Planning for effective digital asset management

The road to digital asset management (DAM) is paved with good intentions. However, most DAM projects never realize their full potential. The reasons for this are varied. This article presents some of the common reasons DAM projects underachieve or fail altogether and includes suggestions to help you plan for the introduction of effective DAM within your organization.

When implementing a DAM system, you are not just purchasing a product; you are fundamentally changing the way you will work with content, and this may extend throughout your organization. Without careful planning, you will not meet your objectives.

DAM is effective when the content is catalogued in a meaningful way, available in a timely fashion, and accessible in a useful manner and in a usable format. Keep this in mind at all times as you plan your project. As the industry moves toward greater repurposing of content for new delivery platforms such as the Internet and wireless devices, the need for effective DAM in broadcasting has never been greater. These new distribution models make DAM a mission-critical part of your environment, so it is critical to examine your needs thoroughly and plan carefully — not just for today, but also for the future.

Define the role of DAM within the enterprise

Organizations often have an incomplete vision of the role of DAM in the enterprise. In the evolving broadcasting world, the role of DAM goes far beyond being just a replacement for existing content storage approaches. Content management must now be able to serve multiple purposes and multiple delivery platforms, such as video on demand (VOD), Internet download and streaming, and delivery to mobile devices. The content needs to be available at the production-element level as opposed to the broadcast-segment level in order to facilitate re-packaging of content. It may also need to be stored in multiple bit rates and formats for different platforms (e.g. MPEG-2 for playout and QuickTime for the Internet).

In addition, there is a need to incorporate content from other departments, such as programming, marketing and legal, into the DAM system in order to maximize the value provided by the DAM system. Implementing different DAM solutions for different departments leads to “islands of content” and makes it difficult to bring all of the relevant information users may need together at the same time.

Broadcasters must, therefore, take a holistic view of the information needs of the entire enterprise when considering DAM. To achieve full value from DAM, the scope of your project should extend beyond merely providing management for your broadcast content. Addressing the broader content issues after selecting and implementing a DAM system is usually too late in the game. Review your DAM strategy in the broader context of the needs of the entire enterprise before you proceed with the selection of a specific DAM solution. Ensure that the chosen solution aligns strategically with your overall content management vision.

Understand that metadata is critical

Metadata literally means “data about data.” In the broadcasting context, it really means descriptive information about the video content. This can include basic technical data, such as the encoding format and audio/video bit rates, as well as non-technical information, such as the episode name, the director's name and the original airdate. Metadata also can include much more extensive information at the segment, scene or even frame level.

Taxonomies are standardized ways of cataloging information. Metadata taxonomies define what metadata should be included and the format the information should follow. The metadata used for content storage in your DAM system is important, and you should look to industry-standard taxonomies. The MPEG-7 Multimedia Content Description Interface ISO/IEC standard, for example, was developed by the Motion Picture Experts Group as an industry-standard metadata taxonomy for describing video content to facilitate content searching. The metadata can include SMPTE timecode references, so you can locate and go directly to specific scenes within a program. Other standards exist for video content as well. Choosing the standards you will use has significant long-term implications and must be carefully considered.

Manage requirements properly

The failure of most technology projects of any kind can usually be traced to inadequate requirements definition or poor management of the requirements that are identified. Ensure that everyone who has an interest in content management (the stakeholders) has been identified and that their requirements are fully understood. Throughout the planning process, and the subsequent vendor evaluation, ensure that every requirement is addressed.

Understand, too, that requirements change over time and may even change before you have completed your selection process. Stay close to your users in order to understand what they are really looking for. A common reaction to a system that is implemented based on poorly-managed requirements is: “It's exactly what we asked for but not what we need.” Understanding the complete requirements — and what is really intended — is critical.

Ensure that all of the requirements you identify are properly recorded in a suitable requirements management software program. This will permit you to understand the implications of future requirements changes and to recognize the side effects and impact of subsequent changes that may be made to the DAM system down the road.

Often the biggest problems with any technology project lies not in the decisions that are made but, rather, in those that are not. Review your solution design carefully. Make conscious decisions to include or exclude functionality and capabilities.

By choosing to include or exclude, you are less likely to preclude. Preclusion occurs when something cannot be done because of limitations of the solution that were not considered at design time. It is okay (and usually necessary) to design a solution that has limitations; just be sure to know what those limitations are by consciously deciding to include or exclude capabilities.

Consider process impact and organizational change too. Broadcasters sometimes select a product based on specific technical or other merits and then, at implementation time, try to determine how the system will be used in their environment. Before a decision is made on DAM, it is imperative to understand both current processes and, even more critically, desired future processes. If the desired processes aren't defined in advance, the inevitable result is an attempt to define processes that will work within the capabilities (and limitations) of already-acquired solution components. Failure to plan for and manage the organizational impact of changed business processes can lead to resistance to follow the new processes, compromising the quality, integrity or usability of the content in a DAM system.

Model your current (“as is”) processes using a computer program designed specifically for process modelling. Use these models as your baseline for experimentation with your expected “to be” processes. Evaluate the ability of potential solution components to work within these processes. Do “what if” modelling to see how you would approach doing business in ways that aren't part of your current business plans but could become significant due to external forces. Evaluate how your candidate solution components will be able to adapt to these models. Consider how adaptable the products are to allow you to deal with process change and the unexpected.

Perform a detailed gap analysis

There will almost always be gaps between the functional, technical and process capabilities desired by an organization and the ability of any specific product to meet these. The gap analysis process is performed to identify where the gaps lie between your requirements and the capabilities of a product.

To avoid this problem, perform a complete gap analysis on your short-listed vendor products. Identify the gaps, assess the impact, and determine how you will address the gaps. Be prepared to reject the product if critical gaps can't be resolved either by the vendor or by changing your requirements in a way that is acceptable to you. Failure to perform detailed gap analysis to identify and address these gaps before selecting a product can lead to disaster.

Examine integration capabilities carefully

Many vendor products are based on closed architectures that make integration difficult. Claims of open integration capabilities aren't always worth the paper they are printed on, either. Nor are all integration capabilities created equally. Ensure that you understand your current integration requirements, and ensure that the chosen product can meet those needs.

Consider the need for integration with your automation, traffic, sales, billing and rights management systems. It is critical to examine how that integration will be done from a technical point of view. Will that integration break the next time a new software version is implemented? Will a minor vendor change to a database design cause the integration to fail?

Involve your IT department to look beyond the functional aspects of integration; pull back the covers and see how stable (or fragile) the underlying integration mechanics really are. Look for a service-oriented architecture (SOA) integration approach or, at the very least, ensure that the products you choose have the potential to be SOA-enabled. The subject of SOA is too complex to discuss in the scope of this article, so turn to your IT department or an outside specialist for assistance in understanding this important consideration.

Define ownership and governance strategies

In a broadcast environment today, and even more so in the future, many stakeholders will have an interest in the content. The various types of content within a DAM system will have different owners with different needs. Clearly, the conventional broadcast content destined for playout belongs to the broadcasting division, but new media content produced for the Internet or wireless devices may have a different owner.

Likewise, contracts and legal documents have different owners, too. Some content may serve two masters (for example, broadcast and the Internet), and it is important that the management of such content be well coordinated so that the needs of both groups are served equally well.

Another important question to determine is who is responsible for the overall management of the digital asset management system. While broadcasting may be the driving force behind the introduction of digital asset management, all modern DAM systems are built on IT technologies. So, the IT department is often best equipped to deal with backups, storage upgrades, the installation of new software versions and so on.

Governance policies deal with such issues as what content will (or won't) be stored on the system, how long differing types of content should be retained, and what metadata must be entered for various content types. If governance policies aren't defined early, or fall by the wayside once the system is implemented, chaos can ensue. As a result, the content becomes unmanageable or does not deliver on its full potential. Content management can be a shared responsibility. Sometimes, however, it is better to adjust your organizational structure to create a new role with overall content management responsibility that includes:

  • coordinating the definition of governance policies;
  • ensuring that governance policies are followed on an ongoing basis; and
  • performing quality assurance and system integrity checks to ensure the health of your system and the content in contains.

Consider the long-term financial requirements

The upfront cost of a DAM system is usually obvious, and most companies budget adequately for that. However, ongoing costs are often overlooked. Budget for software and hardware maintenance, vendor support, and incremental storage costs as you grow your content repository.

In addition, any DAM system needs care and feeding, so budget for training of in-house technical resources and consider the inclusion on staff of an information architect who understands your information classification needs and usage patterns.

Manage the project with the care it deserves

DAM implementations are complex and tend to touch many parts of an organization. Decisions need to be made throughout the selection and implementation process that may affect various stakeholders within the organization. Failure to effectively manage the DAM project at a broad level leads to failed expectations and a solution that does not meet all of the needs of all of the interested parties. Failure to effectively plan and manage communications leads to misunderstanding of what is being done, and can even cause fear and apprehension.

Identify the stakeholders and create a steering committee (a group that represents the various stakeholders, provides project guidance and makes the tough decisions when conflict arises). Put a senior project manager in place who will track issues, risks, and the progress of the project and who will report these to the steering committee in a timely manner. Risks must be well understood. How likely is the perceived risk to come to pass? How severe is the potential impact? For every risk, there must be a risk mitigation strategy in place. Develop a communications plan and execute it so that everyone in the organization who will be affected understands what is happening and how the project is progressing.


The scope of a DAM project should include, or at least consider, the needs of the entire organization. The decisions you make now will have a long-term impact on your operations, so invest the time today to ensure that you have considered the many facets of DAM and the common pitfalls this article identifies.

And finally, there's no substitute for knowledge and experience. If you don't have the skills in-house to follow these recommendations, go outside of your organization and invest in skilled consulting services to help ensure your success in your DAM initiative. It will be money well spent.

Alan Sawyer was a business and technology strategy consultant with IBM Global Business Services, specializing in the media and entertainment industry, at the time this article was written.