The Worst Way to Measure DAM ROI


When it comes to digital asset management ROI, are you asking the right questions?

I was recently asked by Metadata for Content Management reader, Niels Nielsen, about content management and DAM ROI (return on investment). Niels was understandably skeptical about claims he’d read on websites that measure ROI in terms of time savings to individuals.

You know the drill:

DAM saves each staff member 243 hours per week, which multiplied by 653 weeks in each year, results in an annual savings to the company that nearly offsets the time wasted in staff meetings.

There’s usually an infographic to go along with the nonsense for those who find DAM ROI articles important enough to share on social media, but not interesting enough to actually read.

The “saves your employees x hours per week” rationale is about as close to pure fiction as I can imagine. Worse, it misses the entire point to DAM and content management, which has never been to make the lives of individuals easier. The management of digital content is all about protecting an organization’s investments while reducing its exposure to liability.

My employer sells DAM systems and I’m the first to admit that using a DAM provides me with absolutely zero personal time savings. In fact, it slows me down because, once I have created new content, I then have to add that content to the DAM, add metadata and, if I plan to share that content or use it on a website, I have to generate a link from the DAM that I can paste wherever.

It would all be faster for me if I just stored all the files I need locally.

And there you have the inherent problem with the “saves staff time” argument. The benefits of carefully managing content should not be calculated as benefits to an individual, but as benefits to the organization as a whole. For example, you don’t have access to the files on my computer, so my convenience is your hinderance. And when you come asking me for those files, it becomes a shared hinderance.

But who cares?

Our company will start to care only when my productivity starts to wane because all I do is send files to people. Even then, though, I’ll likely be reprimanded for poor performance long before anyone starts thinking we need a DAM. The need won’t become serious for our company until the threat of not having a proper content management initiative in place becomes real.

Here are my favorite horror scenarios to tell organizations who (wisely) don’t buy into the time savings argument. If you’re looking for serious DAM ROI justifications, try this approach instead.

ROI Justification 1: The Million Dollar Laptop

When my computer is the sole storage location for the content I produce, my computer becomes extremely valuable. What should be worth a thousand bucks or so, suddenly becomes worth tens of thousands of dollars or more, depending on the enterprise value (or loss estimate) of the content therein.

If I lose the computer, or the hard drive crashes, we’re screwed. If I my laptop is stolen, and I’ve just been working on industrial designs for the iPhone 8, what’s that loss worth? Not only do we no longer have those files, but someone else now does.

Content that is developed under the employment of an organization most typically belongs to that organization. The onus is on the organization to ensure that content (investment) is protected. Granted, even with a DAM or other content system in place, an employee might forget to move works-in-progress to the system; but policy can educate (threaten) employees to help them develop good habits. And with some systems, the copying of locally developed content to the enterprise system might even be automatic.

ROI Justification 2: Workflow Communication

My coworkers don’t know what I’m working on, or the status of what I’m doing. If someone is waiting on content from me, that person might want to be able to check in on development. If that means repeated “how’s it going?” emails to me, that slows down two employees.

But, again, who cares?

Our company will care only when a deadline is missed because Employee A assumed Employee B was on schedule but, in fact, was running weeks behind before he ultimately delivered something that wasn’t in line with expectations. If Employee A had been able to check drafts and see that progress was being made, direction could have been offered, and downstream scheduling might have been adjusted.

ROI Justification 3: “I didn’t know we couldn’t use that!”

Ambulance chasing attorneys have a new revenue source these days: the misuse of content. While working freelance a long time ago, I worked on a brochure for a DAM vendor. My team worked with imagery provided by the client. Not thinking twice about the content we were given, we did what was asked of us and then moved on to other projects.

About a year later, the DAM vendor’s CEO told me they were being sued for misuse of content that stemmed from the brochure we produced. The claim was that improperly licensed content had been used in the design.

This surprised us because what we created, we created from scratch–except for the stock images the client provided. It turned out that, while the DAM vendor had licensed the imagery, it had done so for a specific purpose that did not extend to use in brochures.


I don’t know how much money that ended up costing the DAM vendor, but it was sizable. And this was a DAM vendor that one would think would have known better!

What this story demonstrates is that licensing and usage restrictions can be complex. Assumptions can be costly when erroneous.

A properly configured content system can provide all the detail employees need with regard to what they can and cannot use, and how they may use what they’re permitted to access. That last point is important: Just because permissions enable me to access content doesn’t mean I can use that content for anything I want.

ROI Justification 4: Spread the Content Wealth Across the Enterprise, Partner Channel and Beyond

The last ROI point I’ll make is not about content system ROI, but about content acquisition ROI. Whether your content is produced in house or licensed from external sources, the more you can legally and compliantly use that content, the better your content acquisition ROI.

This means more than letting Sales access Marketing’s collection of overused stock photos that no one can bear to see in another PowerPoint. What I’m talking about is being able to use a central content repository across the planet.

For example:

  • Enable website editors to access content directly from the Web content management system (WCMS).
  • Enable product managers to access content directly from product information management (PIM) systems.
  • Enable campaign managers to access content they can use in marketing automation or emailing tools.
  • Enable partners to access content via website portals, and even embed content directly on their websites.
  • Enable press professionals to access the content they need in order to promote your company.
  • Enable retailers to access the content they need in order to properly present your brand and products.

And, in all situations, ensure that the content made available is suitable for that channel, approved for use, properly licensed, localized as needed, embedded with rights and usage metadata, etc.

Making the Case for a Content System

So, can you justify DAM or content management to your organization using these arguments?

I once wrote that DAM is like medication for erectile disfunction: If it’s needed, it will be obvious to everyone involved.

I still believe need should a more powerful motivator than ROI. The benefits of managing content shouldn’t be vague or arguable. If the need is unclear, the need is likely premature.

Will a DAM save me time when I’m trying to find a file? Sure, if that file isn’t already on my computer in the place where I know it to be. But simply finding content is what DAMs were about fifteen years ago. It’s a different world today; the conversation has changed.

More DAM ROI Reading

Here are some additional articles by trusted #LearnDAM sources that might be of interest to someone looking into ROI for digital asset management or content management in general.


Chief Library and Information Science Evangelist

I received a gift in the mail the other day that left me feeling so thankful and humbled. Deb Fanslow had a couple of journals made for me that featured the #LearnDAM tag and identified me by the title, “Chief Library and Information Science Evangelist.” On the inside of one of the journals was the sweetest note. My mother couldn’t have written anything sweeter! (Not that my mother has any idea what I do for a living.)

It’s been a long, long, long fight to get the DAM community (and DAM vendors, in particular) to recognize the value that information professionals can offer when it comes to planning and maintaining digital asset management initiatives. But it does seem as though people are starting to get it. So to get a recognition like this, from a library science professional, really meant the world to me. (I experienced the value Deb can offer while working with her on the DAM Guru Program membership management system.)

If you’re not familiar with Deb’s work, I encourage you to visit her website and absolutely do not miss her now-legendary Who Needs a DAM Librarian? series, published on the Digital Asset Management News website.

Thank you, Deb! You are already “paying it forward” in the most wonderful and effective ways. The DAM community is lucky you’re here, and I’m so happy to have met you.

— David


Digital Asset Management Predictions for 2015

It occurred to me whilst reading some DAM predictions this year that I usually don’t agree with the predictions I read. I’m not sure why my gut says something so different than the guts of others who ought to know better than me, but there you have it.

Here are my DAM predictions for 2015:

  1. Digital Asset Management Predictions for 2015DAM vendors will remember that digital asset management is not always about marketing. They will scramble to reconnect with the Education, Cultural, Research and other segments that do not see what they do as marketing, and don’t relate to all this “customer experience management” bullshit.
  2. The notion of metadata schemas that can change over time (Adaptive Metadata, as Picturepark coined it) will become the flavor of the month. All DAM vendors will claim to have some new feature that addresses this need, but it won’t be until 2016 that they actually realize they didn’t fully understand what Adaptive Metadata is, so they got it all wrong. Whoops.
  3. Multi-DAM vendors will realize that they’re going to have to pick a favorite between their multiple offerings and stick with it. No DAM vendor is big or competent enough to manage and grow more than one DAM system. And if you think I’m wrong, create a document in Pagemaker or Freehand that illustrates my error.
  4. DAM Lite vendors will realize that in order to stay relevant, they have to add a feature…and then another feature…and then another feature, and then, before they know it, their DAMs will pack all the calories of a full system and their customers will say, “Remember when this used to be easy?” (Hint: Today’s dinosaur DAMs didn’t start out complicated either.)
  5. By year’s end, it will be tough to find a DAM vendor that’s willing to admit it makes DAM software. In fact, the term “digital asset management” will be replaced with so many different (stupid) alternative terms, that customers won’t know what to think.
  6. As DAM vendors give up on the term “digital asset management,” CMS and other technology vendors will hijack it and turn it into a menu option. This will further threaten the viability of the DAM industry as an industry. Then, in 2016, all the DAM vendors who have started playing dress-up as “marketing technology stacks” and “customer experience management systems” and god knows whatever else, will realize they’ve confused Google, so they’ll reintroduce the term to their websites.

With predictions out of the way, I want to thank CMSwire for not only enabling me to speak my mind on some controversial topics, but to name me one of their top contributors of the year and pick one of my articles as their #1 piece in the DAM category.

I also need to thank the Createasphere organization and its judging panel for awarding me “DAMMY of the Year” last year. I appreciate it so much! I’m so sad that I was not in New York to accept the award, and I’m even sadder that there will be no opportunity to honor a 2014 (or beyond) recipient.

2014 was both interesting and boring for the DAM industry. It was boring (as hell) in the sense that there was no technology innovation going on. Perhaps that changes in 2015.

But 2014 was interesting in that we’ve never before been introduced to so many newcomers who are talented and worth listening to. In many respects, we have DAM Guru Program to thank for giving DAM newbies a vehicle with which to connect to others so they can lose that newbie status. It’s happening all the time now, and it’s benefiting this entire industry.

As I mentioned to my pal John Horodyski the other day, I see a whole new generation of DAM professionals percolating to the top. I can’t wait to read what they write, learn from their expertise, and then get the hell out of their way.

Bookmark this page and set a reminder to come back in a year and see how I did with the predictions.

I hope everyone has big plans for 2015. Make it your best year yet.

Are You Ready for Digital Asset Management?

I just recently published a piece in the Picturepark blog that deals with helping organizations determine whether or not they’re even ready to adopt a DAM system. (Yes, I realize that sounds like someone’s getting a puppy.) It comes from the “DAM Prep in 7 Steps” eBook, but we figured it was worth publishing on its own.

If you’re in the “I need a DAM” stage, please read it. Please also direct others to it who are getting into DAM. I’ve seen many DAM systems fail because the purchasing organization’s expectations weren’t in line with reality, or in line with the reality of the DAM they chose.

Read “Are You Ready for Digital Asset Management?” »

When You Steal It, Admit It

By and large, I find marketing people to be vapid, oxygen wasters. Not because I find the art and pseudo-science of Marketing to be inherently evil—I don’t. After all, I’m a marketing director. But it bothers me that marketing people come into their positions, usually without a shred of industry experience, and then start blogging about best practices and tips like you’d think they invented the damned topic.

And the Digital Asset Management industry is full of examples of this. We’ve seen DAM News take on an unnamed DAM vendor for stealing content on several occasions. Recently, I also had to send a takedown notice to a company that had stolen content right off the Picturepark website.

And, really, this is bad enough. But when one marketing director uses his CMSWire authoring slot to steal copy verbatim from a CMSWire article written by the marketing director of a competing company, this is below low. In fact, it’s shameful.

Here’s an excerpt from a piece I wrote called “Lost in the DAM,” which CMSWire published on March, 12 2014:


Here’s an excerpt from a piece called “6 Reasons Why People Don’t Use Your DAM,” written by Neil Monahan, marketing manager for Brandworkz, and published by CMSWire on August 20, 2014:


Thank you for the vote of confidence, Mr. Monahan. But I’m not Wikipedia. 

Here’s what I would like to have happen from this:

  1. I would like Mr. Monahan to publicly apologize for his plagiarism, to me and any other authors from whom he has stolen content. And I would like him to remove that content from the Internet.
  2. I would like CMSWire to require their contributing authors to verify that all materials submitted are original, not copied in any way from another source, and not written by a ghost writer. After all, if we are to trust CMSWire content to be valuable and educational, we should have some assurance that it is so, to the best of their knowledge.

Don’t get me wrong: I have no problem with someone learning from something I’ve written and using that knowledge in their work—that’s why I do what I do. But it irks me when someone tries to pass himself off as some sort of DAM expert when, in fact, copy & paste is the only expertise that has been adequately demonstrated. 

The Digital Asset Management industry has enough problems without being polluted with nonsense written by (or stolen by) people who don’t know enough about what’s going on to speak from experience and tell their own stories.

UPDATE: CMSWire has since removed the three numbered points from Mr. Monahan’s article and replaced them with a link to my article. I was not told of any policy changes that would be made as a result of this. I will update this post if that happens. Mr. Monahan has also emailed me an apology in which he blames an intern whom he had to do his research. This, of course, made me feel stupid because all these years I’ve been doing my own DAM research. I didn’t even know that outsourcing expertise was an option. 

The DAM Plumbing Problem

water faucet

Digital Asset Management at the “point of consumption.”

“Point of consumption” is a concept I’ve used for years to explain away the primary reason digital asset management has not become the business staple it was expected to become. The problem, as I see it, is that DAM too closely follows the metaphor of having to go places to get what we need.

But this isn’t us. We want entertainment streamed into our homes because a trip to the local video store is too much. We want food delivered so that we can watch that streamed entertainment and not go hungry. And when that TV is no longer awesome enough, we ask Amazon to bring us a new one.

We want what we want when we want it. This means delivery to the “point of consumption.” There are countless examples of this around us. Enough so, in fact, that the world supports not one, but several international delivery companies, such as FedEx, UPS, etc. We are all about “bring it to me.”

Yet, digital asset management software was built on a paradigm that says, “if you want it, come and get it.” DAM vendors are trying harder than ever to make their systems attractive and usable; but the core problem isn’t beauty—the core problem is that no matter how wonderful the local video store might be, it’s not Netflix.

CMSWire has published “Reinventing Digital Asset Management,” an article I wrote about this topic. Until we reinvent the DAM paradigm, I think we remain stuck where we are now.


Image courtesy of Gualberto107 /

Take My DAM Away



I got an email today from my pal, Andrew Mannone. I’ve known Andrew for years. I consider him to be one of the world’s most talented and creative DAM admins.

In today’s email, he said that he and his coworkers at America’s Test Kitchen (creators of recipes that make me fat) were taking the day to clean their offices. While cleaning, they were listening to 80s music. And while listening, Berlin’s Take My Breath Away came on. He thought of me, so he sent me the email. In turn, I got to thinking about that song (which I never liked) and I couldn’t help myself.

Andrew, this version is for you, my friend. Sing it freely as you walk the halls of ATK. May it bring you strength when you need it most.

Installing every update in this stupid database.
All the endless the errors; features oh so out of place.
Turning and returning to support queues every time;
Never gets much better; ruins all my days and nights.

Take my DAM away…

Watching, I keep waiting, still anticipating work.
Never hesitating, overlooking all the quirks.
Turning and returning to support queues every time;
Watching in slow motion; stupid progress bar won’t climb.

Take my DAM away…

Through the user group I begged you;
Bugs won’t go away.
When the upload crashed I called you,
And yearned to hear you say:
Only one more day; the fix is on its way.

Take my DAM away… 

Creating Digital Asset Management Training Videos

Digital Asset Management Guru, Bonica Ayala

Bonica Ayala, a woman who knows how to train and inspire DAM users, and at least one DAM author too.

Bonica Ayala is a digital asset management professional who first became known to me when I read her #GuruTalk interview with DAM Guru Program. I was impressed with much of what she said, so I decided to dig a little deeper into the DAM work she had done for Boston Architectural College.

I found the site where her system, the Boston Architectural College IMS Library, is presented to users. Note that I say presented as opposed to merely explained. In short, I have never seen a better example of how to make a DAM system available to users. Bonica has covered all the bases:

  • Easy, accessible help email address — Bonica encourages users to contact her whenever they need help, and she makes it easy to do so by providing a dedicated email address.
  • Live training — Some users prefer to sit back and be taught, making live training a valued offering. But the value is not just for the students: When you train someone in person, you can experience their education. This enables you, as the educator, to fine tune your presentation and perhaps even your DAM system.
  • Documentation that describes the IMS Library — Resisting the temptation to just provide links to her DAM vendor’s user documents, Bonica documented use of the IMS Library. This enables her to explain digital asset management from the perspective of her users’ needs, rather than from generic concepts provide by DAM vendors.
  • Video tutorials that show how to do specific tasks — Bonica created a library of short video tutorials that not only enabled me to understand within minutes how her system worked, they inspired me to contact her and ask if I could tell her story here.

Bonica Ayala comes to a discussion about digital asset management with an abundance of two things: energy and perspective. Her enthusiasm for the art and science of DAM is directly connected to user success, which is always the best motivator, in my opinion. Bonica isn’t obsessed with technology or theoretical approaches to digital asset management. Instead, her focus is on how things should work and how she can make things work for users today.

Watch Bonica’s video about downloading digital assets from the IMS Library.

In truth, I left the IMS Library page feeling a little ashamed that I hadn’t ever taken the time to create such a video library. Bonica even admits she had no idea how to do this when she started; she had only access to the same Internet that the rest of us have. “I have no time for that” has always been my ready excuse. “I can’t do everything” is another favorite.

But Bonica did find the time and she did do it all. On top of that, this is a person who had not been involved with digital asset management for a significant amount of time. This is a person who saw what needed to get done to properly encourage use of her system and, rather than make excuses, she got it done.

Bonica was gracious enough to answer some questions I had. I hope her answers inspire the rest of us—myself included—to start creating more video tutorials for DAM.


At what point did you realize that you would need to provide training materials for your users?

I incorporated the concept of a user support page with training materials for our users from the very beginning. The user support page is an extension of our live user training, and its benefits are manifold: it is a powerful resource for user education and help, available 24/7, but it also provides an interface for internal communication and continual ‘marketing’ to promote the system and encourage user adoption. The success of the DAM depends on our users, and for me, that means ensuring all users understand what the DAM is, why they need it, and of course, how to use it from Day One.

Why did you decide to provide video-based training?

In addition to video-based tutorials, I also provide text-based training and live, online training sessions where I share my screen and interact with trainees. However, I decided to create video tutorials for a few reasons. For one, I’ve been using online videos to learn how to do things—everything!—for years. It’s fast, convenient and empowering. If there’s a video out there on the best way to tie your shoes, I definitely needed to provide customized videos on my DAM system.

I feel like users are more likely to watch a video than read documentation, no matter how visually appealing it is. Carol Thomas-Knipes touched on this briefly in the “Be a DAM Superhero” webinar. Feedback from my beta testers also indicated this, so this is why I focused my energy on creating videos. The videos not only support the end users, they also support the system, providing another way to steward the system forward. I wanted to give people context and a foundation—a place to start that would convey my vision of the DAM in a simple, straightforward manner.

How did you determine which topics were required?

I roughly determined topics to cover during the design phase, as I mapped out the upstream/downstream relationships. I decided to implement the DAM in small phases, bringing on both key influencers and select motivated groups whose user feedback helped fine tune the system to a stable point. Once we reached that point, I began working on a detailed outline of the user support page, the videos I wanted to feature, and the amount of detail I would cover.

I wanted to create video tutorials that basically work from the bottom up. I wanted someone new to the system to be able to pick it up quickly, and also provide topics that our advanced users could use. The videos currently listed on the user support page are just the beginning. I planned to phase in additional videos down the road for both front-end users and eventually back-end users and managers.

How did you go about creating these video tutorials?

I had to become a video tutorial creator. We didn’t have the budget to outsource video production, so I took on the project. These video tutorials were born out of a collaborative effort between several personas of myself—script writer, voice actor, editor and producer. It was a challenge for “Team Me,” but it was worth it in the end because I really do enjoy learning, creating and helping people.

Before I could get started, I needed to decide on a video editing software. I ultimately went with Camtasia by Techsmith. Camtasia is a lightweight software specifically designed for creating video tutorials. It did exactly what I needed it to do.

Before I started creating, I watched other tutorials, noting what worked, what didn’t, and why. Then I just jumped in. There was definitely a learning curve, and I now realize that I pretty much did the first videos the hardest way possible. But I quickly settled into a process that worked for me. Coming from an artistic background, I knew I just needed to get started and the process would work itself out.

This is what I found worked for me:

Step 1: Write a solid script. I used the text from the documentation I created for my user manuals as a guideline to get me started. I recommend doing a couple of run-throughs first because you tend to miss the most obvious steps when you’re writing.

Step 2: Record the audio. Read your script—don’t go rogue. Take your time and don’t worry about the ums, coughs or mess-ups. But do annunciate! I can’t stress that enough. Audio makes or breaks your videos. Users expect them to look good but it is equally if not more important that they can understand you. I tend to talk fast and mumble so, before each recording, I would warm up by placing a cork in my mouth and saying each vowel until I felt ready to go. It’s a tip I learned from a friend who gives vocal lessons.

Step 3: Edit the audio. Now’s the time to take out those pesky “uh, hmm, coughs,” etc.

Step 4: Record the visuals.

Step 5: Lay in the visuals.

Step 6: Add motion, transitions and additional text. All these tools are available in Camtasia.

Step 7: Sit back, watch, and learn! Take notes and make additional edits if necessary. You want to keep your videos concise and as short as possible.

Step 8: Export and share with select users for feedback.

Did you create and release them all at once or over time?

I provided an initial release to select users for feedback, but they were eventually released all at once on the user support page, prior to the roll-out of the DAM across the organization.

If you had it to do over again, is there anything you would do differently?

If I had to do it over again, I would clone myself, and schedule in more time for video production.

Watch Bonica’s video tutorials here »

Is Dropbox a Digital Asset Management Game-changer?

DAM News has posted an article that asks whether the Dropbox Carousel Photo Sharing App is a game-changer for digital asset management. Author Ralph Windsor asks all the right questions, and he makes good points. But, personally, I don’t see Carousel as a DAM game-changer; rather, I see it as further evidence that the game has already changed. You just wouldn’t know it from looking at today’s DAM software.

Ellen and Gang Oscars Selfie

Woody wouldn’t have smiled.

The change was that DAM 1.0 is now dead. What used to be “DAM enough” is no longer so, and “DAM Lite” arrived a decade too late. In fact, just as the world searches for increased simplicity, it’s likely to be the more advanced DAM systems that survive—the DAM platforms. The fact is, we’re running out of room for “DAM enough.” And the Dropbox and Google Drive development teams are no more than a productive weekend away from being able to swallow DAM Lite whole.

People ask “Why not Dropbox?” or “Why not Google Drive?” when we try to explain the benefits of digital asset management. They do this not because those services offer truly viable DAM alternatives—they don’t; people ask because the DAM industry has done a pathetic job of defining itself.

“File sharing” is an entry point for discussion that virtually everyone understands. Add to that, the concept of social sharing and people still get it. Hell, once you have all those people listening, you could then add something called “Custom Attributes” or “Personal Properties” and, without anyone noticing, you’ve snuck metadata in through the back door. Then all you need is something along the lines of Google + Circles to determine who can see what, and you’ve made permissions palatable too.

Before you know it, the world’s DAM vendors are left with their thumbs up their asses, wondering how it could be that they’ve offered the same thing for 20+ years, yet so few people cared. And don’t get me wrong—I’m not suggesting that this might happen; I’m predicting it. You don’t hire Ross Piper as VP of Enterprise Strategy and then call it a day after making a photo sharing app.

The problem as I see it is that DAM vendors got no game. We expect sex on our first dates with prospects, and we insist that our dates know exactly what they want out of life before we even order dinner. Then, when we finally get them home, they see our lame UIs, just as we explain to them how sex needs to work with us. Once we’re done, we see that familiar hybrid of disappointment and disbelief staring back at us. Then we hand them a five- or six-figure invoice and ask them to recommend us to their friends. DAM is quirky that way.

It’s like DAM is Woody Allen to the Bradley Cooper called Dropbox. Though it’s a virtual certainty that Allen will have ultimately had the richer career, far more people want to get into bed with Bradley. And that’s the measure of success in market definition—people need to want you; they need to be able to imagine you enriching in their lives.

So, yes, the game has changed. DAM vendors had better get their asses to the gym, and fast.