Your guide to a successful DAM system migration, part 1

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As digital asset management (DAM) systems become more common in businesses and nonprofits, people need information on how to move their digital assets from one system to another.

DAM system migration can be a challenge. To help you through it, here’s a two-part article outlining the DAM migration process by someone who has done it. Information professional John George covers topics on the front end of migration like assessing your needs and researching vendors in part one and covers implementation in part two.

Following a migration plan can help you create a strong foundation in your new DAM system by creating a complete collection of assets, a solid plan for governance, and a roadmap for updates, maintenance, and change.

Here’s what you can expect from part one:

  1. How to conduct a needs assessment: You have to know your users and their needs and what they like and dislike about how you currently manage your content.
  2. Conducting vendor research: Survey the field of DAM providers and use your research to inform your process. (The DAM Decision Toolkit provides good questions to ask.)
  3. Interacting with vendors: Leverage your research when choosing the new vendor. Put candidates through real-world tests to make sure they meet your needs and are responsive.

Without further ado, here’s the first half of George’s DAM migration story.


A company I consult for recently completed a system migration to Widen’s cloud-based DAM solution. The entire process took about 15 months from initiation to launch. It’s interesting that the actual implementation of the new system was the shortest step in the process. Because we did so much research and preparation in advance, the actual move a snap.

Before we get into the migration process, I want to share the makeup of the team I was working with.

  • Senior marketing manager. She was the primary business stakeholder since she had ultimate responsibility for the DAM system. She set guidelines for the process and worked with upper management to get approval for the migration.
  • Librarian/digital assets manager. That’s me. I made the initial push for the migration, did primary research, managed the implementation, and ran the beta testing. I still manage the DAM system today.
  • Marketing/needs assessment consultant. We hired a consultant to help with the system migration project. The next section has more details about her role in the project.
  • Marketing specialist. He was a seasoned user of the existing DAM system and managed one of the secondary libraries that was to be integrated into the new DAM system.

Needs assessment

Start with a thorough understanding of the existing system, reasons for migrating, and user needs.

Existing systems

When I started working as the digital asset manager, the company was already on its second DAM system. The first system was abandoned because it gave too many users access to upload assets and edit metadata, and there was no formal standard for cataloging assets.

The result? Inconsistent information for searching, licensing, and determining ownership of assets. In short, users could not rely on the DAM system and it was not well-used.

In 2011, the company moved to its second DAM, an enterprise-level system that had too many bells and whistles. It was hosted in-house, which required IT support and created internal challenges. For example, making changes to the system was complex and required three players: me, the IT team, and the DAM vendor.

The upside was that the company created a strong metadata schema and solid workflows for getting assets into the DAM system and categorized effectively. So, despite some challenges, the company was in a pretty good place to make a move to a new platform.

Knowing what worked and didn’t work in previous systems was an important part of knowing what to look for in a new system.

Why migrate?

It’s a good question, especially because the company wasn’t even sure they needed to migrate. The DAM system they were using was manageable – even if it wasn’t totally perfect. When a much-needed update was right around the corner, and thinking about all the challenges, it was the perfect opportunity to see if another DAM vendor could meet their needs.

We decided on a two-pronged research plan managed by the marketing department that included a needs assessment of users and then used those needs to determine which vendor products where the best fit.

The assessment

I asked my employer to hire a marketing consultant to perform the needs assessment since I felt too close to our current system to be objective. It was a good call, as the consultant had enough background with DAM to ask informed questions but didn’t have preconceptions about what we needed.

She did a series of eight interviews with people who used our DAM regularly. This included employees, vendors, power users, casual users, and administrators. From the interviews, she created lists of what worked, what didn’t work, and what people wanted most from a new system. These lists became the basis for a chart of the good, the bad, and the wish list.

The consultant completed a secondary assessment to draw out some details. The biggest revelation was to use a cloud-based, or Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), model rather than having the software installed locally. The team decided that a cloud-based system would alleviate delays and outages during updates, free up time for the IT department, and centralize DAM management in the marketing department.

Vendor research

Tips for finding the best system for your team.

Creating a documentation tool

My first task was to survey vendors and available solutions, then provide the company with an assessment. I created a spreadsheet with the categories below.

  • Company information that included notes about founding, location, history (like takeovers), and anecdotal information about their customer service.
  • Software specifics such as the model (enterprise or mid-size), cost, cloud or local deployment, and plugins and reporting capabilities.
  • Library management like metadata scalability, user management, and transcoding capabilities.
  • User needs which included filtering capabilities, ease of search, and user interface. I gave these Likert scale ratings of 1 to 5 (low to high) with accompanying notes fields.

I started my research with the Real Story Group (RSG) vendor map. RSG also writes an amazing report that includes information about vendor and software packages listed on the map. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the budget for that resource, so I did my own research, looking up websites, going to vendor demos, joining LinkedIn for groups related to the software, and creating my DAM comparison spreadsheet to narrow the list from the 40ish vendors to a more reasonable number.

Here’s what my spreadsheet looked like once it was narrowed down to a handful of real candidates.

Interacting with vendors

How to select the system that meets your needs.

Needs vs. vendors

Our team’s first step was to compare the DAM vendor list to the needs assessment and narrow the field further. We met several times to discuss specific vendors, revisit our goals, and prioritize the results of the needs assessment.

Our ultimate goal was to send a request for proposal, or RFP, to three vendors, including the company who provided the DAM we were using at the time. At each meeting, we came up with questions about capabilities for each vendor’s solution.

I took our questions back to the vendors to clarify the capabilities of their system and documented whether it met our needs. The final cuts weren’t easy to make, but the candidates we chose were strong contenders.

Selection team

We wanted to open up the decision to a wider group than the core migration team. The DAM users our consultant interviewed were perfect candidates for a selection team to help choose the new software solution. In the end, the selection team was made up of the following:

  • The creative services manager, who represented the primary users.
  • A creative services designer as a primary administrator.
  • Several marketing specialists who were casual users of the secondary library that would be moved into the main system.
  • The marketing director, a key stakeholder who would approach the accounting department once a DAM system was selected.
  • A representative from a creative agency the company worked with and who had special requirements for integrating the DAM system into their workflow.
  • An IT representative to consider security and scalability, especially related to integrations, or APIs.

RFPs and vendor demos

RFPs are a world of their own. I’ll keep it short here by linking to a few resources from educational site DigitalAssetManagement.com, like Understanding RFI’s and RFP’s and the RFP guide. The details of what goes into your RFP are up to you, so I’ll spend the rest of this section talking about how we shared our RFP with the vendors on our short list.

We sent an RFP to three DAM vendors and asked them to present to our selection team. Each vendor visited the company’s office to do a general overview of their company’s history, a walk through of the software, and address questions.

For the presentation, we gave each vendor a collection of 50 sample images with associated metadata from our library. We asked them to use those assets in their presentation so we could guide what was important to us and ask questions based on our experience.

For example, we asked each vendor to do a search for the word tulip – which had assets related to both the flower and a product the company produces – then asked how to find each asset using search and filters. (Note: The product was filterable, the flower was not.)

Vendors and the members of the selection team had the same list of questions, which were developed from the needs assessments and included topics like filtering and metadata adaptability, and service topics such as response time for outages and the availability of customer support.

The selection team rated the responses on a scale using 1 as a low score and 10 as the high score. Simple addition of the ratings from each team resulted in raw scores. We also requested written responses to each question for vendors to provide qualitative data. Vendors were able to see the scorecard template (but not the results), so the process was quite transparent.

The submissions from the vendors included price quotes for service, which was also a factor in the final decision.

Conclusion

I know it sounds like a lot of work, and it is. It is totally worth it because, as I mentioned in the introduction, the groundwork we did assessing needs, conducting research, and interacting with vendors made the actual implementation very quick. The best part? We are extremely happy with our decision to go with the Media Collective.

The second half of this article will be published next week and will focus on the intricacies of implementation, including how to prepare for it and tips for maintaining the system.

John George is a digital asset archivist and seasoned DAM professional. He has a strong background in information management theory, and is experienced in metadata development, taxonomy construction, and managing digital archives projects. John has worked with digital asset management systems such as Widen, MediaBin, and ContentDM.

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