DAM Champ: Gabe Ables

DAM champ Gabriel Ables is a digital asset and creative operations subject matter expert and has designed, developed, and implemented rich media data management and workflow solutions. He recently led the Digital Asset Management (DAM) team for the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). During his BSA tenure, he managed collaborative production workflow systems, short- and long-term data storage, and supported systems after project completion for continuous improvement.

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

DAM champ Gabriel AblesWhat is your role in supporting or organizing a DAM project?

I led the implementation of Adobe Experience Manager (AEM), as a senior project manager, starting in the fall of 2016, which included moving almost a million photographs and metadata from a previous vendor’s content management system (CMS) to AEM-Assets. After the content was transferred, AEM initially configured and tested, we rolled out Assets to the users of the previous system. Following that initial training, I described that we moved from a project and became a digital asset management department.

How long have you been doing DAM or been responsible for the DAM system?

Counting my tenure as the product owner of our previous vendor’s system, four years.

Is your background in library science or is it more on the creative side?

My background has been in the IT and creative operations side. In various roles in the printing industry and, more so, at the BSA I have been supporting creative teams with workflow systems and file storage solutions.

How did you find out about DAM systems as a way to deal with digital assets?

Before I began working with our previous creative vendor and their system, we had Cumulus at the BSA. Sunsetting Cumulus and moving that content into the vendor’s CMS was part of the primary focus of their initial technology roadmap. I began my study of DAM systems then and quickly realized our vendor was trying to develop an intranet-based CMS into a DAM on our dime. This experience of asking for basic DAM functionality and working through their software development cycle taught me a tremendous amount about DAMs, best practices, and industry standards.

How did you interact with DAM and digital assets in your day to day?

I worked with the team daily wearing multiple hats as scrum master for our month-long agile sprints to move along our user stories and consistently deliver increments of value to our end users. As product owner, I prioritized the work we did, and as team leader, established current DAM standards and best practices to the BSA.

What would you say are the top one or two areas of responsibility and ownership that make you proud to be a DAM champ?

I am most proud that I brought modern DAM standards and practices to a content-rich organization that has been slow to meet the needs of end users and membership. I led our team with a focus on enabling digital teams and moving from print-centric workflows, and in some instances this required change management of 20-year-old practices. We implemented first-level governance, established goals and measurements, began tracking our maturity, and maintained focus on what’s most important to the BSA and end users.

“It was important to me that our work centered on the needs of the end user. Improving the search experience and the workflows for renditions so an end user quickly found what they needed in the right format is what drove me and my team.”

Why is DAM so important?

I believe DAM is the epicenter of all digital transformation work. It is that sturdy foundation, when done right, that makes everyone’s job easier to quickly bring value and solutions to end users and customers. The DAM team brings governance, procedures, standards and are change management leaders for an often disorganized creative community. An organized DAM strategy can greatly affect the investment a company makes in the creation of its intellectual property. Many IT and marketing managers don’t realize how important established DAM practices are to maximize these technology investments until they hear the success stories and see the data collected on system usage.  

What’s the best thing about DAM — your DAM or any DAM? What’s the thing you think of when you talk with somebody who doesn’t know DAM? What’s the best thing about it?

When I explain to people what I do, I explain that their streaming TV experiences are based on DAMs and that I helped put those valuable rich-media resources at the fingertips of our end users with a search as easy as their experience with Netflix or Google.

I think that DAM can deliver that update once, publish many dream that many in our industry have sought. DAM can bring organizational thought around your company’s greatest investments — its intellectual property and people. If you can protect your investment, reuse it versus recreate it, and bring value and ease to your end users or creative community, you have done a heck of a lot with one system.

DAM can deliver all of this and more with a roadmap that is funded and backed so that a level of maturity can be reached to show the value and ROI in the technology and effort. We live in an immediate-gratification world, but curating a collection of rich media content that meets changing needs of the end users takes time and consistent leadership. DAM leaders are seeing one story after another about how to secure backing and gain a following to make them successful. You will need to work hard to realize the greatest things about DAM due to these internal challenges.

What’s your biggest challenge as a DAM champ?

The biggest challenge is securing and maintaining executive management backing and funding for implementation partners, contractors, and team positions. The greatest hurdles are internal and adjusting to the changing course of management versus the needs of your end user community.

What advice would you give to people who are trying to get a DAM system in their organization?

My advice for those trying to get a DAM system is to find multiple influencers and executive management backers to support you and believe in the vision. This way, if one c-level supporter leaves, you have others that still support the plan. It is important that one of those influential supporters becomes your product owner and that they own the responsibility of prioritizing your team’s work.

“It is important to celebrate the end user by delivering value to them at every chance that you have.”

Understand that you have to show early value for the robust investment in the DAM/web content management platform, and that value needs to be felt by end users. Build a coalition of followers by simply giving good customer service, practicing servant leadership, and using the words of your end users throughout all of your endeavors. Gather the needs of your end users in an organized way, let your product owner decide on the prioritization of what you work on and consistently deliver content and features. I recommend you never stop engaging your end users in the process. Include them in your testing, continuous improvement and let them determine when you are done.


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