Until recently, both the roles and users of Web content management (WCM) and digital asset management systems were...
largely distinct from one another. WCM software was focused on managing mainstream website content, while more complex and expensive DAM platforms were mostly reserved for publishing and media organizations with large digital stockpiles of high-resolution images and video clips.
But with rich multimedia content such as images and video becoming more and more central to the online experience, the delineation between WCM and DAM technologies is no longer so clear. To support multimedia data on their websites, many companies are now pushing the limits of their Web content management systems, which weren't designed to provide the full range of digital rights management and content search functionality that DAM systems do.
“WCM systems do a good job of managing presentational content, but they don’t manage digital rights or the workflow happening on the images,” said Joseph Bachana, president of Database Publishing Consultants Inc. (DPCI), a New York-based firm that helps clients implement both types of systems. “What you’re doing in WCM is more of a live production cycle, not an archival system.”
While some Web content management tools have been enhanced to include so-called “DAM Lite” functionality for more efficient storage and retrieval of image and video files, they still don’t deal with the key differentiator of dedicated digital asset management systems: their ability to classify, index, version and reformat multimedia content throughout its lifecycle. That's made possible partly by the use of metadata that enables images and video clips stored in a digital asset management system to be searchable for retrieval and reuse.
Another key feature of digital asset management software is its ability to automatically convert content items from one format to another – for example, when an image is stored as a high-resolution Photoshop graphic but a lower-resolution JPEG file is needed for uploading to a website. Instead of requiring users to perform manual conversions, a DAM system can do the transformations on the fly, which can be a big time-saver for organizations dealing with sizeable volumes of rich media files.
When digital asset management systems come into play
So, when is Web content management software alone not enough to handle multimedia content needs? Tony Byrne, president of Olney, Md.-based consulting firm Real Story Group, has a few rules of thumb: He said you likely will need a full-blown DAM system if you publish lots of high-definition video on your website, if you’re looking to encode multimedia files in multiple formats, if you’re aiming to extract text information and other metadata from images and videos to make them searchable, or if you require direct integration with programs such as Photoshop or high-end video editing software.
“It used to be that DAM only sold into media and publishing companies," Byrne said. "But we’re starting to see classic DAM spread into other industry verticals as companies get their feet wet with DAM Lite and realize that as they build more assets, they have to invest in a more traditional [asset management] tool.”
Instead of choosing between the two technologies, some companies are creating integrated workflow processes that combine them. For example, Daily Racing Form Inc. (DRF), a New York-based media company that covers horse racing both online and in print publications, is currently synchronizing its enterprise Web content management system with DAM software. “It’s all about speed,” said Alex Lorberg, DRF's chief technology officer. “Instead of going somewhere to search for an [image or video] asset and upload it, this will do it in one step.”
DNAinfo.com, a New York-based website that covers news in Manhattan, is taking a similar step, although it isn't using a full-fledged digital asset management system. With consulting help from DCPI, the site is building a content management framework that integrates an open source WCM system and cloud-based software with DAM-like capabilities.
“Some of the current DAM systems are incredibly expensive and require you to buy all of this hardware, which is overkill and has nothing to do with our business,” said Marque Staneluis, senior director of technology and product development at DNAinfo.com. “This enables us to scale our [multimedia] assets as we need to call them to the Web, or any device.”
DCPI’s Bachana thinks that an increased focus on content distribution and workflow will eventually lead to a technology convergence as more and more companies look to deliver content through various channels. “Over the next five to 10 years, what’s driving this is all about the enrichment of content for reuse,” he said. “It’s all about workflow processing.”
Beth Stackpole is a freelance writer who has been covering the intersection of technology and business for 25-plus years for a variety of trade and business publications and websites.