What is digital asset management?

Digital asset management (DAM) is both a business process and a form of information management technology. Many organizations need a centralized place where they can access their media assets. A DAM solution can efficiently store, organize, manage, access and distribute an organization’s digital assets.

DAM can also refer to the software and systems that help perform the process. The software establishes a systematic approach to organizing and retrieving the assets.


Digital asset management using an IBM solution

Get a better understanding of what DAM is all about by watching this example of how it can be used by online retailers.

Types of digital assets

Media assets can include photos, music, videos, animations, podcasts and other rich media and multimedia content. The files tend to be very large and carry some type of intrinsic, extrinsic or transactional value for their holders:

  • 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 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. The metadata can also capture rights, permissions and pricing for a digital asset. Proper metadata makes the asset available, findable, retrievable, usable, sellable and manageable.

Once indexed, a digital asset becomes 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 establish permissions to govern the asset’s lifecycle — protecting it from theft and accidental corruption or erasure of the asset.


Benefits of digital asset management

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. These solutions, such as flash storage, 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.


Digital asset management — past, present and future

The emergence of desktop publishing in the late 1980s allowed printers, publishers and advertisers to digitize text, graphics and photography. Too big for most internal hard drives, these files were transferred to external media with simple metadata labels. They were placed in simple, hierarchical files and folders.

In 1992, Canto Software released Cumulus — one of the first DAM systems. It was an on-premises, stand-alone solution featuring thumbnail previewing, metadata indexing and search capabilities. While early DAM solutions made assets findable, verifiable and retrievable, files were still not easily shareable. By the early 2000s, server-based DAMs allowed files to be shared over the internet. Shortly thereafter, cloud storage offered another way to store, manage and distribute digital assets.

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.

Soon it will be common for Artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities to be embedded into DAMs — intelligently tagging and cross-referencing assets — including video recognition. Already IBM’s Watson Video Enrichment program can analyze video streams using deep learning technologies and the IBM Blockchain Platform ensures greater DAM security.

DAM systems will be able to anticipate content needs and make recommendations to users. With these marketing tasks being compressed into minutes, organizations can better take advantage of the immediacy of social media – marketing events in near real time with the hope of activities going viral.


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: An effective DAM should support its content from creators to consumers and across all types of user roles. It should present a single interface tuned to user tasks across workflows. File routing can be automated, interfaces personalized — and functionality matched to user roles. 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 — 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 and going: Content is being generated and derived from an almost limitless and ever-expanding network of sources. 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: Do not 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.

Fast and efficient file transfer is also critical. For instance, 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.


UFC uses IBM Aspera for DAM

See how the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) uses digital delivery to pull existing content from venues all over the world and deliver it to more than 150 international partners.


Digital asset management resources

IBM Aspera FASP High-Speed Transport

Discover an innovative bulk data transport technology that can provide an optimal alternative to traditional TCP-based transport.

IBM Software-Defined Storage Guide

With a focus on software-defined storage and IBM offerings, this guide also provides use cases that cover different client needs, proposed solutions and results.

Cloud computing news for storage

News and insights to optimize storage for digital assets and more.

Digital asset management solutions

IBM Cloud Object Storage

Store practically limitless amounts of data, simply and cost effectively.

IBM Aspera on Cloud

A hosted service to quickly and reliably move and share your files and data sets of any size and type across a hybrid cloud environment.


IBM Aspera Connect

Enable high-speed, browser-based file transfers to and from IBM Aspera clients and web applications.