Version control and DAM systems

Version Control & Digital Asset Management

Version control is a phrase that’s well known with creatives and software developers. It’s also something that digital asset management (DAM) systems can make more efficient, accurate, and easy. Even if you’re a small business that handles modest amounts of digital assets, DAM software with version control abilities can help you keep your assets organized and accessible.

Having multiple versions of the same file can quickly get confusing, especially when changes between versions may be minor and file sizes and production dates are similar. In this article, we’ll define and explain version control, discuss different ways that DAM systems address it, and provide some questions you might want to ask when you talk to DAM providers.

What is version control?

Version control in a DAM system allows you to upload multiple files with the same name in the same location — keeping the most recent upload at the forefront and still allowing easy access to the older versions. It lets you efficiently and effectively store and retrieve multiple versions of the same digital asset in a DAM system. In many systems, functionality exists that allows you to easily upload a new version.

Versioning is much more than adding “V1” or “V2” to the filename of an illustration, for example. Without version control, this old-school solution is notorious for overwriting important versions of an asset, or simply becoming akin to a huge garbage heap of digital assets, making it very difficult to find what you’re looking for in your DAM system. And once you do find the right asset, it might be unclear if it’s the latest or final.

Here’s an example of what versioning looks like in a digital asset management system:

Screenshot of versioning on an asset in a digital asset management system

As you accrue multiple versions of a digital asset within your DAM system, they form what’s called a repository. Versions will be tracked unobtrusively in the background, but can be easily accessed when necessary. Typically, the final or most recent version of an asset appears and allows easy access to previous versions and the information that goes along with them, like timestamps, metadata, and a history of versions.

In an ideal system, you can preview previous versions of images, videos, and documents directly in the DAM system without downloading.

Workflow, use cases, and how versioning can help

If you’ve read any of our other posts or looked at the Knowledge page, you might know that we are advocates for knowing your digital asset management needs and developing use cases based on them. The use cases, or user scenarios, will help you develop your ideal workflow and allow you see how DAM systems will address your organization’s specific issues when you talk to and demo with providers.

It’s no different with versioning. If you’ve had problems with versioning in the past, they can make for natural use cases. Common issues are multiple people editing the same version at one time or an older version of an asset being used in printed or web materials.

Making sure that the most recent version of an asset is being used is possible in different ways. Some DAM systems allow a user to “check out” an asset at a time to let other users know it’s being worked on. Other systems ensure that versions are inaccessible by changing the permissions on them or putting them in a different asset group so they cannot be downloaded.

Closing permissions on a version that’s “under construction” provides the same service as checking it out. When talking to digital asset management providers, it’s important to ask them how their system handles access to older versions or assets that are currently being worked on.


Before we conclude, we’d like to list a handful of important version control questions to ask vendors when evaluating DAM systems:

  • Is version control available?
  • What is the unique identifier and is it automatic?
  • How is important information, like user history, date stamp, and metadata, shared for each version?
  • Can users quickly access previous versions and review a preview along with history and metadata?
  • Can assets be marked as checked out to support our creative workflow?
  • Can previous versions be permissioned to only specific user groups?
  • What kind of training and support does the DAM software vendor provide?

As you move closer to making your final choice, keep in mind that understanding the functionality you need to match your desired workflow is important to know before you talk to DAM vendors. If they understand your needs, they can show you what kind of versioning capabilities they have to meet them. Of course, this applies to all areas of digital asset management: metadata, taxonomy, asset type, and number and type of users.

More info

For more resources that will help you on your DAM journey, please visit our Knowledge page. It includes resources on DAM ROIs, RFDs, and RFPs, as well as many other DAM-centric topics.

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