What is digital asset management?

Digital asset management or DAM is both a business process and a form of information management technology.

According to TechTarget, DAM is “a business process for organizing, storing and retrieving rich media and managing digital rights and permissions. Rich media assets include photos, music, videos, animations, podcasts and other multimedia content.”(1)

DAM also refers to software and systems (DAMs) that help perform the process. Digital Asset Management News, says these systems “centralize assets and establish a systematic approach to ingesting assets so they can be located more easily and used appropriately.”(2)

What are digital assets?

As the definitions indicate, digital assets often are, or are closely associated with, rich media or multimedia files — graphics, photography, audio recordings, video and other media-based formats. The files tend to be very large. An uncompressed full quality audio recording is estimated to eat up about 17 MB per minute.(3) They also carry some type of intrinsic, extrinsic or transactional value for their holders. For example:

  • An advertising agency’s graphic, photographic, textual and video files associated with an ad campaign
  • Sony/ATV’s half of The Beatles catalog of music
  • Getty Images’ library of images

Digital assets, however, do not always conform to the media category — think of a computer-aided design (CAD) file containing all the blueprints and specifications for a building. In fact, digital assets can hold everything from data collected from Internet of Things (IoT) devices like traffic sensors and cameras to big data collections derived from social media interactions.

How does digital asset management work?

The process of digital asset management begins with creating the digital content either by creating it in a digital format or by encoding it digitally through processes like image or text scanning or digital audio recording.

From there, some type of indexing needs to be done so that the file or asset becomes uniquely identifiable within an asset inventory. This is typically done with metadata tags that offer further information, details or description about the asset. For example, the metadata for The Beatles song “Love Me Do” might be something like: The Beatles, Love Me Do, October 5, 1962, written by John Lennon, Paul McCartney, produced by George Martin, catalog number, etc. The metadata can also capture rights, permissions and pricing for a digital asset. The indexing or affixing of metadata is critical. It makes the asset available, findable, retrievable, usable, sellable, in short, manageable.

Once indexed, a digital asset can be put to work as part of business processes. A graphic designer may call up several images as part of their design process. A museum may agree to sell or license some of the digitized images from its collection. The assets become part of workflows to accomplish business tasks with the DAM system tracking how, when, where and which assets were accessed, changed and applied.

As part of these workflows, assets take on their own lifecycle. For instance, the designer may make alterations to an image to better suit a layout. This is where version control is needed. As the designer makes changes, a new file will need to be created, stored and indexed.

But what if the designer is only a junior designer, and isn’t allowed to alter core catalog images? A DAM system can provide access and editorial controls to help govern the asset’s lifecycle and keep the system free of corruptions and unwanted proliferation or elimination of assets.(4)

Setting up digital asset management in the cloud

Discover a recipe for establishing cloud-based DAM. Ingredients, directions and a few additional tips to keep in mind.

Evolution of digital asset management

The origins of DAM can be traced back to the printing, publishing and advertising professions and the dawn of desktop publishing. These forces converged in the late 1980s to take advantage of the ability to digitize text, graphics and photography. The result was files of unstructured information that wouldn’t fit neatly into the rows and columns of current databases. Too big for most internal hard drives, these files were written to removable or external media — and somebody likely placed a label on them: “Feb layouts 2-25-89.” (The first metadata tag?) The level of file management was limited to simple, hierarchical files and folders.

Soon disks were piling up and files going missing. In 1992, Canto Software released Cumulus. Said to be the first DAM system (there were others such as Xinet), the first version was an on-premises, stand-alone solution. It featured thumbnail previewing, but more importantly, it delivered metadata indexing and search capabilities. Fashioned as self-contained digital libraries, early DAMs could store assets in one, centralized place and make them findable, verifiable and retrievable.(5)

But not shareable. Later in the 1990s and into the 2000s server-based DAMs appeared and paved the way for the ability to share files over the internet. Soon, the cloud offered another way to store, manage and distribute digital assets. The isolated library model faded, and more connected, socialized and accessible DAMs emerged.(6)

Today, DAMs represent integrated libraries able to deliver content to a variety of devices, systems and repositories. Application programming interfaces (APIs) enable assets to plug into different applications and requirements quickly and efficiently. Artificial intelligence capabilities are embedded into more advanced DAMs to intelligently tag and cross-reference assets — and anticipate content needs and make recommendations to users.

Redefine digital media strategy around data

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Why is digital asset management important?

Both consumers and businesses find value in some programmatic way to organize, find, share and use digital content. Online services like Flickr, Bandcamp or even more generalized services such as Dropbox or Google Drive make it easier for consumers to store and manage their digital files. For businesses — both large and small — the importance of DAM comes down to practical business benefits and considerations:

Productivity: Searching for files — or the right versions of files — can consume hours of an employee’s time. And if one employee can’t locate a file, they will soon ask another.

Process efficiency: As with AI-embedded DAM, digital assets are not isolated, they are part of business workflows. Professionals can more easily locate the assets they need, integrate them into processes and help ensure that the right assets are used in the right places in more streamlined and automated ways.

Storage efficiency: As centralized repositories, DAMs can take advantage of cost and space-efficient storage techniques. For example, a key approach for reducing storage costs is leveraging data reduction technology, which enables storing more data in the same amount of physical storage capacity. IBM® storage solutions can apply data reduction to existing storage from over 440 different systems. This approach can help extend the life of existing assets and may avoid the need to purchase more storage.

Protection of rights and permissions: By applying rules and governance as part of the system, DAMs can act as keepers and guardians of valuable digital assets. This capability is vital not only for transactions, but also to protect the intrinsic value of branded and trademarked assets.

Compliance: Licenses, legal documentation, archives and other assets can play key roles in meeting industry-driven or governmental regulatory compliance demands. The ability to organize and rapidly retrieve these materials can save organizations time and effort, as well as mitigate the disruption of core business processes.

Zenfolio manages 2 billion images with IBM Cloud Object Storage

With tens of thousands of subscribers regularly uploading photos and HD videos, Zenfolio’s on-premises storage infrastructure was becoming time-consuming to manage, difficult to scale and was fast approaching capacity. Making the move to the IBM Cloud unlocked practically limitless scalability and will save the company up to USD 1 million over the next three years.

Key features of effective digital asset management

Whether thought of as a process or a system, effective digital asset management should:

Support asset lifecycle and user roles: Some DAMs offer tools to create the content they manage. Regardless of how assets are acquired, an effective DAM should support its content from creators to consumers — and across all types of user roles. Whether the user is a content creator, creative executive, line-of-business user or content distributor or publisher, the DAM should present a single interface tuned to user tasks across workflows. File routing can be automated and interfaces personalized — and functionality matched to user roles. In addition, reporting should be available to help business and IT managers track activity and improve workflows.

Integrate, not isolate: In many cases, a digital asset management system is incorporated with other systems. This is largely thanks to open architectures and support for APIs. An effective DAM system will need to integrate and interoperate with a range of both legacy repositories and modern applications. Departments from legal to human resources (not just marketing and publishing) will need to be able to access and use the DAM to optimize its value.

Offer flexibility coming in and flexibility going out: An effective approach to digital asset management must consider where digital content comes from and where it is going. Content is being generated and derived from an almost limitless and ever-expanding network of sources, from the latest smartphone to the dustiest e-mail archive. Conversely, DAMs must offer accessibility and deliver content to a range of destinations, devices, formats and consumers. They need to support not just multimedia files, but also electronic documents, scanned and digitized document images, electronic forms and virtually any other large, unstructured data files.

Provide a strong infrastructure and backbone: While a lot of the attention with DAMs is focused on assets and content; it doesn’t pay to overlook the physical storage and file transfer infrastructure. Storage systems for DAMs will need to be scalable and flexible. They should also be extremely reliable, deliver high performance to support large files, and offer redundancy and recoverability to protect valuable assets.

Two storage approaches to consider are:

  • Cloud-based storage enables applications to upload data to a network of remote, connected servers. DAM applications can then maintain that data and access it from anywhere using web-based APIs. Cloud-based storage offers accessibility, off-site recovery and cost reduction.
  • Software-defined storage places software in the data path between the application and the storage device. This offers a level of virtualization and independence of storage devices to optimize utilization of storage resources.

File transfer is also critical. If DAMs need to be connected and integrated, efficient, reliable and cost-effective file transfer is a must. IBM Aspera® offers time-critical transport of digital assets and data sets, such as high-definition broadcast videos and high-quality advertising footage, to many global endpoints. A cloud-based version of IBM Aspera can quickly and reliably move and share files and data sets of any size and type across a hybrid cloud environment — up to hundreds of times faster than FTP and HTTP.

Digital asset management resources

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IBM Software-Defined Storage Guide

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Digital asset management solutions

IBM Cloud Object Storage

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IBM Aspera on Cloud

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IBM Aspera Connect

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1.digital asset management (DAM), Margaret Rouse, TechTarget, January 2017

2.Digital Asset Management, Digital Asset Management Glossary,

3.What is Digital Asset Management (DAM)? Sareesh Sudhakaran, wolfcrow, March 17, 2013

4.Digital asset management, Wikipedia

5.The Evolution of Asset Management: From Disk to DAM (Part 1 of 2), Bill Covington, IO Integration, February 13, 2018

6.A (Very) Short History of Digital Asset Management (DAM), Digimarc Guardian