Five Ways to Better Manage Digital Assets

Jan 29, 2013


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Article ImageDespite over two decades of awareness that digital assets present a unique and critical challenge for organizations of every size and shape, effective Digital Asset Management (DAM) remains more fantasy than reality. Some organizations have invested significant resources with mediocre results, while many others limp along with folders on a server and the never-ending problem of too many versions in too many places.

Rather than throwing in the towel, here are five tips that bring a new perspective to battling the "asset proliferation" monster.

Take a project-centric approach

Digital assets have little intrinsic value except in the context of how they serve as components of a marketing campaign, product launch, catalog, or other project. But traditional DAM takes an "asset-centric approach," placing the asset at the center of the user experience.

Approaching asset management in a project-centric context keeps the focus on the bigger picture. How do all the components (including digital assets) meet the overall project goal? How can my organization make sure the key elements of each project are easily located, reducing wasted time chasing content? Is there a process to speed up approval to meet deadlines without eleventh hour Hail Mary passes of creative flurry? I think we can agree that those late nights are only fun once.

Project management software tuned to the creative workflow and integrating work-in-progress DAM is the right toolset for the in-house creative team. Creatives need management, but often resent processes with perceived bureaucratic burden. By making the project management component as transparent as possible and focusing on the creative tools that drive it, the team can become more efficient without feeling smothered. The project is the central metaphor of the creative process, and it remains missing in action from most creative production and asset management tools.

Make metadata work by making time to manage it

Metadata is the key to successful asset management, yet it's the bane of asset managers and the whole creative team. There is an inverse relationship between an individual's personal knowledge of the metadata associated with an asset and their need to document that metadata. Consequently, metadata management is one of the least developed disciplines in the organization.

Often the largest repository of relevant metadata lies in the brains of the creative team, who may have the least use for it and are legitimately overburdened with more urgent work. Making metadata management a priority means dedicating time for the process within the creative team, which will not be possible with a staff already struggling to meet deadlines due to thin organizational structures and a lack of project management tools.

This initiative is critically dependent on the first tip. Get organized enough to actually have time available for strategic imperatives - like metadata management - that are most susceptible to landing on the back-burner.

Differentiate strategic assets from tactical assets

Not all assets are created equal in terms of long-term value to the organization. A "one size fits all" approach to managing digital assets using an Enterprise DAM is like dumping every piece of printed paper in the company vault with the assumption it will be needed someday. Sorting through hundreds of images of the same can of soup trying to decipher what's different about each one is not for the faint of heart.

Implementing a simple review and approval process within the marketing team can quickly weed out the large percentage of assets than can continue to live in a "work in progress" DAM, only accessible by the creative team, and push the handful of approved assets to the Enterprise DAM for wider availability. Again, we see the critical importance of a true workflow process within the creative team that will serve as a filter to avoid "asset glut."

Keep creatives focused on creativity

Turning your most creative resources into file managers and "process cops," tasked with policing how the rest of the organization uses assets, is not only poor resource allocation, it also reduces the quality of creative output by interrupting creative focus. Keep the creative team focused on what they do best by minimizing their administrative burden. Here are two methods: hire a dedicated ‘trafficker' for review and approval of projects originating outside of the creative team, or invest in an automated approval workflow that reduces the demand on the creative team by eliminating meetings, endless email exchanges and "version mania."

Data-driven insight via usage tracking

There is a fine line between brand consistency and snooze-inducing redundancy. A favorite image asset, for example, can easily become overused by the organization, resulting in reduced impact and a stale market perception. It's critical to keep track of how often an asset is utilized and in what context. No one wants to see the same picture of Snuggies in the Sunday newspaper ad every week.

Many DAMs provide historical data on the number of times each digital asset in the repository was downloaded and by whom. But that information is only a clue to the mystery of where the asset actually ended up (if anywhere). The ultimate fate of the asset remains unknown unless manually tracked by some other process.

This speaks again to the value of a project-centric system. If a user can instantly see that a particular asset is linked to six separate projects, including the last four quarterly catalogs, it's likely time to freshen the look of this particular element.

Asset proliferation has consistently outstripped the pace of adopting new management tools. But many DAM offerings remain pricey and anchored in legacy architecture. The arrival of new development environments enabling rapid deployment of web-centric, platform independent applications brings a new opportunity to address asset management as an integrated element of creative business processes, not as a static vault set apart from them. Here's a simple litmus test: If your organization's digital asset management system doesn't work on an iPad, it's time to consider what modern digital asset workflow tools can offer.

(Image courtesy of Shutterstock.)