAM should not be fundamentally different from another. Methods, strategies, and approaches must be designed and documented to facilitate consistency. Let’s break down some of the areas where people are critical to DAM success.
Every DAM needs good governance. It doesn’t sound exciting, but DAM governance is continual work that includes all levels of engagement and participation. DAM governance is the who, the what, and the how of your DAM program.
The Who determines who does what within the system. The Who is the team of stakeholders engaged through every component of the DAM system; implementers, strategists, maintainers, ingesters, and so much more. The Who defines DAM requirements, roles, and who’s responsible for each part of work.
The What are the assets. Assets are essential, and you should establish rules for how they are stored and accessed early in your DAM program. However, the What can be much more complicated. What determines its purpose and use once an asset is in the DAM? Is there a copyright or licensing issues to consider? Do assets have a life expectancy? Should everybody have access to the asset, or is it only relevant to a defined group?
The How is the day-to-day work that must be maintained and reviewed, to define how daily tasks get done. The How can be as simple as how a file gets uploaded into the DAM, or define how keywords will be applied to individual assets for search and discovery? Or How often does a systematic review of policies and workflows need to be completed? How often should training be provided for current and new team members?
All of this is determined and worked through your DAM governance strategy. You’ve built the team, and now good governance will be the playbook you follow every day. When one play doesn’t work anymore, huddle together and devise a new strategy. DAM governance will move your organization from one with a complex storage system to a DAM with enterprise-wide integration that highlights your assets and benefits your entire organization. - Related: DAM Governance
Workflows are how everything comes together. Successful workflows are repetitive and precise; other times, they are infrequent or based on need but defined ahead of time for consistency. How you ingest data, how you describe data, who can access the data—all of these are workflows that should be defined and implemented in a systematic manner.
Automation saves time and preserves effort
Some workflows can be automated and save a lot of time while improving the searchability of your assets. Automation can also reduce many steps normally performed by humans.
A common type of automation in a DAM is file conversion. For example, a system user requests a download, but they don’t need the original file, just a smaller version to review before further work or reuse possibilities are determined. The system can have this functionality with a simple click, and it could even be the default based on a user’s permission levels.
Permissions themselves are a form of automation. Instead of telling someone if they do or do not have access to something on a file-by-file basis, the system determines what they have access to based on the permissions you provided them upfront.
Automation opportunities will become more apparent as your DAM scales. Perhaps there are API calls with your other systems that can perform actions, so your team has time to focus on different components of their work. Well-applied automation is impressive; it raises personal productivity and saves everyone an immense amount of time and extra work.
Don’t compromise for a DAM; optimize your DAM to work for you and your assets. When it comes to optimizing, it is essential to remember that your DAM is not a solution in and of itself. A successful DAM is more than hardware and software; it is an entire system and set of repeatable workflows and well-trained staff that should evolve and grow with your needs. Your DAM should be scalable for your current and future goals - the goals you set, the goals you anticipate, and the needs you can’t fathom. If your DAM is not performing how you need it, reevaluate and optimize.