People talk all the time about the good old days, but if you were a photo editor, audio/video professional or graphic artist (or owned a company providing these services) in the 1960s those days were often quite tedious. What we call asset management, the storing and retrieval of photos or artwork, meant having entire rooms, sometimes even entire buildings, full of file cabinets, storage closets and 1,000-page inventory lists. It could take days to find something.
The same sort of manual filing systems were used for fingerprints at police labs when DNA profiles were not even featured in science fiction yet. Technicians could compare crime-scene fingerprints only by sight, and only had access to local print cards, too. Printing, publishing, photography and police work all changed radically with the advent of computers and the digital workflow. Asset management became digital asset management (DAM), and a completely new paradigm was born.
Every company today has computer files that need to be stored for either random retrieval or long-term archiving. Even a Mom-and-Pop print shop could have thousands of font files, hard drives full of photos and DVDs full of clip art, not to mention all the completed projects and their various components. Keeping track of all of this is far beyond the abilities of a file cabinet. Digital asset management experts have come forward to help the many individuals and firms that get lost in the sea of files, formats, drives and discs.
At its most basic, your plan for digital asset management begins with an honest, thorough assessment of the objectives you have for managing and distributing your particular digital assets. You then need to define and adopt a long-term plan for what you wish to accomplish, factoring in the real-world experience at your place of business (and the different people and departments that need various levels of access). You can take the job on yourself, as long as you have sufficient expertise and time. If you do not have one or the other, or have neither, you can get help from companies that specialize in solving your DAM problems (pun intended).
What it provides
It is not just about storage. It is about efficiency, time, employee productivity and profits. Once you quantify the cost of your present inefficient system, you will be able to provide an accurate idea of the ROI (Return On Investment) that you will get from a new DAM system. In a generic corporate example (not a digital content producing company but, say, a shoe manufacturer), DAM would be essential to the functioning of the in-house marketing department. Even large Fortune 500 firms that use outside ad agencies have their own in-house departments, and companies large and small can both have huge libraries of images, shelves full of discs and hard drives full of uncoordinated digital materials.
You can approach the solution several ways, but it will normally involve centralizing the media assets for quick retrieval. Some firms will do all of this onsite, but the real advances in computing in the cloud, as it’s called, is convincing many other companies to seek DAM in the SaaS (Software as a Service) model. The advantages are numerous, including redundant backups, on- and off-site access and storage, tech support and customer service, too. There is no one overarching model, and unique situations require unique solutions. However, it is clear that the SaaS model is a powerful, efficient and cost-effective solution for many companies.
How to proceed
The first, most important thing, as previously mentioned, is doing an honest review of the present workflow and DAM system. There will be standardized tools and systems that a SaaS DAM provider will offer you, and often these are fully up to the challenge. If there are unique issues in your firm, the solution provider can customize the approach for your specific situation. It is important to acknowledge that the DAM professionals have the expertise and have seen it all, so the more you learn about the technology and the process, the better you will adapt to the new way of doing things.
As to the question initially posed (Does your company need digital asset management?) the answer would have to be “yes” for every company. No firm today works without digital assets. However, you may have a very small home office and not need a cloud-based DAM. In fact, you can probably devise and maintain your own DAM system with a bit of study and ongoing learning. However, if you have a small to medium-size business (SMB) and are starting to drown in TIFF, JPEG, audio and video files, you may need to take a step back and consider how much it is costing you to continue working the old way, especially when the new world of DAM is waiting for you. Give it some thought!