Digital Asset Management Education Experts

Special Report: Buying Corporate DAM Systems: A Manager's Guide To Procurement Best Practices

This report offers purchasing and procurement tips for managers involved in decisions about selecting a DAM system. Also included is an example RFP with questions that specifically relate to Digital Asset Management.

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Enterprise Digital Asset Management: A Guide For IT Professionals

Practical advice for IT professionals on issues from systems integration to the IT infrastucture requirements for Digital Asset Management.

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Video Digital Asset Management: 12 Crucial Points For Marketers

Marketing managers are invited to consider 12 crucial points that will determine the success or failure of a web video archive.

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The Four Cornerstones of Digital Asset Management

This article explains Daydream's methodology for analysing Digital Asset Management requirements and how we use four cornerstones: Assets, Metadata, Workflow and Permissions to help define and prioritise client implementations.

When organisations first realise they need a Digital Asset Management solution, as with most software projects, the scope of what is included tends to increase as more people become involved and new requirements get added into the mix. This is especially true in large businesses with lots of staff, business units and suppliers where there are competing demands for "must have" functionality and stakeholders are eager to divert the emphasis of a solution towards their own needs.

To avoid implementing solutions that fail to meet their expected ROI due to one or more fundamental poor decisions, organisations need to focus on the core architectural elements of their DAM system. In this article, we aim to present a methodology we call: "The Four Cornerstones of DAM" which has helped us to achieve that objective for our clients.

Assets + Metadata + Workflow + Permissions = Digital Asset Management

The four elements that our methodology is composed of are:

Each provides a cornerstone of a Digital Asset Management strategy and they should all integrate to provide both stability and versatility.

We have found that by focusing on each of these cornerstones we can plan a solution that provides long term value to the business and offers a framework to introduce the numerous competing requests for features. While there are frequently other sub-requirements that can appear to be as significant as the four areas mentioned above, if the solution adequately addresses these, the rest tend to be manageable over the lifetime of the system.


We start by asking, what assets does the business think they need to manage and why? When assessing requirements we aim to get an end-to-end overview of every kind of asset that the DAM will need to hold and assess the relative importance of each type. In many cases, there will be one or two classes of assets such as images, videos, documents, artwork etc. where the need for a management system is more pressing for one reason or another. The focus in the early stages is on making sure the asset types that are more crucial are covered first as this will produce the biggest ROI in the shortest timeframe. We also want to have in place a plan for ensuring full coverage and capability to meet changing needs is fully considered. Often this means trying to be one step ahead of the usage requirements, so if a client says they "won't ever require video" (for example), we interpret that as "video not a priority at this time".

Asset storage, processing and logistics are also crucial to a DAM implementation plan. This includes questions like where they are held currently, who originates or supplies them, how they are delivered if supplied externally and what processing or treatment is applied. Based on an assessment of what assets that business needs to care about most, numerous other sub-requirements will emerge, such as whether proxy (preview) assets are required and how they will be generated, what formats are used etc. We are looking to gain an appreciation of the current asset supply chain as this informs the workflow processes required along with who or how assets will be catalogued and used.


Metadata mainly comes into play in two key areas: cataloguing and searching. These two activities can conflict with each other in terms of their impact on productivity and the staff time required to carry them out. Most of the initial focus on Digital Asset Management is the benefit from searching - being able to find assets. There's a swift realisation, however, that getting to that point will incur time and cost that the vendor can't necessarily do much about other than to streamline the cataloguing process as much as possible.

To get good quality search results that enable assets to be located quickly and easily, metadata cataloguing must be carried out diligently and with some appreciation of the needs of searchers on the part of the cataloguer. This productivity gain for the searcher will come at a cost for the cataloguer in the form of more in terms of time spent thinking about the most appropriate tags and metadata to use and checking that descriptions are accurate and meaningful.

In systems where the taxonomy, general metadata structures and cataloguing interface have not been adequately considered, cataloguers will often employ tactics such as putting the bare minimum of data or copying large sections across assets without concern for relevance. This is the Garbage In Garbage Out paradox that all information systems (including DAM systems) are susceptible to. It is possible to partially defray the worst effects of this with training, but the fundamental problem remains and in large companies, staff turnover will eventually mean the issue eventually resurfaces again when the trained employees are gradually replaced.

The skill when considering metadata for Digital Asset Management systems is enhancing the metadata capture process so that the most important descriptive metadata is obtained with the minimum of effort for cataloguers while retaining a rich and powerful search facility for asset users. An effective metadata strategy for DAM requires either a taxonomy or other controlled vocabulary that ensures that there is some structured basis to provide meaning to assets so they can be searched for and understood when found. By carefully evaluating the assets, the organisational culture and characteristics of the business as well as the other factors (especially workflow) it is possible to devise taxonomies and metadata capture facilities that reduce the impact of the trade-offs discussed above.


In the context of Digital Asset Management, workflow means what happens to an asset when a particular event occurs. Although there may be many others, the two most important events are likely to be ingestion (uploading & cataloguing) or usage approval (downloading).

Workflow process models need to cover who has responsibility for making a decision when a workflow event occurs, for example, a user wants to download an asset which is restricted. The trade-off with workflow is maintaining controls without developing bottlenecks in the asset supply chain. If the controls are too restrictive, few people will make it to the end point of a workflow and the system will be abandoned. In high pressure scenarios users will simply go back to maintaining personal asset silos and emailing each other files - they are also unlikely to return to a system once they have been forced to give up on it because it fails to give them what they need in a timely fashion. Similarly, considerations such as how the workflow design handles unconventional scenarios (e.g. a member of staff being on holiday) all need to be carefully evaluated and risks/opportunities methodically assessed.


This is variously referred to as rights, restrictions and privileges but it all comes down to the same question: who can do what to assets, metadata or workflows and under which combination of circumstances. Permissions in DAM systems (and many other IT applications) are for the most part all about managing business risk. All DAM systems that are used by more than one person need a permissions framework that has to be either compatible with the needs of the business or capable of being adapted with the necessary configuration. Permissions relate closely to workflow and the line between the two can blur quite frequently, but it is essential to understand and appreciate the difference.

The key to effective asset permissions model is a balance where the controls are targeted to the areas that genuinely need it. There is often a big temptation to either lock everything down or not have any controls at all. Both of these are usually because the effort of thinking about segmenting assets according to their sensitivity can be demanding and fraught with internal political minefields. In both cases, however, it is impossible to avoid a negative outcome of one kind or another whether it is user abandonment or the potential risks of assets being used inappropriately (e.g. copyright breaches).

An effective permissions framework has to be at least capable of being adapted to meet more sophisticated business requirements - including all those inconvenient real world scenarios where one department or business unit needs to have their permissions set up slightly differently to everyone else.


While it is true that there are other considerations which can impact upon the success of a DAM system such as training, change management and support, if the four elements described are not skilfully managed and integrated then the system stands a limited chance of success whatever is done to try and get users to engage with it.

Does this mean that these areas should not be considered? Absolutely not, improving take-up rates by say 10% can mean hundreds or thousands of additional users and correspondingly large improvements in ROI, however, the factors described and the early architectural decisions that they require will contribute more to both user adoption rates and any productivity gains that can be achieved as a result.

For every major project Daydream becomes involved in, we use the four cornerstones as the basis to identify the client's requirements and balance the competing needs of different departments against the results of our findings. We have found almost without exception that it provides us with the vast majority of the essential information required to commence a Digital Asset Management implementation and ensure long-term success.

Where can I find out more?

This report (available on request) covers more detailed information about metadata management for DAM: Metadata Management Strategies for Marketing Based Digital Asset Management.

Digital Asset Management Glossary
A glossary explaining many of the terms commonly used in Digital Asset Management.

DAM reports and resources
Our repository of reports, articles and related resources.

Our own Digital Asset Management Blog with opnion and news about Digital Asset Management subjects.

About the Author

Ralph Windsor is a senior partner in digital asset management implementation consultants, Daydream. He has nineteen years experience of delivering DAM and content technology solutions acquired as a developer, project manager and consultant working with global clients such as WS Atkins, Major League Baseball, BNP Paribas and The British Museum.

To find out more about Daydream and our service, please email or telephone us on: +44 (0)20 7096 1471.