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Ten Core Characteristics of Digital Asset Management: Is it really a DAM?

Some people mistaken other types of systems as Digital Asset Management (DAM) systems. Vendors are sometimes guilty of this to be in the ‘catch all’, ‘we do everything’ and ‘me too’ categories. Since some claim the DAM Market will quadruple in the next few years, everyone seems to want a piece of the pie. This has caused market fragmentation which a number of DAM professionals have noted earlier.

In order to counter this issue and establish a standard, the DAM Foundation (DAMF) has released the Ten Characteristics of DAM. This is also known as the “10 Core”.

In full disclosure, the author was a board member of the DAM Foundation at the time of this blog posting and was directly involved in establishing these 10 core characteristics among other DAM professionals.

You can now test any Digital Asset Management system to be sure you have all ten (10) of these core characteristics. DAMF certifies DAM vendors whom have passed the 10 Core and lists them publicly.

What are the Ten Core Characteristics of DAM?

The Ten Core Characteristics of Digital Asset Management (DAM) according to the DAM Foundation, and since “…ratified by the DAM Foundation Board in Q4 of 2014…” are as follows:

  1. DAM systems ingest assets individually or in mass sets, and allow for the manipulation of those assets and their metadata individually or with mass actions. This is accomplished in part by assigning a unique identifier to each asset on ingest.
  2. DAM systems secure the assets they contain. Security in a DAM extends to defining access control lists (ACLs) for assets and defining roles for users accessing the system.
  3. DAM systems store assets as both binaries and metadata. A DAM system can store multiple file types, and allows for the customization of metadata fields and the metadata in those fields attached to the stored files.
  4. DAM systems render/transform assets on ingest into new forms, such as thumbnails or proxy files. The new forms generated on asset ingest via transformation should all be stored as asset parts of the original file uploaded.
  5. DAM systems enrich assets through the extension of metadata and metrics regarding the use and reuse of the asset throughout its lifecycle.
  6. DAM systems relate assets by tracking the relationships between and among an original asset and versions/variants of the original. Versioning and version control tools are central to an asset’s life in a DAM system.
  7. DAM systems regulate a structured process in the management, creation, and review of assets with workflow tools. Via programed workflows, DAMs allow for a decentralized workforce to collaborate together in a centralized system.
  8. DAM systems allow for users to find assets and to retrieve those assets by facilitating search through metadata, collections, workflows, and access control tools. By increasing the discovery of assets that may not have been easily accessible before ingest, a DAM assists workers in leveraging existing content for maximum work potential.
  9. DAM systems have a preview function that allows users to view assets before downloading or opening a file on their own device. By allowing users to take a look at assets in search quickly, without download, DAM systems reduce the amount of time users must spend in search.
  10. DAM systems produce/publish content by providing methods whereby assets may be shared, linked to, or otherwise be distributed outside the system. This DAM function may be as simple as generating a URL on ingest or as complex as allowing users to build collections of items for sharing with a work group.

You can find more details about the evolution of the ten core characteristics of DAM here.

Which DAM vendors have passed this basic test so far?

Does your DAM system of choice have all of these core characteristics? You can find out here since the DAM Foundation has made a public listing of all qualified DAM vendors “…who have demonstrated the 10 characteristics so far and have passed…” and received “…certification from the DAM Foundation…”

DAMF only lists the DAM vendors which have already taken, passed and are now certified. Note there are over 190 vendors claiming to offer DAM, as of the writing of this blog post.

If you do not see a DAM vendor listed, contact the vendor directly and ask them why they are not listed.

If the DAM vendor passed, congratulations. You have a DAM system. Now that you have the technology part, make sure you have the people, process and information necessary to have the quadfecta (yes, four parts) as described in the DAM Maturity Model. These four parts are seemingly obvious for success with DAM, however all-to-often discounted/forgotten/ignored until failure occurs and then realized some parts are missing from the equation.

A number of DAM vendors have already passed the 10 Core. Many vendors have yet to take and/or pass this test to certify their system(s) as a DAM. Not simply self-describing themselves as offering a DAM system. Not just offering ‘DAM like’ features nor ‘DAM lite’. A DAM that actually meets a standard established by DAM professionals for DAM professionals and the businesses which choose to use it.

Do you have a real Digital Asset Management system?

Did it pass the 10 Core as mentioned above?

If you need vendor neutral assistance or advice, let us know.

UPDATE: DAM Foundation is no longer active of as January 5, 2017. Regardless, the 10 core characteristics still hold true.

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What is the DAM Foundation?

The founders of started an organic group on Linkedin called the DAM Foundation. The idea behind the DAM Foundation is “bringing standards and best practice to digital asset management.”

The DAM Foundation will be an organic process. The members will help create the standards and best practice and vote in the appropriate professionals to organize the strategy and leadership.

They will tackle questions like:

  • “What is DAM?” At the time of this post, I dare you to ask 20 people (even DAM professionals) and see if you get the same definition from all of them (not likely)
  • What elements make DAM what it is?
  • How do you identify a DAM versus an imposter calling something a DAM when it is not?

Joining the DAM Foundation is easy:

  1. Sign up on Linkedin (you can join for free)
  2. Search Groups for DAM Foundation
  3. Request to join the DAM Foundation Group on Linkedin (free)
  4. Join the discussions

There will probably be an election to vote in whom you want to represent DAM and help set some industry standards in this growing field. The first president of the DAM Foundation is David Lipsey. Two DAM conferences have hosted the DAM Foundation to help progress in person.

I have volunteered to help and I would ask anyone who is involved in DAM to sign up and join. Membership is free.

What is in it for you if you join the DAM Foundation?

There will be scheduled meetings, some in person and many online. Regardless of geographic location, you will be invited as a member to join a live online group meeting to discuss pre-selected topics as well as your questions. This will help get real-time answers to pressing questions and bring these topics to light, as well as continue them offline in the blogosphere. Join and find out the details by invitation.

Why should you join the discussions on the DAM Foundation? We all have valid DAM questions to ask which deserve an unbiased answer. Whether you can provide that answer or just the question does not matter.

Even a beginner in DAM has questions worth answering which are often commonly asked questions among many DAM beginners. So why try to reinvent the wheel or guess? Gain from the knowledge base which is being built here and start asking what is on your mind about Digital Asset Management. Chances are someone has gone down that road before and found out where it leads. Learn from them.

For more information, go to their website.

UPDATE: DAM Foundation is no longer active as of January 5, 2017.


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What do I do with extinct formats?

We all have them. Extinct technology. It comes and goes. We often take it for granted. At first, we treat it like a shiny new thing and then it becomes disposable. Soon, it collects dust somewhere.

Some of this technology stores data which was acquired or created by you. Some of that data may be digital files of value or digital assets, possibly even with some metadata.  Those files may be extinct (or soon to be expired and unsupported) file formats. Some of these file format may be proprietary which may require no longer used proprietary software to run it or a much older version of software to work with it because it is simply no longer supported today.

Sometimes, this data is on extinct physical media such as:

  • Smart phones (average life span: 1-2 years)
  • Prior personal computers (we all have them…every 2-5 years)
  • Smaller external hard drives (do you copy the old data as these hard drives get bigger, cheaper and faster? Or even use cloud storage?)
  • Film (Print or Slide) bye-bye Kodachrome. Film is simply a waste of time and money today. It makes no business sense to use it. If you have film, scan it (hi-res) as needed and archive the rest. Move on.
  • Compact Disc (tic toc…how many devices have optical drives today? Less. The writing is on wall.)
  • Video tapes (pick any of 30+ flavors. Convert to digital as needed and archive the rest.)
  • Zip drives and other proprietary forms of media
  • Cassette tapes
  • Floppy discs (all)
  • 8-tracks (really old school)
  • LP (33, 45 or wax)

Most of these have two things in common: They store information in some form and they fade into history, often with this information. Technology is disposable (Our culture makes sure of it). Before the end of this decade we will be adding DVDs to the list above (and have a lot of scratched coasters) as we download or stream data.

These may still need to be migrated to a current digital form while they still can. This is not about nostalgia. It’s about retaining a historical record. Or have it forgotten and lost permanently. Everything has a life span. Even when it is digital. Not all “stuff” may need to be kept that is why it takes an evaluation or review to determine the value, the feasibility and options available.

The simple answer to the question “What do I do with extinct formats?” is evaluate and migrate what is needed/wanted at least every 5 years.

Don’t believe me? Listen to this podcast.

What do you do with extinct formats?

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What is Digital Asset Management (DAM)?

Depending who you ask, you will get a different answer to the question, “What is Digital Asset Management (DAM)?”

There are plenty of unrelated answers found, about water reservoirs and feats of aquatic engineering. There is even an entry for “dam (dekameter)”. Umm, not really what we are talking about here, but thank you Wolfram|Alpha

In all seriousness, here is a list of answers to the question in their own words (click on each link):

So how do we get consensus on one definition? Can’t we just all get one definition for DAM? Does DAM vary that much? Do we need a broad enough definition that covers what DAM was before, what it is today and what it is becoming? Should there be a simple broad definition to understand the concepts and then more complex definitions to understand the various parts of the solution?

This discussion starts with unity among the DAM professional community. In September 2010, there were two DAM conferences back to back in different cities. Most of the top active minds in the ‘DAM-osphere’ were present. The issue is you could ask every DAM professional the same question and you would likely get a different definition from each person. Or they would ask you to reference xyz.


So how do we fix this? One solution is to set standards going forward. Someone told me ‘the interesting thing about standards is everyone has their own.’ Where is the standards body which creates these standards and hashes out what it really is? Sure, there are well accepted standards bodies. Just to list a few, there are:

The issue is these standards bodies move slowly when establishing standards. It can take 5 to 15 years to set a standard. Does anything change within that period of time?

There is one group which DAM professionals may have heard of already.

Enter the DAM Foundation. Yes, that’s right. There is one. And their major purpose for existence?

DAM Foundation. Creating the standards in Digital Asset Management

It has hundreds of members from DAM professional community already. You will hear more about it in the coming months. I have spoken to plenty of DAM professionals who would love to hash this out together… not individually. A standard accepted by the whole can trump the standard mentioned from one.

Meanwhile, we can continue the discussion…

What is your definition of Digital Asset Management?

Input interpretation:

dam (dekameter)