Top five things to know about digital asset management in 2015 and beyond

In the closing scene of the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark, a crate containing the Ark of the Covenant, recovered in a great adventure, is wheeled into a cavernous government warehouse and piled among a sea of other identical crates. The irony is not lost on the viewer: The priceless artefact is about to vanish, once again, perhaps to be discovered by some future archeologist in another few thousand years.

This is the precise scenario that unfolds every day in countless publishing organisations. At some point an organisation amasses enough files and documents that finding what you need, let alone knowing what you have, starts to feel very much like archeology. This is the point where most organisations start to look into digital asset management (DAM). Whether that point is reached once you amass tens or hundreds of thousands of files or more depends on the organisation, but the day invariably arrives.

Indeed, storing and finding assets was the primary focus of the earliest DAM systems—and is still a core function—but along the way DAM has evolved, matured and learned a few tricks. Let’s look at a few of the roles DAM has taken on along the way.

1. Adding the value to turn files into digital assets

Any single digital asset in a collection has no value if it can’t be found and retrieved. And if you do find it, a number of new questions arise: Do you have rights to use it in print or online? Does this photo have a model release? Has that asset been used before? If you can’t answer these questions, you might not be able to use the asset. In short, the asset has significantly less value if you don’t have those answers at your fingertips. DAM can help out by enforcing rights management rules, providing approval workflows and maintaining a history for each asset.

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2. A secure content hub that grows with your collection

While DAM adoption typically occurs in the tens or hundreds of thousands of assets range, your DAM system should grow with your collection, no matter how large it becomes. Collections of millions or even tens of millions of assets are not uncommon. A proven, scalable DAM system should handle that without breaking a sweat.

Perhaps most important is assuring the safety of your collection. A scalable DAM system will build in real-time redundancy for every asset and for the databases used to index and store the metadata associated with the collection.

3. It’s all about workflows

It’s time to put those assets to work. In a word, ‘workflow’ describes patterns of activity that end with a work product. Every organisation employs workflows and a key feature of DAM is workflow automation. On the most basic level, DAM can be used to transform assets in some way: pictures are cropped or sized, videos transcoded or clipped or file formats converted, for example. Once the asset is prepared, the DAM system can deliver the asset ready for use to the desktop, a content management system, social media, or any number of other destinations.

As the needs of an organisation expand, a DAM system with a specialised workflow engine can help you automate complex business and production processes, freeing some of your creative team’s valuable time. The scenarios handled by a workflow engine can be complex and involve multiple steps or destinations. For example, a group of pictures could be automatically resized with one set of specifications for a page layout in print and different specifications for online. Then the results can be simultaneously delivered to separate destinations for use in print and online.

4. Collaboration is key

What’s a business without collaboration? Email is not always the best tool for undertaking a dialog cantering on projects and assets in your collection. DAM will provide tools to organise assets around projects and can improve communication involving digital assets. Being able to attach comments targeted at assets or groups of assets and share with other users of your DAM will prove to be a more efficient way to communicate.

5. DAM is part of an ecosystem

The ubiquity of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) may turn out to be a transformative development in the history of computing. Services as diverse as Facebook, SalesForce, NASA and dozens of offerings by Google, publish APIs so other applications and services can integrate with them.

Why does this matter? It opens up a universe of potential mash-ups. A real estate web site might display maps and satellite photos from the Google Maps API and land and tax information by an API providing access to county records.

Things get interesting when your DAM becomes a partner in the API ecosystem. External systems may pull assets from your DAM (with authorisation) using the DAM’s API and display them on a web page or place a picture in a layout for print publication. A DAM might use social media APIs to post pictures or video on behalf of a user or organisation. Mix in a workflow engine for automation and the possibilities are limitless.

What’s the takeaway? As noted above, the day invariably arrives. An organisation must choose between losing time, effort and resources to the inexorable growth of digital assets or invest in an effective organisational tool. It’s a choice between modern-day archeology, digging through files and folders, or savvy DAM, putting assets to work. My guess is that for most, that day is already here.

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