Yvan Cohen

Yvan Cohen

Thu May 16 2024

Three DAM System Opt-Outs and Why They Don't Make Sense

Black and white letter M Photo by Possessed Photography

I've heard it so many times.

Why do I need a DAM system when I can just dump everything on Google Photos, or Dropbox or Amazon Photos, for a fraction of the price?

This is another of my favorites: “We like the idea of having a DAM system so much that we've decided to build one in-house”.

Or “thanks for showing us your DAM platform but our web team is going to set something up on WordPress.”

Let's take look at these three DAM system opt-outs and discover why they don't make sense, starting with the most basic one.

Worms eye photo of the ceiling. Photo by Joshua Sortino

1. The Cloud Storage Opt-Out

It seems obvious but it's worth saying anyway: implementing a digital asset management (DAM) solution implies a broad understanding of the challenges it is designed to solve. Dumping digital assets into a folder structure on a cloud solution like Dropbox or Google Photos is a partial solution. It isn't digital asset management.

Cloud storage keeps files centralized and safe (the major cloud storage services have excellent redundancy and fail-safe systems). But functionality is limited: permissions filters are blunt, there are usually no options for branding, metadata management is basic and privacy/consent management is non-existent. Bespoke development and in-person customer support are also not on the menu.

There's nothing wrong with keeping things simple (and cheap) if that's all you can afford, or you feel like cloud storage is the best way to go. But let's be clear, this basic approach is in no way a replacement for the breadth and depth of functionality offered by a digital asset management platform.

Seen from a less-generous angle, dumping your archives in a cloud storage solution looks more like an opt-out from your media management challenges (and opportunities) rather than an answer to them. Put simply, you get what you pay for, which in this case is a certain amount of secure storage space.

OK, so now you've crossed cloud storage off your list of media management solutions. But when you look at what digital asset management systems offer, they still seem overly expensive. Will they really have functionality to meet the specific needs of your organization, with all its quirks and idiosyncrasies?

Two people drawing on a whiteboard. Photo by Kaleidico

2. The 'Let's Build it In-House' Opt-Out

Which brings us to the second common DAM system opt-out: “I'm going to build my own”.

“How hard can it be?”, the thinking goes. “I've got an IT department and they say it's probably do-able (a great way to secure their jobs), so why pay thousands of dollars to an outside supplier when theoretically you've got all the skills and resources right there on your doorstep.”

I'm going to come right out and say it: imagining that building a DAM system from scratch is going to involve a few months of work (I've heard this quite a few times) is a major miscalculation; one that will end up costing a lot more money than it saves.

At LightRocket Enterprise, we've been developing DAM system solutions for almost two decades. We come from the media sector and have many decades of experience. In other words, we're experts J.

It should be obvious but it's worth repeating: there are no short cuts to expertise - you need deep experience and knowledge.

DAM system providers aren't building DAM systems in their spare time, it's a full-time profession. At LightRocket Enterprise, we think about how to improve our platform and innovate on it every working day.

DAM systems might look simple - that's the alchemy of an intuitive user interface. Under the hood, however, they bristle with a complex array of features and options. At LightRocket Enterprise, we pride ourselves on the simplicity of our interface and like to brag that most users can start using the platform's key features with little to no training. But the code behind that simplicity has taken our team years to develop.

Investing in a DAM system should be a calculation based on the hard practicalities of time-saving, efficiency, and core value.

An In-House DAM System Won't Save You Money

Building your own system is going to be very time consuming (read expensive). It's inefficient too; because a company that decides to build a DAM system in their IT department's spare time is working outside of its core competencies. This will mean your self-built DAM system is unlikely to deliver the value you'd get from a professional provider.

As a final caveat, the 'build it yourself' option is extremely risky. Software is very expensive to build and notoriously challenging to actually deliver. However quickly you think you can build your DAM solution; my advice would be to double your projections and then some.

At the end of the day, you will probably end up scuttling your expensive in-house project because by the time your development team gets to a basic level of DAM system functionality, the professional providers will be even further ahead.

You may find yourself paying not only for an abandoned project but for a DAM system you should have purchased at the outset.

Wordpress site on a turned on monitor. Photo by Stephen Phillips - Hostreviews.co.uk

3. The WordPress Opt-Out

Everyone loves this one. Don't have the expertise to build your own platform? Browse to WordPress, find a theme and hire someone to customize your chosen theme. Then go ahead and splatter your pro-looking solution all over social media and the web.

Simple, right?

In all fairness, WordPress is an amazing ecosystem for finding solutions that provide cost effective alternatives to building SaaS platforms from the ground up. While WordPress may be great for ecommerce, using it to create a slick-looking searchable media database is not a replacement for the value you'll get from a top-end DAM platform provider.

Apart from the low cost, however, there are a few other pluses to a WordPress site. One obvious advantage is the ability to create a professional-looking site that can be synchronized with your brand and graphic identity.

Next up is the ability to structure your data into a format that looks like it's being managed by a DAM system. If you pick the right WordPress theme, you can create an environment that looks and feels like a media archive. You can even store your digital assets on a cloud storage solution like Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Now for the not-so-good news. WordPress is famously insecure. While there are themes out there which allow for the presentation and management of media databases, WordPress is most definitely not a replacement for DAM system. It is not conceived to provide you with the breadth of functionality you'll find on a DAM platform.

There's No Substitute For a Professional DAM System

The conclusion is a simple one. Even if there are some alluring-looking opt outs, there really isn't an effective substitute to professional DAM platform when it comes to managing your digital assets. It's obviously really, but when you have a specific task to complete, you'll always be best served by a tool that has been specifically designed for that task.

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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