Digital Asset Management, or DAM, systems essentially provide a process (and, of course, related software and technology) that is used by enterprises to create, organize, store and retrieve rich media files and manage digital rights and permissions with ease.
DAM solutions are most commonly used to do things like store rich media assets such as images/photos, video, graphics, videos, podcasts and really any multimedia content and control access to those assets. For the most part, and for most enterprises, the benefits of DAM stop there (and for many, that's enough). Others however, have more sophisticated needs and DAM helps get the job done.
Through these systems, digital assets can be stored in an archive of sorts and take advantage of a rather robust infrastructure which supports search, allowing users to identify, locate and ultimately access the aforementioned assets. Really, it's a database with some very unique functionality; functionality which is important to the workflow of marketers, designers and pretty much everyone involved and interested in the user experience (particularly the digital one) of customers, employees and even partners.
A DAM systems enables an enterprise to control and manage their digital assets through the digital lifecyle - including the creation, management, distribution and preservation of those assets. Users can use (download or upload), annotate, catalog, store and share those assets, comment on the assets in a centralized location, allow or grant access to specific users, maintain multiple versions in one repository, include usage guidelines and even provide access to archived materials.
What really separates one DAM offering from the next is often how they handle the metadata association with assets - metadata essentially being the "language" of your DAM system and is defined as "information that describes and defines an asset," or "data about data." Metadata can be descriptive, like title, author/creator, creation date or keywords; it can be structural, referring to the format or dimensions; or it can be administrative, giving important information on digital asset usage guidelines and copyrights. Metadata is important because it contains key information about your digital assets. Good metadata allows you to easily pinpoint specific assets during a search.
Each DAM system differs in the way it organized metadata - from text fields, to drop-down menus, to palettes and checkboxes. When deciding on a DAM system, it's important to think about your approach to metadata and how you want to develop a metadata schema in order to evaluate vendor offerings. Some systems come with pre-set metadata fields, while others allow you to customize and create your own.
Its role in today's enterprise is proving essential. DAM offerings are actually now increasingly being incorporated directly into content management (as well as ecommerce) systems and have quickly become an integral part of business as they enable the assembly and organization of pretty much everything - from rich media assets to text documents, even email and spreadsheets.
These solutions are not going to ease every burden of managing digital assets, but they are being adopted because they serve a very practical purpose and that alone makes closer examination of the opportunity these systems provide.