To DAM or Not to DAM
After many years working in business software solutions for the graphic art industry, I realized that there is a huge amount of confusion about the terms we are using to define technical solutions. The truth is, many of these words or phrases have nothing to do with each other at all!
Let’s face it, some of the most basic terms and acronyms we use to describe key technologies are completely inaccurate. In fact, there can often be dramatic differences in things that have similar (or sometimes even the same) names!
So today, I’m going to take a hard look at the acronym used to describe digital asset management: DAM. DAM is used every day by tens of thousands of people worldwide. Unfortunately, it’s being used to talk about a wide range of technologies that are entirely unrelated and for the most part, should not be referred to as “DAM.”
D is for Digital
OK, so far, so good. At this level, things are still pretty obvious. We’re talking about data on computers, right?
A is for Asset (But what is that, anyway?)
Now it starts getting a little confusing. What exactly is an asset?
Today, most of the software on the market calling itself DAM equates assets with files. They slightly enhance the OS filesystem’s layer with a relational database for meta-data searches, and sometimes a bit of automation or workflow, based on events and status. Solutions of this nature; digital file management software, is not DAM.
In actual DAM, the asset is an abstract entity that conceptualizes human things. Meaning an image, person, product, or project—anything your mind can grasp—can be an asset, whether it’s tangible or abstract. Assets can have files associated with them, or can remain an abstract concept; therefore, an image can have many components related to it, for use in many delivery scenarios.
By introducing the abstraction between files and assets, we see the concept of the nil to emerge. Nil, of course, is the complete absence of the file—the idea of the file before it even exists. The concept of zero took hundreds of years to emerge in mathematics, and the concept of nil is just as powerful in DAM.
Any software that calls itself a DAM, therefore, must possess a level of abstraction that separates it from purely tangible objects (files). It must also allow for the creation of conceptual objects as assets that can either reference tangible things—or not.
Now the plot thickens.
M is for Management (Or mud, as in, this is where things get a bit muddy or muddled)
As I've outlined above, most offerings in the DAM space are just glorified file and meta-data management software, driven by triggers, actions, and statuses. And most providers then add their own unique layer of “sizzle” on top to differentiate themselves in the market.
In an actual DAM, the M stands for the ability to put assets into the correct context. Assets identified as abstract objects are defined relative to other assets. This is the “verb” that enables management. The «is», «has», «like», or «belongs» gives assets meaningful context.
Ultimately, the relationship between assets creates a multi-dimensional network that enables us to navigate into this virtual space of our assets from any possible angle. You can query your DAM with intricate lines of questioning like, “Give me the list of all photographer's, (asset) that worked, (relationship) on all products, (asset) advertised, (relationship) in issue X, (asset) of, (relationship) magazine Y, (asset) and show me all their (relationship) working contracts, (asset) and pictures taken, (asset),” simply by navigating into a tree of assets.
In the blink of an eye, you used MAM, PIM, MRM, ERP, and CRM technologies—by the sheer virtue of navigating into the tree of assets, and the relationships between them. You've got the real meaning of the M in DAM now, don't you?
Is your DAM not a DAM?
Now let’s imagine a real DAM as we’ve defined it here, with all the current distribution channels on top of it: web, print, app, social, and email. A silver bullet of marketing!
If your organization is using silo’ed PIM, MRM, ERP, and CRM solutions that require countless hours of engineering to play nicely with each other, you need a pure DAM solution.
Now armed with these definitions, take a look at the business software solutions on the market today. Check out at the ones that make up your enterprise infrastructure. Perhaps you've been working with a solution that’s just a subset of what we now know is DAM at its best.Surprised? I'll bet you are and that's okay. We're here to help!
In this free guide, we have outlines everything you need to know about DAM and implementing it within your organization. Learn about improving your digital asset management and increasing the efficiency of your processes, in our guide: Future-Proofing Your Digital Asset Management and Creative Production.
About Stephane Klein
Stephane is a highly technical and competent software development, graphic arts production workflow analyst with a keenly-developed commercial expertise to examine and recommend best practices for market requirements, propose/direct appropriate application solutions. As an enthusiastic team player, he actively takes the initiative and responsibility to oversee a project to completion.