The Ultimate Digital Asset Management Guide
DAM Best Practices and Critical Success Factors
Implementing a Digital Asset Management (DAM) system for your organization is a substantial project that can take weeks or months and that involves all the teams in your organization. Additionally, acquiring DAM technology is a significant investment. To ensure a successful deployment and positive ROI, plan your DAM implementation in detail, in advance; bear in mind the user-facing aspects, such as metadata and governance; and follow-up with maintenance, audits, and evaluation of usage.
This article addresses two topics:
- Steps for a successful DAM implementation through three stages
- Best DAM practices that enable you to make the most of traditional and advanced DAM technology
Careful planning, vision, and a competent implementation team are critical to the success of a DAM project.
1. Audit your assets.
Identify the asset types the DAM system must manage and create an inventory of the asset repositories. This is a good time to do housekeeping: decide which files are not of value any more and leave them behind during migration. Best start a new system with useful, clean, and relevant content, pruned of legacy material.
|Image-Based Assets||Assets: Illustrations, photos, artwork, charts, logos
File Formats: PNG, JPEG, InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop
|Document-Based Assets||Assets: Documents, brochures, books, eBooks, forms, spreadsheets
File Formats: PDF, HTML, Microsoft Office, OpenOffice
|Rich-Media Assets||Assets: Videos, audio clips, animations, 360-degree images, 3D models
File Formats: MP4, MPEG, WAV, CAD
|Repository Locations||Local hard disks, physical media (CDs, DVDs, tapes), shared network drives, FTP sites, file-sharing solutions (Dropbox, Box, Google Drive), cloud-storage services (Amazon S3, Google Cloud)|
2. Define your vision and goals.
Summarize in writing for your stakeholders your goals for the DAM project, as follows:
- Your organization’s goal for DAM
- The problems DAM will solve for your organization
- The user roles for DAM
- The business processes DAM will help with and improve upon
- Ownership and governance of the DAM system and the asset types
3. Build your implementation team.
Implementing DAM takes a team with these members:
- A leader who stands behind the vision of the project
- A system administrator
- Power users who handle digital assets in their day-to-day work
- Librarians who are familiar with your organization’s digital assets
Careful planning, vision, and a competent implementation team are critical to the success of a DAM project.
1. Evaluate and select a DAM system.
Define your DAM use case, create a short list of DAM solutions, and do these evaluations:
- Check if the system offers the 10 core DAM features.
- Check if the system embodies other advanced capabilities and how they can benefit your project.
- Check how the system handles nonfunctional criteria, such as usability, performance, security and integrations.
- Evaluate the system’s security aspects through penetration testing or a vendor questionnaire.
For more details, see our DAM Buyer’s Guide.
2. Appoint a capable DAM administrator.
As the driver behind the steering wheel of the DAM platform, a successful DAM administrator must possess the following qualifications:
- Experience or relevant background experience with DAM platforms
- Proficiency with the technical aspects of DAM and digital storage
- Understanding of content architecture and an ability to take into account the “big picture” while defining metadata strategies
- A deep understanding of the organization and the roles of its teams, workflows, and uses for digital assets
- Project management and interpersonal skills, along with an ability to effectively collaborate with stakeholders to resolve issues
- Managerial skills, given that, in most organizations, the DAM platform is run by a team
See chapter 4 of our guide to learn more about the Digital Asset Manager role.
3. Connect with the librarians.
At the start of the DAM project, establish a strong relationship with the organization’s librarians—subject-matter experts who live and breathe the assets created by the various departments. Only they can fully understand the breadth of the content and develop content taxonomies that are valuable and meaningful for your organization’s users.
4. Set up and configure the DAM platform.
Since DAM platforms are highly customizable, you must invest the time necessary for configuring the system. Configuration usually involves the following tasks:
- Define the taxonomy and vocabulary.
- Ingest assets and bulk-edit or import the metadata.
- Define users and roles.
- Define workflows.
5. Establish governance.
Digital assets are highly valuable to your brand. Governance is the practice of defining and enforcing rules of ownership, access, and permission for using and modifying those assets.
At the top of the governance hierarchy is the DAM administrator, who can access all the administrative functions and assets. Below the administrator might be more administrators with limited permissions, librarians with broad permissions for the assets they control, and other departmental roles.
To improve security and prevent accidental disasters, adopt the principle of least privilege, that is, grant users only the permissions they need and no more. For each role and type of asset, answer these questions:
- Should this role have the privilege to view and download assets?
- Should this role be able to create assets?
- Should this role be able to convert or transform existing assets?
- Should this role have the permission to modify assets?
- Should this role be able to add or edit metadata?
- Should this role have access to DAM administrative functions?
6. Define the metadata.
Metadata is critical for DAM implementations and possibly the most important factor that causes a DAM system to succeed or fail. If assets are tagged accurately and consistently such that DAM users find them intuitive, the assets become accessible and usable. Otherwise, assets are often lost, negatively impacting productivity and requiring resources and time to recreate them.
You can create metadata in one of the following ways:
- Organize it in the existing folder structures in asset repositories.
- Embed it in digital files, such as IPTC, XMP, and Exif.
- Classify it in a structured taxonomy defined by the librarians with a controlled vocabulary, ensuring that the fields contain a clear and consistent set of values.
- Use AI to add unstructured metadata or tags to improve searchability
7. Define rights management.
Rights management enables you to enforce the decisions you made in your governance policy. Define a matrix that connects users and roles, authorized operations, types of assets, and metadata fields. Add watermarks to visually identify asset owners.
Afterwards, identify the following:
- Those assets that are owned by third parties: find out whether they are governed by license agreements.
- Those assets your organization delivers to other parties: find out how their ownership is defined and managed.
Because a DAM is a living system that affects many parts of the organization, be sure to:
- Continually and proactively ensure that the DAM system is meeting its original goals.
- Identify and alleviate the problems faced by end-users.
- Identify opportunities for optimization that can further enhance the DAM experience.
1. Perform ongoing site maintenance
- Weekly: Add missing metadata or categories, delete duplicate files, and encourage seasoned users to conduct short training sessions.
- Monthly: Because DAM is a complex system and many users are not experts, be sure to notify them of new features and refresh their knowledge of the existing ones. Review analytics of asset usage and leverage them to improve content processes. For example, if certain asset types are rarely used, check if they are no longer needed or if an issue exists with the metadata or search.
- Quarterly: Review user roles and permissions and remove those users who have left the company or who no longer work with DAM, along with the related privileges. Update workflows, content standards, brand guidelines, and other procedures. Review and revise, if necessary, your governance policy to ensure that it reflects the current DAM practice.
2. Perform periodic content and usability audits
Occasionally, collaborate with your organization’s librarians to conduct a broad audit of the content stored in the DAM system through surveys or in-person interviews. Ask your DAM users what they like about the system and what in the system makes their lives difficult. Subsequently, make changes to alleviate the problems.
Specifically, obtain answers to these questions:
- Are there digital assets that are no longer needed?
- Are there areas that need more content?
- Do the taxonomies and category structures make sense and are they useful to the end-users?
- Are the UI interfaces intuitive and easy to use?
- Are the automation features being leveraged effectively to accelerate workflows?
3. Measure and act on user engagement.
Evaluate and leverage your users’ experience with DAM:
- Find out how many users are active. Inactive users could be an opportunity to reduce the number of “seats” you purchase from your DAM vendor and save costs.
- Track metrics, e.g., the number of assets accessed or downloaded per user, and identify the most-engaged users. Connect with them to get their insight on DAM usage.
- Check which DAM features are rarely used and educate users about them.
Best Practices for DAM
The best practices below will help you get the most out of your DAM investment.
Create business workflows around your DAM platform
Identify the critical business workflows that relate to content. One way to do that is to interview employees who frequently perform those tasks, understand their needs, and identify opportunities for automation. Leverage the DAM platform and integrated systems to create convenient, automated workflows that will improve productivity and increase asset usage.
Use DAM analytics when creating new content
Ensure that all content creators can access DAM analytics and help them gain insight from user-engagement metrics. When planning new content, the teams involved should check the DAM system to pinpoint the most-used content and identify gaps. Or, if an asset already exists but is rarely used, find out why and then enhance the asset or create a different version.
Avoid copyright issues with access control
DAM administrators must do everything they can to prevent copyright infringement. If you are purchasing content on a license, configure the DAM system to alert the team concerned when a license expires and prompt the team to switch to new assets or renew the license.
Use standard naming conventions
Naming conventions are extremely important for organizing and searching for content in DAM. Train creative teams and data uploaders on your naming conventions and ensure that everyone uploads files with the same file-name structure. Create clear, simple standards and structures for metadata and ensure that everyone applies metadata consistently.
Best Practices for Advanced DAM Features
The following three DAM best practices assume that your system offers advanced capabilities, such as dynamic content transformation and delivery. For details on those capabilities, see our DAM Buyer’s Guide.
Create assets once, automatically generate variants
Create base assets and configure your DAM system to automatically generate all the required variations. Leverage AI-based cropping and resizing to ensure that the images always look sharp in all ad sizes or screen orientations. That way, you avoid the hassle of creating multiple versions of the same asset in different formats, sizes, and layouts for different campaigns, channels, and screen sizes.
Deliver assets directly from DAM
Configure your DAM system to generate URLs that can be directly embedded in webpages, emails, and such. Such a practice not only saves you time, but also enables you to centrally control assets, update them in one place, and push the changes automatically to websites and mobile apps. No more the traditional workflow in which teams finalize content on DAM and then somebody must download the asset and upload it to a content management or delivery system.
Create real-time automated DAM workflows
Say you need to apply a specific set of effects and add a certain border and shadow to a large number of website images. And later, when the website design changes, you need to repeat the entire process. Automating these processes saves time.
By programming your DAM to automatically apply the required image transformations, you can avoid numerous manual chores. Also, if you deliver assets from the DAM, you can make changes in one place and configure the DAM to automatically apply the update to all the other webpages.
DAM With Cloudinary: Create, Manage, and Deliver Dynamic Visual Experiences
Besides automating rich-media workflows in the cloud, Cloudinary also handles dynamic transformation and optimization of creative assets as well as responsive delivery to different devices. With Cloudinary, you can go beyond store, search, and share. You can manage rich-media assets, boost team productivity, and enhance customer experiences with flexibility and ease.
In addition, you gain a streamlined lifecycle for your digital assets. You can access AI-based management, organization-wide collaboration, and dramatic simplification of content and creative processes. Cloudinary can help you accelerate your time to market and increase your conversions with highly performant, visual experiences.