Running a DAM System? Here’s an Operational Model for Success

Choosing digital asset management (DAM) software is the easiest part—onboarding users, integrating it into your existing tech stack, and weaving it into the ways of your company is when the real difficulties can begin. But those challenges are easier managed, and the value of the DAM system easier realized, if you employ an operational model as part of your DAM implementation.

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We’ve developed this approach from years of experience, working with highly varied organizations, to correctly implement and scale DAM systems. Our operational model shared here is a supported, systematic approach that isn’t included with your digital asset management software.

A DAM operational model is a method and mindset for managing and mastering your DAM system that utilizes a blended approach of program, product, and service management.

Think of your operational model as the literal roadmap toward a complete DAM implementation, long-term ease of asset management, and delivery of value to your organization. To achieve lasting success—and what we will lay out in full detail in this piece—your DAM operational model should account for the following components:

DAM implementation What does implementing these components look like in a business that has many of the same concerns and goals that you have? We’ll spell out exactly how to navigate these seven components of a DAM operational model and explain how they both build upon and interact with one another.

Table of Contents

Purpose: Defining the value of your DAM system

Everything begins with a purpose, including enterprise technology initiatives like DAM implementation. So what’s the purpose of your DAM system?

Most likely, its primary purpose is to give you a better handle on your brand assets. But dig a bit deeper and think about the larger problem or opportunity your DAM serves, and the value that it can add to your organization. There are a few key results many managers look for when adopting a DAM system: saved time and money, reduced risks, and improved new value creation.

Here’s how your DAM system achieves those goals:

Saved Time and Money

Around 48% of employees, across multiple industries, report that the constant need to search for and effectively reuse their assets hampers their productivity. With a high-functioning a DAM system in place, those employees can spend as much as 28% less time searching for assets.

Why? Because when a DAM is implemented well, finding what you need is fast, intuitive, and straightforward. With features like centralized asset storage, optimized search and browse, clear usage information, and opportunities for collaboration, employees of all skill levels can easily find and put assets to good use.

Improved New Value Creation

Adopting a DAM system can open new opportunities for content creation, distribution, and even monetization. Since your employees can more easily access approved assets, they’ll have greater confidence in what they can and can’t use, and how to appropriately caption and credit what they do use. Assets with full context—like source, subject, location, and rights (which a file store can’t provide you)—help employees gain insight and tell better stories.

Add to that, your DAM system’s reporting capabilities help you track how your content performs, giving you a true understanding of the value of certain assets. Integration with other key business technologies can enable a 360-degree view of asset investment, use, and performance.

Reduced Risk

Unmanaged assets are much easier to lose, delete, misplace, and misuse. There are measurable risks to not using a DAM system. In fact, the legal risks surrounding asset misuse can be some very expensive errors, especially for larger brands. By implementing and effectively operating a DAM system, you’re protecting the integrity of the brand and organization in many ways, all through one system.

What’s Your Purpose?

Before we go any further, remember this: Your purpose for adopting a DAM system drives how every other component in your operational model works. So what’s your purpose? This element of a systematic approach is at the core, and is important to get clarity on before you dive into implementation. Discuss your reasoning with a representative team, and maybe ask yourselves:

  • Is there a specific problem you want to solve?
  • What do you want from the investment of a DAM?
  • What value should the system deliver, and to whom?

Whatever your purpose for taking on a DAM system, be sure to keep that as your focus as you go through the long-tail process of implementation and ongoing DAM operation. Document it, post it prominently, and share it with your stakeholders. Remember, this is not a once and done exercise completed when you are first implementing a DAM system—the purpose should drive all decisions throughout the system life cycle. Purpose should have staying power, but you may revisit and revise it annually, always keeping value delivery at the forefront.

Companies with
a DAM report:

Improved brand integrity

Improved visibility of asset usage

Better version control and tracking

Better visibility of asset performance

People: The power behind the DAM’s success

The purpose of your DAM system is likely tied to both the needs of your people and the pain points of their roles. The team members a DAM serves usually fall into the following user groups:

  • Content Contributors: your team members who create new digital assets, adding brand and content assets to the DAM system directly
  • End Users: anyone in the organization who can access the DAM system, search and download assets, and create new content using those assets
  • DAM Product Managers & Asset Managers: your team who manages the DAM system and program,  defining rules of the road for the system, ensuring quality and process are maintained, and continually adding new features, content, and users.

It’s important to consider and connect each of these user groups in the DAM operational model. If any group isn’t on board, the whole DAM implementation can lose effectiveness, suffer in quality, and ultimately prevent widespread adoption. Delivering value to these users should always be a top priority for DAM system decision-making.

Conducting exploratory work with each user group sets a strong foundation for implementation and ongoing operations. Integrating and aligning the people in your organization who manage and use the DAM system to the purpose is the second step in the operating system we recommend. 

Content Contributors

You aren’t pulling assets out of thin air; you need content creators and contributors to develop and add resources to your DAM. But while creating content may be second nature for your contributors, it’s the transition to new asset processes and standards that can be a struggle for some employees.

  • Align the DAM system with the impact these users will receive. If they don’t see the value it will bring them, it can seem like a burden to participate.
  • Develop clarity for their role in the DAM system, plus training that helps them create assets according to DAM standards
  • Include these users when determining the DAM configuration and usage to ensure the system fits their workflows increase buy-in and adoption
  • Create an easy feedback loop and clear channels for handling issues, including IT support for these heavy DAM system users

End Users

Whether internal, external, or blended-it’s the end user groups and downstream apps who pull from your DAM system for use that are expecting an easy and streamlined user experience. The list of people within this group can vary widely in different organizations. For your brand, is everyone in the organization an end user, or is it more specific to certain business units and functions?

No matter how big or small your end-user community is, it is critical to help them adapt to a new asset system and adopt new processes for accessing those brand elements they need to support their work.

In general, you’ll want to prioritize the following:

  • Focus on making access and use of the DAM system as simple as possible, paying close attention to common DAM activities like free-form browsing, technical searches, and download and use rules.
  • Conduct user research early on to understand common use cases for search and browsing needs. You should have a clear understanding of what information and navigational features your end users need in order to find the right assets and use them effectively. Learn more about designing a user-driven DAM experience.
  • Consider the access needed for applications as well as the data points that need to align for integration. Make sure you have correctly gathered the requirements of these applications so you can enable proper capabilities, rules, and datasets in the DAM system

DAM Product Managers & Asset Managers

If it’s not clear by now, it’s worth clarifying that DAM systems are not plug-and-play solutions. The need people whose role it is to implement, continually monitor, and mitigate as-needed.

The functional owners of a DAM system are usually some combination of product managers–to configure and manage the application- and asset managers who manage the assets, metadata, and taxonomy. Sometimes one person can achieve this, sometimes it takes a team. Regardless, don’t expect the system to run itself. It depends on the size and scope of your DAM program, and what the breakdown of responsibilities are between user groups.

Consider hiring specific support roles for your DAM system, knowing the need to manage will only increase as you scale the solution. Establish their authority within the sphere of the DAM system, and clearly define how these roles work in conjunction with content creator, end user, and support groups.

We will continue to discuss responsibilities in the next section of a DAM operating system: governance.

Diagram showing the flow of information from Contributors, Content Creators, and Upstream Apps into DAM Program Management, then into End Users and Downstream Apps

Governance: Critical for integrity and quality

Proper governance of your DAM system can enable long-term effectiveness and sustainability. How so? The Governance portion of your DAM operational model includes your policies and standards that ensure data quality, create an effective user experience, and mitigate risks.  Essentially, it’s a systematic way to maintain the integrity of your DAM system.

There are five main components of DAM governance:

Policy Icon

1. Policies

Policies help maintain system health. You should outline your system policies into at least a few categories:

  • Collection policies: What assets are and aren’t in scope for the DAM? What formats and variations are accepted? What metadata is required upon submission?
  • Curation policies: Are all assets given equal treatment in terms of processing and metadata? What metadata is required prior to making assets accessible to end users?
  • Lifecycle management policy: How long are assets retained in the DAM system? What happens to the asset after it’s removed from the system?
Standards Icon

2. Standards

Standards assist the system’s hygiene and data quality. It’s critical to have standards defined and in place as you implement and operate your DAM system, but it is equally as important to define how to handle changes and updates that are necessary over time.

Consider developing local standards and ongoing review processes for:

  • Metadata: What fields are used and how should they be populated? Do different assets use different fields?
  • Taxonomy: What terms are used to describe the assets? How do these terms enable navigation through the DAM through search and browse features? How does the taxonomy in the DAM align with enterprise taxonomy?
  • Classification and Categorization: This is a subset of taxonomy, but a distinct question: How do you categorize and classify assets so that users can easily understand what is available in the system? How are assets grouped for easy access and proper selection for the use case they are needed for?
Permissions, Rights, and Security Icon

3. Permissions, Rights, and Security

  • Permissions: Who has access to the system? How is access granted? What functionality does each user group have access to? What assets can each user access in the system? What can they do with them? 
  • Rights: What rights information is tracked in the system? What are the different levels of access rights for various user groups? What data fields are secured to maintain asset integrity? How do you establish rights to a licensed asset?
  • Security: What enterprise security policies and systems govern access to your DAM system?
Roles and Responsibilities Icon

4. Roles and Responsibilities

The user groups we broke out earlier in the people section all should have very clear parameters. It’s critical that all continuous functions of the DAM system are monitored and supported by a specific role function. Therefore, you need highly detailed, example-based role descriptions that come with a set of standard processes, as well. 

Consider the following:

  • Who is/are the primary business owner(s) who has the authority to make strategic decisions, guide DAM administrators, and continually align the DAM system to business objectives?
  • Who are the domain stewards responsible for tactical steering, decision-making, and planning to enable strategy for different functional, content, or business areas served by the DAM system?
  • How are the responsibilities for the day-to-day operations of the DAM system defined? If multiple people, how are the roles divided?
  • How are responsibilities for asset ingest, organization, tagging, and publication delineated between content contributors and DAM administrators? 

You may opt to divide responsibilities across multiple teams or keep DAM system resources together. However you approach assigning them, make sure the responsibilities are clear.

Issue & Change Management Icon

5. Issue & Change Management

The final component of governance is establishing a protocol for issue tracking and resolution. This should involve the creation of mechanisms and tools your teams can use to identify and prioritize issues, as well as creating pathways that resolve the issue.

Protocols should also be in place for change management. A DAM system is constantly changing, growing, and scaling. How is that process managed? How are milestones planned, tracked, and executed? When users report problems and make requests, how is their feedback gathered, ranked, fixed, and reported on? How are new features validated? How frequently are new features released, and how are they communicated to users? 

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Technology: The DAM software

Let’s revisit the purpose we started with. From your purpose, you can envision what success should look like and what the users need in order to succeed. You also understand how the use of a DAM system aligns with or supports those goals.

What you don’t know is exactly how your DAM system should function to deliver on those goals. This is where the technology part of the DAM operational model comes in. Configure your DAM system such that it fulfills your purpose, the reason you took on a DAM in the first place.

How you use the technology entirely depends on your business objectives, users, use cases, and the value you want the system to deliver.

Configuring Your System

Once you have your base system, it’s time to configure it for impact. Again, your purpose and usage scenarios for the people who will be using the DAM should drive configuration. Here are seven steps to help you configure your system:

  • For each user group, determine the jobs-to-be-done that the DAM system can help fulfill.  Draft narrative and graphical scenarios that illustrate how those groups expect to interact with the system to fulfill those jobs.
  • Determine how to configure your system to best address those scenarios.
  • Configure the DAM using approaches that are as simple as possible and as complicated as necessary
  • Validate internal user acceptance by testing with a DAM implementation team.
  • Validate once more with real users.
  • Gather feedback and revise where necessary.
  • Repeat the cycle often to perfect the functional performance and user experience of the DAM system.

When you are starting a new implementation, consider which features are most important to your purpose and users, and roll those out incrementally. Start your configuration with the highest value and biggest impact features and functionality. Then, as you build on more advanced features such as workflow automation and AI enrichment, take a moment to go back to your purpose and people to ensure implementing these features will create value and impact.

Integrating Your System

Your DAM system shouldn’t be an island—it will be most successful when connected to other business systems that use and/or deliver your managed assets. But don’t overdo it; integrations can be hard to pull off and should be reserved for when they have the potential to create the most impact. 

For every integration, consider:

  • What is the expected impact of the integration?
  • What data is being shared?
  • What is the system of record for each type of data?
  • What is the direction of data flow?
  • Who is responsible for setting up the integration?
  • Who will maintain the integration as systems change?

Remember: whatever integrations you do apply, make sure they are aligned with the governance standards you established earlier.

DAM System | Tech Checklist

  • analytics
  • asset display & interaction
  • asset management
  • collaboration & personalization
  • delivery
  • export / exit strategy
  • ingest
  • integrations
  • localization
  • metadata / description
  • asset organization
  • preservation
  • search & browse
  • security
  • taxonomy
  • workflow

Process: Scale and integrate the DAM system

Along with governance, which sets boundaries and guidelines for your DAM system, you must also establish and document processes as part of your operational model. Processes can help establish trust and a sense of consistency when working with your DAM system.

Like everything else, developing your process goes back to purpose and people—usage scenarios will become workflows configured into the system. You can then create documentation that will help enable your users to fulfill them effectively.

When Should You Develop Processes?

We recommend developing a DAM process for all of the following areas to help your users correctly contribute to and utilize the system:

  • Intake and ingest
  • Work-in-progress content development
  • Review and approval
  • Asset organization
  • Asset description/terminology/tagging
  • Asset delivery and quality assurance

What Makes a Successful Process?

Successful processes should be:

  • User-centered and easy to use
  • Clear and simple
  • Able to accommodate reasonable exceptions
  • Well-known among your employees
  • Easily accessible when needed
  • Communicated in such a way that the user understands the downstream impact of their actions in the system.

Note: Many DAM systems already have workflow features that can help you automate processes. But you still have to make the key decisions to configure what the steps are, and who the players are at each stage.

Beyond processes that describe how to use the system, don’t forget processes that are about the system. For example: how are the latest updates communicated, by whom, and at what frequency? Don’t forget, your DAM system needs marketing too.

“With people in place, roles and responsibilities defined, and your DAM system configured, process becomes very important to adoption. quality and trust.”

Measurement: The key to continual DAM improvement

Those goals that are tethered to your purpose should be tracked and measured–that’s the only way you can truly know if your DAM system is delivering the expected impact. That’s why establishing key performance indicators (KPIs) and/or objectives and key results (OKRs) that are tied to ROl benchmarks as part of your DAM operational model can help you stay informed about your success.

How to Determine Baseline Measurements

Determining the ROl around certain metrics, like time savings, requires you to know the baseline of that metric. Using the cost savings example: how much time did users spend looking for an asset before your organization implemented the DAM system?

Survey your users before implementing your DAM system to understand your typical baseline measurements. Then, you can track improvements with that baseline in mind.

5 Measurements You Should Track

There are plenty of metrics you can track, but which ones should you track? This greatly depends on who you will be reporting to, and what they want to know. The metrics that interest an executive sponsor (increased business value) are likely different from those middle managers care about (increased efficiency and productivity amongst their teams). Establish KPIs according to the outcomes expected by each key stakeholder.

In addition to tracking ROl according to your KPls for stakeholders, DAM managers will want to ensure the system is performing well as it scales, the right people are using the DAM system, users are finding what they need, and time to delivery is increasing. Here are five metrics that we suggest keeping track of.

System capacity & health: Monitor the footprint of the infrastructure to understand what scale it can support. This may involve measuring:

  • Storage used
  • Number of assets
  • Assets uploaded during set time periods
  • Concurrent users

Content: To help you know how to organize and describe assets so they can be easily found and used, track:

  • Most commonly used search terms
  • Most commonly used browse terms
  • Classification performance

Asset performance: Understanding what kind of content is performing well (which may guide future content creation). You may look at:

  • Assets viewed
  • Assets downloaded
  • Assets shared/saved
  • Asset usage purpose
  • Where people have used an asset previously

Users: Which type of people are using your system (and how many)? You likely want to understand usage at both department and business unit levels. You might start by looking at:

  • Number of users
  • Logins per user
  • Downloads per user

Requests: These show where people are getting stuck and/or need additional help. Tracking requests may reveal how you can help users self-serve more easily. Measure:

  • Reference requests (difficulty finding assets)
  • Support requests and tickets (bugs and other technical issues)

Ensure that the outcome of tracking and reporting isn’t just analytics theater or leading to analysis paralysis – your governance structure should provide mechanisms to derive insights from measurement, make decisions, and take action.

Qualitative Measurement

In addition to quantitative measurement, you should also routinely gather qualitative feedback from users. Conduct regular user testing sessions to test that the system is meeting users’ expectations. Implement mechanisms that deliver regular feedback that you can use to gather specific and actionable feedback.

Continuous Improvement: Delivering Value Over Time

Continuous improvement involves setting clear goals for the DAM system to enhance ROI, consistently tracking and measuring progress, and responding proactively to measurements. It’s also about adapting to change over time and being able to pivot when it’s necessary. If your DAM operation isn’t evolving to keep up with changes in organizational strategy, advancement of technologies, new types of assets, evolving user needs and expectations, and organizational policies and workflows, its health and value will decline over time.

How effectively can you align stakeholders and team members to ensure the DAM system consistently delivers value as defined by its purpose?

Are you conducting regular evaluations and updates to maintain and enhance the operation, meeting new challenges and seizing opportunities?

For continuous improvement:

  • Define success using KPIs aligned with your DAM purpose and the organization’s vision, mission, and priorities.
  • Develop a DAM roadmap outlining key initiatives, objectives, dates, and success metrics to align your strategy.
  • Leverage the DAM roadmap to orient and align key leadership, stakeholders, and end-users, ensuring transparency for better buy-in.
  • Agree on ways of working that guide how the DAM team collaborates to maintain consistent progress toward goals.
  • Implement change management principles and practices that keep stakeholders informed, manage expectations, and enable adoption.
  • Consistently track, measure, and report progress, regularly updating the DAM roadmap to adapt to shifting priorities.

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It’s Time for Some DAM Success

If you read this operational guide fully, you are well on your way to improving your DAM system. Keep this in mind: reading and learning are always easier than execution. Bookmark this page, come back often through your journey, and keep returning to your purpose when you feel overwhelmed.

We recommend evaluating your DAM system’s operational health on a cyclical basis. The DAM will continually be asked to solve new problems, support new users and new types of assets. The DAM Operational Model framework that we’ve shared will help ensure you have a continuous process of DAM operational success.

We’ve helped a lot of big companies successfully integrate DAM systems. Often, we act as a guide along the road of uncertainty, helping to support a positive experience for your teams.