What Are the Essential Features of a DAM System?

An interview with John Price from Open Text

DAM Coalition is a platform that gives professionals across the industry the ability to showcase their thoughts, experiences and knowledge with the community in a variety of ways. As such, we’re talking with those professionals about how they’ve seen digital asset management evolve and what they’re preparing for as they watch things change for people on every side of the industry.

John Price is the Product Marketing Manager for Media Management at OpenText. With more than 25 years working in digital media and broadcasting, he sees the way we collaborate as a key aspect around how people work and communicate with each other. We talked to him about people’s expectations when it comes to their DAM system, how visualization is a big part of the future in the industry and what Open Text has in store for the community later this summer. 



DAM Coalition: Tell us about your history in digital asset management. How did you get involved with DAM?

John Price: My background is in TV production during the pre-digital days. Back when analog video was still going on I worked on the technical side of production in news environments so I was directing, editing, producing and doing just about whatever needed to get done. It gave me great insight as to how the media process works. Then I moved into working with broadcast vendors in creating software to help them better manage all of the stuff they were doing. I helped them automate some of the processes that were involved in delivering their broadcast content. That evolved eventually into where I’m at with digital asset management and trying to help people manage those same processes.

Now though, instead of going out to a single broadcast channel, I’m working with people as they work to get their message out across numerous channels and in multiple formats which need to be able to be viewed on many different devices. It’s a much more dynamic system, and in a lot of ways a much more complex one as well.


How did that automation impact digital asset management?

In a huge way, because it allowed us to control so many more processes than we were ever able to do in the past, and that gave people the freedom to focus on more important things. As you reduce manual, repetitive tasks and increase productivity, creativity jumps. DAM has allowed more to get done in various ways for a greater amount of people.

In the broadcast world, most of the issues were caused by human error. Somebody hit the wrong button…somebody played the wrong commercial at the wrong time…somebody didn’t give the cue, etc. Those human errors can add up and they can be very costly. The whole prospect with automation was that it could reduce the amount of human intervention, which meant you could reduce the errors. The machine won’t be making those mistakes.

Of course, it gets that much more complex, because you have to configure the system, you have to create those rules and manage the exceptions, but automation continues to be a major part of almost any DAM system. The ability to take those manual and repetitive tasks off the table so your staff has more time to be more productive is an incredibly powerful concept.


When you’re having a conversation about what a DAM system can do for someone’s organization, do you find yourself having to temper expectations or is it more about trying to figure out what they want to accomplish?

Conversations typically go in two directions. My preferred direction is starting out with a high level strategic path where the customer or company thinks in terms of what they’re going to do with their digital media.  Most companies understand that the amount of media they’re generating is growing exponentially every year. What they don’t see is that they need to mange all of that information. Many people don’t think strategically about how they want to get from where they are today to where they want to be in the future. They aren’t sure how they’re going to go down that path.

Let’s say right now that as an organization, you have all of your assets on shared drives or on people’s computers so you can’t really find anything. So you take a step back and identify that in five years, as an organization, you want to be able to access any of the rich media you own to deliver better product to your customer. If that’s where you want to go, you have quite a path to get there. But that’s where it can get exciting, because then we can start to explore lots of different methods and ways to make that a reality. There’s no one specific way to accomplish that goal, so we can look at what’s going to be the best way for your organization in terms of the way you work now. We can maximize what you have working in order to map the path for where you need to go. If you start thinking strategically, you’ll open up new opportunities. Your whole infrastructure can be energized by something like this, because it gives more people the ability to access information they want and need.

That’s the one conversation we usually have. The other conversation takes that strategic thinking into account, but it’s focused on what exactly DAM is. When we have that conversation, it crystalizes into a couple core things that DAM needs to do for them. If it does those things well, it solves a lot of issues for the customer on a small and large scale.

For me, the whole purpose of digital asset management is to maintain control and access to your digital assets. If I’m an organization and I’m putting lots of effort and cost into creating intellectual property, whether it’s a logo or message or anything else, I want to be able to control that asset and be able to provide proper access to it. For some of those assets, I want the entire world to be able to access them so they can download and share all of that and use them however they want. Other assets I want to maintain very tight control over that only certain people can see or use them. It all boils down to control and access.

So much of it is about managing users, because I’m going to have internal users, external users, partners, agencies and all sorts of different people who are going to be contributing, consuming and modifying content. If I can create a system that allows them to easily access what they need while providing specific limitations around that access, then I’ve created a system that works for everyone. This helps the organization become more productive and also helps it grow the system. 

Say you’re a small marketing department and you just want to control your branding assets. Once you have that control and have everyone on the same page you can start looking at how you can expand that beyond marketing. Then you can pull in the product department and they can create consistent packaging. You can pull in the finance department so they can use the latest version of the logo. You can pull in whoever needs those assets.

It really boils down to the control and access features that you can find in the typical DAM system.


“DAM” is just one of the many acronyms that people use, sometimes interchangeably with others (PAM, MAM, ECM, EIM, CEM, etc.). Do you think we should still be saying “DAM” when we want to talk about the management and decisions surrounding the ingestion, cataloguing, storage, retrieval and distribution of digital assets? Or is it a moot point?

DAM is a convenient and useful acronym; it has critical mass that conceptually people have some idea of what it is. As you mentioned, we have all kinds of different combinations of letters but you have to have something that you can hang all of these ideas on, and it’s kind of become accepted that “DAM” is that hanger. Whether they’re documents in an ECM system or media that needs to go to a WCM, you’re managing something that’s both digital and an asset, so the term “DAM” seems to be totally appropriate.

Really though, you can look at a DAM system in whatever way you want to express the concept. And that expression will be in whatever way you want to fulfill the purpose of the DAM system.  It might be in a small department, it might be WCM, it might be ECM, it might be multiple DAM systems across your entire organization. And there are lots of people who work in all of those ways and more. But it still comes down to having these digital assets and managing them in a way that works for individuals and for the organization.


What sorts of people have become (to borrow a term from the DAM Guru Program) the “DAM guru” within an organization?

A lot of it springs out of a desire from an individual in an organization who figures that there must be a better way to do something. They get tired of spending four hours a day or 25 hours week just trying to find a single image they need to use for a particular campaign, and that’s without even knowing if they have the rights to it. People often want to and need to organize the chaos that’s around them. As they start to organize they look for tools that will help them do that, and they find out that a DAM system can make their lives easier in many different ways.

That’s the exciting thing, because you’re starting to see more and more organizations realize that these sorts of people are really providing a valuable service to the company as a whole. A lot of these organizations have tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of assets, and so many of the people in that organization have no idea where anything is or even what they have available.

We are starting to see more job titles and positions being created that are focused on DAM, but titles don’t do the work. People do. And people will do what is needed so the work can be expanded.


What’s an issue that you see come up over and over for people when they’re dealing with their DAM?

So many organizations aren’t able or willing to engage in strategic purposeful planning. Most of them just react to the immediate need or situation. They see a nail and want to immediately grab a hammer to take care of it. And to be honest, that’s how a lot of DAM vendors react. They see a problem out in the market and just try to figure out how that can be handled in their current or future version. It’s understandable because as human beings, we’re all kind of reactive by nature.

The people and organizations that I see implementing DAM and being very successful at it are those that step back and look at what they’re trying to accomplish in a very strategic way. It’s not just about hammering the nail that’s sticking up; it’s about examining what you’re nailing together. Should these things actually be nailed together? Is the nail long enough? Maybe it shouldn’t be nailed at all. The people that step back like that are able to see a lot of success, and I think it’s one of the challenges right now in the industry. We’re all out there looking for nails without realizing that maybe that’s not what we should be looking for.

You need to understand what it is you’re trying to build. Is the thing you’re putting together right now going to support what you’re trying to do within your organization?


What does next generation of DAM look like?

For a long time, organizations have been very text based. It’s been all about character and text, but digital assets have brought in the whole element of visualization. And the thing is, people think in terms of pictures and images. We don’t think in terms of characters and paragraphs, so if we start to communicate in this visual manner, we’re going to naturally start to work more efficiently and effectively.

At Open Text, we’re certainly looking at the visual experience for the customer. Ultimately, it becomes about providing that interactive dynamic experience that gets people’s attention. And usually that’s not with a paragraph or slogan. It’s usually with something that’s visual which also assaults the senses.

To do that, you have to have great digital assets, amazing creators making them and an effective way to manage them. Ultimately, digital asset management is moving in a direction that’s going to be much more visual. Being able to do an image search within a DAM system will have a huge impact in terms of how people think about and look for their digital assets.

The other area that I really see coming for DAM is in how we can collaborate. At the end of the day, it’s all about having a tool that helps you with your communication.  If you can provide the right tools to communicate in a more effective way, you’re going to be more successful, and it doesn’t matter whether that’s communication with clients, partners, customers or anyone else. If we’re providing a communication tool we also have to provide a communication method, and part of that method is going to be around how that communication can improve visually. So these things go hand in hand, because this visualization will ultimately impact collaboration.


Any exciting projects you’re working on or have upcoming that you can tell us about?

Open Text will be coming out with our HTML5 UX at the end of July, and we’ve been doing a lot of user testing around that. We’ve been talking to numerous customers and other professionals to get their input around what that user interface needs to look like and how people need to interact with these digital images. At the same time, we know that people have a great way to look at their digital assets so we wanted to look at how workflow collaboration can supercharge them in their efforts to get things done and enhance the quality of what they’re working on.

We’ve always allowed people to integrate and customize the product at a deep level, but we’ve also put in a layer of REST API’s. The restful services now allow you to create that presentation layer.  Out of the box you’ll have the presentation layer that we’ve done, but the restful API’s will give that opportunity to those sophisticated organizations that want to create their own custom user interface that meets the need of how their organization works and we can provide them with the tools to do that.