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Use is primary proviso when choosing a digital asset management system

In an expanding DAM market, experts agree that zeroing in on the use case for a digital asset management tool helps organizations pick the right product.

Editor's Note: This is the first installment in a two-part series about how to choose the right digital asset management (DAM) technology for the enterprise. The second part explains how integration, vendor choice and delivery method help organizations pick the correct product for their DAM initiative.

One of the problems with choosing the correct digital asset management system for your organization is that the market keeps expanding. And while product choices range widely between enterprise-class platforms and simple single-task applications, every segment except the top end seems to be growing.

"We see a lot of smaller players and vendors in the market, what we call 'Pure Play' DAM players. Then there are a few big common household name players -- the stack players like OpenText, Autonomy, EMC and Adobe," said Anjali Yakkundi, a researcher with Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. Yakkundi was a co-author of the report "Digital Asset Management For Customer Experience," published in May, and said the digital asset management (DAM) market "was in flux and transition."

That can result in confusion for many potential customers. For users, digital assets typically include everything from Microsoft Word documents to videos. The report suggests both users and vendors should adjust their thinking of the technology as aiding the management of rich media such as images, graphics, audio and video. It says text-based files do not require the technology.

Yakkundi said some of the confusion can be removed by thinking in those terms. But while media and entertainment organizations are the traditional DAM users, a lot of marketing departments across industries are now using DAM for a range of assets.

"The use case is growing beyond those traditional uses," she said, and that can confuse matters as well.

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While a stock photo distributor might pick a digital asset management product for its search and metadata capabilities, a telecommunications company might use DAM to update and manage service videos that show field workers how to fix equipment at a customer location. Certain DAM products, like Canto Cumulus, might excel at the former example but lack some of the audio and video support of, say, a Widen Enterprises or Xinet product, which Forrester determined isn't as strong in metadata and search as Canto.

"People are using DAM in all these different ways and there all sorts of disparate uses," said Yakkundi. "The key is finding your specific use. What is the business problem you are trying to solve?"

"You must know what your use cases are," agreed Irina Guseva, a senior analyst at Real Story Group in Olney, Md. "The scenario should be pretty straightforward."

Guseva presented a seminar entitled "DAM 101" this summer at Info360 in New York during which she pointed out that the emerging number of DAM vendors might introduce some confusion, but it also presents opportunity.

According to Real Story Group, DAM systems can be divided into five categories: complex enterprise platforms, upper-range platforms, midrange platforms, midrange products and simple products. At the top end, of course, are the more sophisticated and expensive DAM platforms. The benefit of these is they can be customized. At the lower end, midrange products "have more prepackaged features," while many established vendors provide really simple products. "Just don't expect much functionality and extensibility" from them, Guseva said.

With all those product categories, there's likely to be one that will work for almost any rich media or digital asset management need. "I doubt it's going to be a 100% match," she said, but the wide open market makes it possible for people to match their needs with an existing product. Or, if it's a really specific use case that requires customization, "you can have any design you want, but you have to do a lot of that design yourself."

"Make sure you have a specific need in mind," said Rob Boysko, manager of multimedia publishing for MLB Advanced Media, a subsidiary of in New York. is the public-facing website for Major League Baseball, and it designed its DAM system in-house specifically so it could post baseball highlights for every regular season game onto the correct website within minutes of it happening. The use case dictated the design.

At TE Connectivity, a global manufacturer of communications switches based in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, customers need to view high-resolution images, engineering drawings and installation guides of the telecom equipment they shop for. The images and drawings are accompanied by detailed information such as sizes, availability, materials and whether the item complies with various regulatory requirements. The company chose Adobe CQ5, an off-the-shelf high-end DAM product, with some customization capabilities.

Matt Leopold, TE Connectivity's director of customer experience, agreed with's Boysko that the use case is a key factor in choosing the best tool. Fitting the technology choices to the specific reasons it will be employed and focusing on users are the most important aspects, Leopold said.

"You have to understand who your users are going to be and know what they are going to be using it for," he said. "That is primary."

Zeroing in on the business process or problem you're hoping to solve with DAM both now and in the future is the main issue, said Tim Walters, an analyst at Digital Clarity Group, a content management consultancy in New Hyde Park, N.Y. The use case is the key, he agreed, to finding the right product.

"What kind of assets are you trying to manage? What types, formats and size are they?" Walters asked. "Even if you have a smallish number of high-definition assets, it might require a more robust product." On the other hand, if the primary types of assets are text documents, an organization might be able to use its content management system and avoid purchasing a DAM product, he said.

If any of that is unclear, then management needs to talk to those who will become the end users of the technology. The next step, Walters suggested, is to determine who would be interacting with the assets and what their skill level is.

"Always keep end users involved [when shopping]," said Yakkundi. "Sure, business needs can change, but they're not going to change drastically."

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