Digital asset management (DAM) software is designed to organize and govern digital assets in a way that supports business initiatives across sales, marketing, design, project management, and other departments. Along with digital best practices and proper training, digital asset management software can save companies valuable time and resources and help them avoid the mistakes associated with decentralized file management.
The DAM software market can be disorienting for a first-time buyer; there are countless different solutions that vary according to features, pricing, deployment, and use intent. This guide will help digital decision-makers manage the buying process by exploring common features and benefits, tips for executive buy-in, and a case study of a leading digital asset management solution.
Chances are, if you’re shopping for a digital asset management solution, you’re also trying to establish a clear definition: “What is Digital Asset Management?” At its core, digital asset management is a highly-sophisticated file repository: users store their digital assets in the repository, organize them according to metadata and dependencies, retrieve them using search tools, and manipulate them according to standardized workflows.
Thanks to the rise of the Internet, cloud-computing, mobile devices, et. al., the past two decades have brought a massive upsurge in digital files, file types, and channels through which they’re accessed. According to a recent IDG Enterprise survey, the average company now manages about 164 terabytes of data.1 But a digital asset isn’t simply a “file,” in the traditional sense; a digital asset is a piece of content that has definitive value to your company. Typically, this kind of content takes the form of rich media, such as photos, animations, videos, graphic design templates, podcasts, and so on, but it can also include text content (documents, contracts, guides). As organizations increasingly rely on rich media files to feed their core business model, poor stewardship of digital assets — such as working with an old, outdated version — could result in costly mistakes.
Most modern enterprise software includes some kind of file management/storage option, whether it be attaching documents to customer accounts or access to a web-based content library, but integrated file management is much more primitive than what you’ll find in a dedicated system. And while cloud-based file storage services (Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive) help with collaboration and backup, they don’t provide the advanced query tools and version control available in most digital asset management systems.
Digital asset management helps unify fractured media storage systems, eliminate silos, and keep assets synced in real-time across the entire organization.
During your digital asset management software comparison, you’ll encounter three different deployment models. Some vendors only offer one, while others can configure the system based on your infrastructure and data security needs:
Metadata management: An asset’s metadata is any information embedded into the file that describes its content or context.2 Metadata can be encoded according to several different standards — IPTC, EXIF, XMP — and can describe many different asset characteristics, including provenance (where it originated), ownership, access rights, technical specifications, keywords, and more. Some systems even allow users to create custom metadata fields. Most digital asset management solutions will process and record metadata as part of the “ingestion” process.
Version control: A digital asset management solution ensures that the right asset versions are being accessed by all users, across all digital properties. It does this by syncing modifications in real-time, tracking uploads, downloads, and edits, and letting users revert to older versions when necessary. In the industry, the target version, which usually has the highest resolution and fidelity, is referred to as the “essence.” Lower-fidelity versions used for reference are referred to as “proxy copies.”3
Advanced search: A cloud storage service (or a network drive, for that matter), can usually only retrieve files by folder hierarchy, or by performing a title search. DAM software, on the other hand, gives you near-unlimited options for parsing through assets. As your repository ingests files, you can label them with keywords, nest them by category, set up interdependencies, or let the digital asset management system use existing metadata to create dynamic collections. Then, you can find files quickly by entering a custom query or applying filters to show results in a particular category.
Security: By bringing all of your rich media assets under one roof, a digital asset management system can eliminate unnecessary FTP (file transfer protocol) servers and shadow IT, which greatly improves file security. In addition, most systems use enterprise-grade encryption protocols, often stronger than what an average business can provide in-house. DAM administrators can also define custom permission levels to prevent unwanted access or editing of files.
Workflow automation: Solutions targeted at creative or project management verticals may incorporate some basic workflow automation tools. Essentially, these allow administrators to define custom tasks and task sequences associated with a creative process, or with building a specific type of media asset — for instance, editing a video clip or working with a graphic design template.
Other common features include:
Part of the reason you’re reading this guide — it’s safe to assume — is to find out if you really need a DAM solution, or if you could settle for a simpler, more cost-effective solution.
In truth, not all businesses need a full enterprise digital asset management solution. If you’re looking for basic document management for a smaller pool of assets (i.e. a platform for backing up your work and sharing files between team members) a full-scale digital asset management system would be far too advanced — and costly. However, if your business has 100,000 rich media files stored on a network server with open permissions, digital asset management software would likely be a profitable investment.
Here are some specific business environments where digital asset management might play an important role:
If you’re leading the initiative on software procurement, you’ll need to build a compelling business case that “sells” digital asset management software to its future stakeholders in the company. Here are some talking points for specific executives to get you started:
CIO/CTO: Since they’re well-versed in the tech specs of enterprise software, as well as the unique requirements of your company infrastructure, your chief information officer should be one of the first people you consult. They can point you toward a solution offers the most value and reliability, will integrate with existing systems, cost less to maintain, and so on. That said, you’ll need to demonstrate how digital asset management aligns with larger business goals (productivity, brand stewardship, digital accounting) and will outperform any existing tools the business has. Cloud-based products, in particular, can reduce IT burden and improve security by outsourcing infrastructure, support, and updates.
CFO: A digital asset management system can be a fairly big expense, especially for a growing company. To get your chief financial officer on your side, you’ll need to first demonstrate the unnecessary cost burden of managing a rich media repository manually (on your own network drive with a primitive folder system). The CFO will also want to know the details of the new software investment, including upfront costs (of licensing, implementation, data migration) as well as ongoing operational expenses (subscription fees, IT support, upgrades). If your business is truly ready for a digital asset management system, the numbers will weigh in its favor. It’s worth mentioning that the new software can give sales reps instant access to updated versions of any content/files requested by their clients, like a product comparison sheet or video walkthrough.
CMO: Your chief marketing officer has probably been moving the team away from interruption tactics (tv, radio, print, cold-calling) and more into the digital realm. “Digital marketing” happens around the clock on multiple different channels, from social media to blogging, organic traffic, email, and mobile. As such, it’s crucial for marketers to keep brand assets are consistent across every digital property. A digital asset management solution helps designers, writers, freelancers, and agencies collaborate in a protected environment and makes sure none of your brand’s moving pieces fall through the cracks. DAM also provides tools for optimizing file types and sizes across different channels and devices, so you can be sure prospects get the same experience whether they’re on a desktop social media feed, or a mobile web browser.
Solution: Canto Cumulus
Founded in 2000, simplehuman is a design and manufacturing company that specializes in high-end kitchen and bath tools. Their products are widely-available in stores like Bed, Bath, and Beyond, Amazon.com, The Container Store, and Crate&Barrel.
As the company grew and developed more products, their digital assets began to multiply exponentially, including graphics, videos, planograms, photos, product information, and more. Before Canto, simplehuman stored all of their digital assets using a complicated file hierarchy on their shared internal server, which made things hard to find. As the problem worsened, the graphics team became the gatekeepers to all of simplehuman’s digital assets. They spent valuable time retrieving and emailing files to sales, customer service, and product development, or mailing hard copy CDs to international contacts, when they could’ve been working on their own projects.
Art Director Mikako Ito conducted research on a handful of digital asset management vendors and eventually chose Canto’s Cumulus platform. Canto’s professional services team helped simplehuman deploy the software and set up the initial configurations.
“I knew we were going to have our digital assets organized better. . . but I didn’t expect we could integrate Cumulus into our design workflows.” - Mikako Ito, simplehuman Art Director
Ito also reported a number of other key benefits the system brought to simplehuman:
While Cant0's Cumulus platform was the best fit for simplehuman, your unique needs may require a different solution. Depending upon your budget and desired functionality, the systems below are separated into those that offer full digital asset management capabilities or those that offer more simple document management.
At TechnologyAdvice, our goal is to connect businesses with the technology that best meets their needs. We’ve compiled product information, reviews, case studies, features lists, video walkthroughs, and research articles on hundreds of leading IT solutions, all to make the buying process more straightforward for decision makers like you.
If you’re curious about any of the digital asset management solutions listed in this guide, we’d love to talk to you. Call one of our experts for a free consultation, or use the Product Selection Tool on our site to get a personalized recommendation based on your industry and desired features.