To make an impact for our organization, we look first to innovation. We look to introduce something novel, a new technology or a new process. Offering something new feels good. But is innovation the only way to make a positive impact?
Think about the last time you were rewarded for the work you’ve done. What did you work on? Did you create something new for your organization? Or did you maintain something? I’m going to go out on a limb and say you likely created something new. Why? Because our culture celebrates innovation. We praise the innovative thinkers like Elon Musk. We glorify software companies for their innovative applications. We read company mission statements and about us pages that declare “innovation” as a source of differentiation.
Aeon’s article, “Hail the maintainers,” describes the labour that goes into maintenance and repair as the work of the maintainers, those individuals whose work keeps ordinary existence going rather than introducing novel things.
This pursuit of new and novel ideas can blur the lines between new and valuable. Something new doesn’t mean it has to be valuable. And because something’s already established doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value.
Think about the upkeep that goes on in your personal life. If the waste management personnel who carry away your recycling and garbage stopped, the garbage would start to pile up. As time goes on, the garbage pile would grow, the stench would intensify, and your recycling would never be repurposed.
What about your digital workspace? We’re constantly creating communications, downloading resources, sharing files. When we neglect digital maintenance, we don’t see and smell that pile of stuff grow as it’s neglected. Instead it grows on our desktop until it’s swept into untitled and haphazardly organized folders. It’s not until we need that PDF file before the meeting that starts in 15 minutes that we realize we’ve made a huge mistake in not investing some time into digital upkeep.
Now magnify that digital buildup of files across an entire department. Across an entire global organization. Not only does the quantity of files become overwhelming but the need to find and exchange them between coworkers further escalates the inefficiencies. Organizing these files for accessibility and use isn’t a new or novel idea. But cutting down on lost assets, time digging through shared folders, and back-and-forth emails is incredibly valuable.
The value of someone dedicated to maintenance of marketing technology
Once a new piece of marketing technology is implemented, what kind of time commitment is needed to maintain it? We surveyed our customers to investigate the importance of someone dedicated to maintaining a DAM system. We compared companies with at least one admin dedicated to their DAM system more than 50% of the time to those companies with an admin dedicated less than 20% of the time.
We found that companies dedicating more time to maintaining their DAM system averaged more than twice the number of times an active asset is downloaded.
The survey also showed the group that invested more time on DAM had more than double the asset consumption ratio. This means the average active user of the company's DAM system has downloaded far more assets than those with only a part-time DAM system admin.
Two key benefits of a DAM system are getting more use out of your assets and distributing them across the organization. These two benefits were more fully realized with someone dedicated to maintaining the system.
What happens when you underinvest in maintenance?
When you don’t value maintenance and then underinvest it, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Larry Summers describes it as a constant trap.
People always think more about how new ground can be broken than they think about how existing institutions can be sustained or existing facilities can be maintained. It leads to a constant trap where we underinvest in old things, then old things disappoint us, then we feel a need for new things, then to satisfy that need for new things, we under invest more in old things, and the cycle goes on. - Larry Summers served as the president of Harvard, as the U.S. Treasury Secretary, chief economist of the World Bank, and as President Obama’s top economic adviser.
Make a cultural change to value innovation AND maintenance
Keep pursuing new and novel ideas to further your organization. But balance the pursuit of the new with maintaining established ideas, technologies, and processes that are valuable to your organization.
How can you foster a team or organizational culture that values maintenance?
Be grateful. Launching something new is a natural time to thank someone. Take the time to thank someone for the work they do that keeps your team running. We have a kudos board at our office for employees to recognize the work of others.
Track metrics for maintenance. Measure maintenance activities to confirm its value. Not all value can be measured in metrics, but numbers will make your reporting to management a lot easier.
Separate yourself as the owner of your ideas to make them better. Creating something new can be a source of pride. Don’t let your pride blind the value of maintaining what’s already in existence.
For a glimpse into what it’s like maintaining a system critical to marketing workflows, check out . You’ll read interviews from Institute of International Education, Cornell University Photography, Centria, and African Wildlife Foundation.