Digital Asset Management in Adobe Experience Manager
Business domain of DAM
One of Adobe Experience Manager’s core features is its Digital Asset Management System, commonly referred to as “the DAM.” Digital asset management as a domain isn’t unique to AEM. Rather, Adobe has implemented an enterprise class DAM system that can actually serve as a stand-alone solution, apart from all the WCM features. However, what makes Adobe’s DAM solution particularly valuable is how deeply integrated it is with the rest of the AEM platform. The DAM is a key piece within AEM for integrating the creative concerns of designers and artists and the digital marketing concerns of content managers and web-driven revenue generation.
Before digging into the DAM’s capabilities within Adobe Experience Manager, I want to step back and discuss the general business concept of DAM.
What is digital asset management?
Your organization’s brand is embodied in a sea of media files. Some of them remain within the organization’s walls, such as graphics used as letterheads or design files for creating print advertisements. Some are made public and shared, such as video demonstrations and white papers.
Many of these media files actually toe the line between internal and external assets. Some may become public and go viral, even if they weren’t intended for that use. Others that were intended to be public simply waste away.
The thread tying them all together is the difficulty that virtually all organizations face attempting to keep track of these media files. Digital asset management is the domain of managing a variety of rich media files so that they can be effectively used to support the organization’s brand.
Digital asset management is not really the same thing as document management or records management, although they do have some similarities. Some organizations find that a document management solution is adequate for their digital asset management needs. Document management is really about cataloging mostly text-based content. You often see document management systems in place for managing forms, reports, structured content such as XML, and the many Microsoft Office document types. Document management is usually a key component of enterprise content management (see Chapter 1).
When trying to manage media files, however, you face some unique, complex challenges compared to simply managing documents:
- How do you catalog files of completely different formats?
- How do you search files that cannot be indexed textually?
- How do you deal with the huge amounts of data created by media files?
- How do you make it easy to adapt those media files to changing business needs?
You’ll still face some of the same problems as with document management, including how to provide permission-appropriate access to files and how to distribute those files to the appropriate channels. But, I want to dig a little deeper into these issues to really hone in on the benefits of a dedicated DAM.
Catalog diverse media
Digital media files can be vastly different from one another, to a much greater extent than documents and records. The former tends to be less structured and richer, whereas the latter tends to be more structured and text-based. Media can include video files of different formats, image files of different formats, PDFs, or design assets like InDesign files. These formats are all so different that cataloging them in a common way becomes difficult. Imagine trying to sort a bunch of photographs, CDs, receipts, and videotapes (yeah, remember those?). There’s not a particularly good way to sort them...at least not obviously. Digital asset management uses software to address that very problem. It enables you to catalog diverse media in such a way that it becomes ubiquitous.
Search engines use indexing to determine how relevant a resource is to a search term you enter. The search engine “crawls” all the available resources making records (an index) of how it is categorized, what it contains, and other properties of those resources. The search engine internally organizes and optimizes that information to create a fast search experience. Then, when you enter a search term, the search engine can poll its index of resources and immediately return the resources relevant to your search terms.
Most enterprise platforms that manage data or content include search features, including document management and digital asset management systems. In a document management system, where most of the content is text-based, the crawling approach is fairly straightforward. It’s easy to understand how a machine can “read” the text in a document and make an index of keywords.
But how to interpret the content of videos, images, and other rich media files? Most of them don’t have text to “read.” Those that do contain text would probably require some kind of optical character recognition technology to read it. That’s why digital asset management systems enable those managing the resources to apply rich metadata describing the media assets. The system will also make sure that metadata taxonomy is similar enough that it can be indexed effectively, making for an efficient search experience that doesn’t care whether the media is a picture or a video.
Manage file size
Remember when Napster—the first mainstream platform for downloading music in MP3 format—became available? It took half an hour or more just to download a single song. God help me if my dad picked up the phone and kicked me off the modem-based connection, or I finally got the entire song and it downloaded incorrectly. It was frustrating because rich media files, like audio and video, are enormous compared to text-based files. Images are bigger than text. Audio is bigger than images. Video is bigger still.
As a result, a digital asset management system must manage huge amounts of data—for enterprise organizations, gigabytes (or terabytes) of content. The sheer scope of managing potentially vast amounts of digital media means the system has to maximize speed and performance. As cloud-based architectures continue to become the norm rather than the exception, a DAM must also consider how to optimize that design.
In case you haven’t noticed, I’ll break the news to you that requirements change fast. Customers will change their minds on a dime. Managers trying to stay ahead of customers will do the same. That means rapid change. It also means that inflexible systems will become a burden rather than a benefit.
Digital assets are often multiple file formats, sizes, variations of color, and so on. Without a system to manage these nearly identical versions of a media file, it can be cumbersome to keep track of all these variations. A digital asset management system does this. It allows those responsible for the media to retain the element that should remain consistent while also organizing each variation created for special uses. And while doing this, the system also maintains the fundamental relationship between these multiple media file variations.
What are your needs?
I find that many clients for whom I implement management solutions overlook the relevance of digital asset management in their overall digital strategy. Digital asset management is less generally understood than basic web content management, and it’s not as easy to see how effective digital asset management contributes to revenue.
However, I can assure you that effective digital asset management processes and implementation are a key piece in the digital marketing puzzle. If implemented well, it will increase the value of your overall platform by simplifying the integration of rich media into your digital brand experience.
If you don’t truly understand what you need from a digital asset management system, you could end up with a catch-all media repository. I see it time and time again. Content managers throw all their website images into a single folder, just so they can be added to a webpage. No one manages the metadata. No one organizes a logical taxonomy of media files. The repository gets bigger and bigger until it’s no more organized than whatever system was previously in place.
I’m not going to insist that everyone’s digital asset management needs are complex or dynamic. Some organizations’ needs are complicated and some are simple. I’m only advocating that you go through the exercise of truly understanding your needs before you start using a DAM system like a storage closet.
To assess what you need in a digital asset management system, ask the following questions:
- What kinds of media assets do I need to manage?
- How do I plan to distribute them to the public?
- What is the volume of my media files as a whole?
- What are our key workflows when creating and managing digital assets?
- How are those workflows effective? How could they be improved?
- Where are the opportunities to automate parts of those workflows?
- What creative development tools do I use to edit digital assets?
- How are our media files organized? How do we want them to be organized?
Answering these questions won’t guarantee that you’ll have an effective digital asset management or content management implementation. But, if you can build consensus about the answers to these questions, you will be in a better position to execute your digital asset management strategy.