Yvan Cohen

Yvan Cohen

Mon Oct 02 2023

How to choose a digital asset management (DAM) system that works for you

Depth of Field Photography of File Arrangement Depth of Field Photography of File Arrangement. Photo by Mike

How many organisations have digital archives scattered across hard drives in different locations?

How many times have you asked for an image you know exists but that that can no longer be found, because nobody can remember who saved it where?

The answer, you say, is to get organised.

You start off by agreeing that your media files should be put in a central location where everybody knows they can be found.

Next, you come up with a clever system for organising your files. Questions arise. Should I create folders structured by year and month? Or should I take a hybrid approach, organising folders by year, with sub-folders labelled with clues to their content?

While such steps towards bringing order to your media archives may feel satisfying and cost nothing more than your time, you are actually on your way to discovering exactly why you need a more powerful software solution to the problem you are trying to solve.

That solution exists in the form of what is known as a digital asset management or DAM system, which is the jargon-laden label for a software platform that will enable you to manage your digital archives, releasing the value of a too-often undervalued asset. Such systems are most often used for managing media files like photos and videos.

Like any competitive marketplace, there's a bewildering range of choices. Everyone has a beautiful website, nearly all the companies out there look slick and professional. So how should you go about selecting a provider?

Price matters when selecting a DAM system software

Managing a collection of pictures is unlikely to be among your organisation's top priorities. So, expect budget to be a sensitive issue. You need to be sure you're getting the best value for money, and that your investment is going to be protected through solid after sales service and a guarantee your selected system will continue to evolve and improve.

Look out for hidden fees and add-ons

“If it looks like too good a deal to be true, it probably is”, goes the proverb. If you find a DAM system software headlining very attractive pricing, you should double check for hidden costs. User numbers and data volume are often used as hidden triggers for additional costs.

Hosting is another area where costs can suddenly rise. Keep a look out for companies offering attractive deals, only to tie you into mandatory, and pricey, hosting deals.

Photo of Man Holding a Book Photo of Man Holding a Book. Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

Invest in professional credentials

As with any industry, there's plenty of marketing stardust out there.

Don't be fooled by companies offering endless lists of 'integrations' or touting the virtues of showy features like AI tagging.

Integrations sound great - and indeed when relevant and effectively implemented integrations with marketing systems or external databases can add tremendous value. But beware, integration is a broad and often loosely used term. You need to fully understand where the value of the proposed integrations lies.

AI tagging is another buzzword feature. It sounds great. The promise of automated tagging seems like a silver bullet for a labour intensive task that lies at the heart of making your archive truly searchable. The problem with AI tagging is that while it can identify physical elements in an image, it can't select terms that are relevant to the meaning of the image. This means for effective tagging you'll always need a human to make the important choices.

Service matters when purchasing a DAM system software

It's easy to see a new DAM system simply as a product. You invest, you install, job done.

Well actually, no. You'll quickly discover that when you select a supplier for your DAM system, you should also be looking at their commit to providing after-sales service.

Working with a DAM system, means creating your own bespoke workflow. It means establishing standards and guidelines for users and contributors. And, it means ensuring your system evolves to meet the changing demands of your organisation, while also keeping pace with changes in technology.

Look for companies that have consulting and professional support built into their license plans. With the right advice and support, you'll get much more value from your DAM system.

Not all DAM systems are equal

The beauty of a competitive marketplace is the diversity of choice it provides. When surveying the range of DAM systems out there, you should look to match your needs with the offerings of the service provider.

Some DAM systems are clearly more geared towards brand management. Those systems are better adapted to corporate clients, perhaps with intensive design output. Others place greater importance on managing archives, taking a more professional approach to controlling workflows, breakdown, and access.

When you make contact with a potential provider, it's a good idea to outline your organisation's core needs. This will help you navigate their offerings and guide you towards a clear, and useful, decision for your digital asset management needs.

If you have any questions about consent form management, or how to start organising your archives and/or evaluate the value of a DAM management system, please feel free to contact Yvan at info@lightrocket.com.

Written by Yvan Cohen | Yvan has been a photojournalist for over 30 years. He's a co-founder of LightRocket and continues to shoot photo and video projects around South East Asia.

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