In this day and age, we seem to have more of everything. As consumers, we have more gadgets, products, and services than we know what to do with. As businesses, we rely on more and more content than ever before to communicate with our audiences. And, then there’s the paperwork! We could fill warehouses and servers with the legal records, invoices, and operational business documents that we need to hold on to — you know, just in case.
But, with all this “more” piling up, how do you keep your content organized and accessible for the people, teams, and partners that need it most?
Luckily, technology can help. Today we’ll talk about two leading content management solutions — ECM and DAM. We’ll discuss what they are and how they differ, so you can determine what’s is right for you and your organization.
What is ECM?
Enterprise content management (ECM) is the management, organization, and distribution of business information that supports an organization’s operational processes.
An ECM system refers to the technology businesses use to facilitate this process and to manage the lifecycle of business-critical content, such as text-based documents, contracts, insurance claims, PDFs, invoices, receipts, and Microsoft Office files. An ECM system is a paperless record retention solution that aims to make the management and access to corporate information easier. For example, a bank may use an ECM system to store copies of old checks rather than storing the physical check in a warehouse where it’s difficult to find and access.
What is DAM?
Digital asset management (DAM) is the management, organization, and distribution of digital assets (also known as visual content) from a central repository.
A DAM system refers to the technology businesses use to help them with this process and to manage the lifecycle of their digital assets from creation to preservation. A DAM system aims to make the management and access to marketing and creative content, such as promotional videos, brand images, and sales collateral, easier. For example, a business may use a DAM system to store and organize their entire library of content and digital assets rather than using a file-sharing tool like Google Drive, local servers, or external drives and disks.
Differences between ECM and DAM
The differences between ECM and DAM systems aren’t always cut and dry. At the most basic level, they are both content management technologies. Historically (although it’s a much-debated topic), the technology category of DAM rolls up under ECM, which is considered the umbrella solution. Reason being, many ECM systems technically have some DAM capabilities. However, in reality (and this is where the debate comes in), ECM systems are less focused on visual digital assets than DAM providers. Many ECM solutions accept these types of files, but they really shine when it comes to text-based documents.
The evolution isn’t entirely clear, but at some point, ECM and DAM providers decided to cut their losses and each focus on their strengths. So, semantics aside, the best way to understand exactly how they differ is to look at the key advantages of each.
Advantages of DAM
Although you may not realize it, the videos, images, sales collateral, photos, and other content that you rely on are your brand. They define your unique look and feel, tell your story, and help you differentiate yourself from competitors. As such, you must care for them. A DAM system can help. It has all the bells and whistles you need to protect your brand and control how people — your partners, sales teams, marketers, resellers, and more — communicate it. With built-in revision controls, asset repurposing, and permission capabilities, a DAM system helps you put a consistent brand face forward.
Furthermore, while an ECM solution is primarily used for internal needs, a DAM solution extends beyond this. It helps you fuel positive customer experiences by giving the people that communicate your brand 24/7/365 access to your most recent, approved digital assets. With intuitive, search-and-find options, users have easy access to the content they want to share with audiences. Via embed codes, a DAM system also automates the publishing of content to your website, emails, social networks, go-to tools, and other digital channels — extending your reach further.
Better for finding rich-media assets
While most ECM systems accept different types of multimedia content, it’s not their strong suit. DAM systems, however, are built for managing images, videos, audio files, and other rich-media assets. As such, DAM solutions have a more robust backend system that makes it easier and quicker for users to find the digital assets they need.
For starters, DAM systems allow users to preview digital assets, helping them determine if they landed on the right file without needing to download it. DAM systems also have advanced metadata capabilities that support the complex nature of visual-content search. For example, DAM systems can automatically pull in metadata, or information about or describing a specific asset, that’s linked to an import file (i.e., usage rights, source, creator name, file type). Or, if the DAM provider has artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities, they can use visual-recognition technology to auto-populate metadata like image descriptions, colors, emotions, and other information that helps users find the content they’re looking for.
Uses custom metadata
Another advantage of a DAM system is that you can make it your own. Metadata is customizable for each asset and is set up to meet the specific needs and search behavior of your users. For example, a photo of a product may contain metadata for the product name, product number, photographer, and description. A video asset may contain metadata for location, producer, language, and description. You can build out your metadata types and fields to support the information that’s most beneficial to your users and organization.
Advantages of ECM
The biggest advantage of an ECM system is that it helps you keep track of the information you need to run and protect your business. Whether you’re looking for a vendor contract, insurance claim, or best-practices document, you have a single source of truth for your most important business documents. So, rather than digging through file cabinets or requesting documents from your storage facility, you have on-demand access to your most business-critical information.
Just like a DAM solution, an ECM system can also help you mitigate risk. While a DAM solution can help you protect your brand or avoid legal issues like copyright violations, an ECM system can accomplish similar results but for your business content. For example, you don’t need to worry about retention periods or security policies. You can set up your system to automatically enforce safeguards, permissions, and expiration rules.
Facilitates document creation
However, unlike a DAM system, an ECM system allows you to create and edit documents directly in the tool. Rather than having to download and re-upload content you want to edit, you can manipulate it right there and then. Many ECM solutions also provide best-practice templates for common documents, like contracts or meeting notes, so you don’t have to mess with formatting. You can even create your own templates to keep teams consistent and compliant with your internal processes.
How to choose between ECM and DAM
Deciding between an ECM and DAM system ultimately comes down to your unique business needs. While both solutions help you store, manage, protect, and access your content, they solve different content challenges. Whereas an ECM solution helps you resolve content problems with internal knowledge sharing, a DAM solution solves issues related to customer-facing visual content.
In many cases, the decision between an ECM and a DAM solution isn’t an either-or situation. You may need both. If this is the case, consider connecting (or integrating) your systems, so they work together to solve the whole of your content management needs.
Still need help? Contact a knowledgeable member of our advisor team today. We’re happy to answer any questions you have about either system.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on September 4, 2008 and has been updated for relevancy.