DAM Champ: Jeff Lawrence

Jeff Lawrence is the Delivery Director at Celerity, a role that includes providing guidance to companies on digital asset management (DAM) strategy, workflow, and IT governance. With a background in photojournalism and as a technology director, he has a unique perspective on digital asset workflows, systems integrations, and strategy.

Lawrence is also a member of the DAM Foundation board, a non-profit community formed to establish standards and best practices in digital asset management.

DAM champ: Someone who supports finding, setting up, or maintaining a digital asset management system (DAM). There is a wide variety of DAM champions, who come from positions in production, creative, management, IT, and marketing.

Jeff Lawrence digital asset mangementHow did you get into the DAM world?

In the early nineties, I was working as a photojournalist/editor at a newspaper wire service, and also managing and archiving digital photos. Digital photos were stored as files on shared drives and portable media (floppy disks – for the younger audience you can look it up).  As you can imagine, assets were constantly being lost and the media was easily corrupted. There was a need to archive these valuable assets.

This led to setting up the first digital asset management system, primarily as an archive system to ensure the files would not get lost.

Soon there were graphics, animations, illustrations, and just about every type of file format you can imagine being archived in the DAM. The tool had the ability to create workflows, which quickly grew into elaborate time-saving processes that made the job easier and established consistency and standardization for asset management. This was the first step in developing governance for DAM.

The workflow also quickly became a revenue generator by leveraging automation to syndicate content, which increased revenue and dramatically increased time-to-market.

“It’s funny how as much as things have changed they still stay the same. I run into clients all the time who are still storing assets on shared drives and portable media devices. This lack of governance and policies puts the company at risk and is likely costing the company money.”

Did you build your own DAM at this point or were you using a commercial technology?

The initial DAM was an early COTS product. I worked closely with the DAM vendor to enhance features and develop the tools needed to maximize return-on-investment (ROI) and bring workflow efficiencies to the organization.

When negotiating a new DAM contract, I advise my clients to find out how the vendor works with the client. Is there a way to for the customer to request new features? Does the vendor have a customer advisory board to allow the customer’s needs to be clearly heard and acted on? If the customer is already in a DAM relationship I encourage them to work closely with the DAM vendor. Find a way to get your voice heard. Actively participate in their digital roadmap by participating on their advisory board, their DAM community and speaking with their product owners.

What do clients talk to you about? Are you helping set up DAM’s or modifying them as your clients identify specific needs?

As you can imagine, every situation is unique. Some clients are just getting started and don’t have asset management system. They are still storing content in folders, so assets are dropped into shared drives or cloud storage with little to no searching capability.

There’s a risk in that practice because assets get lost. When people leave the company there are often policies about deleting personal drive folders. Any assets that were stored in the shared folder are gone forever. This costs the company time and money.

I have had the privilege of working on some highly productive/efficient workflows that can do everything from ingesting content to automatically applying metadata and notifying the appropriate team members.

These highly mature DAMs are designed to automatically distribute assets based on metadata workflow rules. This is simple: a graphic is submitted for review and is automatically routed to the graphics editor. They can also be complicated: integrating with a Content Management System (CMS) to dynamically building out content pages based on personas for a specific website visitor.

“I recommend taking the time to truly understand your needs. Spend time with your stakeholders by asking what they need to do and what they would like to do. Conduct an asset inventory. Understand what file types you need to support, how much storage you require, and the growth rate of those assets. Ask how many users will access the system and how often.”

If you already have a DAM, then find out if your current DAM will support your needs. Many DAM challenges can mitigate by leveraging existing DAM capabilities, establishing governance and providing training.

If the existing DAM does not meet your needs then you are ready to start looking for a new DAM solution. But even then, success will hinge on getting the stakeholder involved in the process and allowing the stakeholder to have input on selecting the next DAM.

Are you seeing any new trends in the DAM industry?

Interoperability between systems continues to be a major theme and for good reason. DAM is one piece of an elaborate system of tools used by companies and has the ability to integrate these systems to provide a competitive advantage. Consider how you might integrate DAM with CMS, customer relations management (CRM), business intelligence (BI), analytics, e-commerce, and many others. It’s been suggested that the DAM should also connect with other systems such as Dropbox, Flickr, and enterprise asset management tools.

In the past, DAMs have been thought of as a place to archive assets and maybe have some workflow and distribution. Understanding the value of those assets has been difficult, but now companies are realizing there is a goldmine sitting in the archives.

Interoperability should provide two-way communications that sends back metrics between assets shared on social channels and the DAM.

Leveraging analytics and BI data to understand how and where assets are being used will demonstrate the ROI value on the assets. Understanding how assets move through the assets lifecycle and what DAM users search will provide the ability to track the effectiveness of the assets. To take this idea a step further, understanding how and where assets are used will allow business rules to automatically respond to successful marketing campaigns by automatically updating assets based on trends.

What kind of workflows get integrated with a DAM?

A DAM lifecycle consists of the following major processes:

Create: The DAM lifecycle starts with the people who create the assets. These people usually work outside of the DAM system, at least initially, to create the illustrations, photos and videos. There is a need to efficiently and consistently add metadata to these newly created assets.  

Ingest workflow: These workflows allow content creators to put their assets into the DAM. Many DAM systems have workflow tools that will allow metadata to be automatically applied upon ingest. If the content creator uploads to a specific location, ingest workflows can be built to automatically apply specific metadata rules that are assigned to that workflow.

Manager workflow: These workflows are rule-based to control access, introduce efficiency, and maintain standards of asset management. Many DAMs can “automatically” enhance, manipulate, index and control access to the assets. These are all rule-based and include mechanisms such as:

  • Security through granular access controls permissions to asset
  • Transformation of assets to produce thumbnails, previews, and other desired file formats
  • Version controls to preserve the original assets
  • Control of digital asset metadata classification and standardized taxonomy
  • Audit trail of asset usage
  • Reporting
  • Integration with other systems

Distribute/syndicate: Distribution workflows allow assets to be sent from the DAM or within the DAM to a specific destination. Developing efficient distribution workflows can be one of the most effective ways to monetize your DAM’s ROI.

Archive workflow: The DAM archive strategy is more than just providing a safe and secure repository to protect assets from accidental loss and to provide an official record.  It must also include governance policies and processes to ensure the highest quality metadata to provide good performance for quickly finding and retrieving assets.  The archive must be easily accessible with an intuitive user interface that makes it utterly simple to use.

Do your clients implement DAMs first or other workflow tools first?

In some cases, they are using something as simple as Photoshop and they’re doing some note captioning with metadata being attached to those assets and dropping them into a shared drive. In other cases, they’ve already been working with some tools to enhance and put some captioning in. 

Different types of assets often have different metadata requirements. Trying to find those commonalities so that when those assets get moved and building that governance around the metadata becomes crucial. When you want to perform searches within a DAM the more consistent and predictable and “mappable” those metadata components are, the easier it will be to retrieve the desired content.

You talked about dynamically building a content library. How does a CMS system integrate with a DAM?

Most CMS’s include a light asset management system where assets can be stored, searched, and retrieved.  These systems are not designed with capabilities found in most DAMs. The best way to integrate is through an API to provide the interoperability between the CMS and DAM.

This interoperability will allow CMS content editors to perform DAM searches by using their CMS tools. Without this interoperability, editors will need to continually switch between systems to find assets to be published. There may be multiple asset management systems including: MAM for videos, one or more DAM for photos. You can start to realize how interoperability between systems can streamline workflows and increases efficiency.

Who is the key person to help integrate these systems?

The key person will be the DAM product owner a.k.a. The DAM Champion. This person will need to have a deep understanding of both the DAM system and the stakeholder needs.

“Again, spend time gathering requirements to fully understand what is needed. Take an agile approach by building out user stories. When you start implementing changes, start small and iterate as you go.  This will allow the team to demonstrate success.  Then build on that success and ROI.”

Finding ways to continually make incremental improvements by streamlining workflows and improving user experience will have a positive impact by making the users happier and more productive, reducing costs, and providing more consistent metadata.

If I’m looking at a DAM, either to get a new one or develop functionality, what are some of the questions I should ask?

Too often the reaction is, “We have a DAM, but it doesn’t do what we wanted it to do, so we need to get a replacement DAM.” I think the first question you should ask is “what are the capabilities in my current DAM that I am NOT using?”

What ends up happening is that DAMs are stood up pretty quickly, and then the thought process is “ok, it’s done.” People forget that getting a system like a DAM set up and running and getting assets ingested is only the first step.

Understand your internal customers, their business goals and needs, so you can figure out what how to improve their workflows and automate as much as possible.

Are there governance and policies that can help companies with their DAM efforts?

Establishing governance and policies for asset management is one of the keys to managing a successful DAM.

Establish processes that streamline the users’ workflow, while implementing the governance policy and providing the proper training, there will be a higher adoption rate.

For example, using automation to populate metadata based on the user profile can eliminate the amount of data that needs to be added by the user. The use of captioning templates is another example that can be used to auto-populate all the core metadata and a base caption or description. This approach will provide consistency and require the editor to only add minimal information about the asset. Pull-down pick lists provide a great way to ensure consistent data entry.

Any other advice you can share with our audience?

When you start shopping for a new DAM, make sure to spend the time gathering requirements and fully understanding your current and future needs. Often times vendors are going to try and sell a system with all the bells and whistles but it may not be necessary for your company.

Some of the features you’re just not going to need and I caution people on buying all the bells and whistles – as opposed to building a really strong foundation – can quickly ruin your DAM project.

Choosing a new vendor is a decision that the company will need to live with for many years. This is an expensive investment, so spend the time to make the right decision!


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