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Fighting DAM Ignorance with Education and Cooperation

By David Diamond • Jan 15, 2015

This interview was originally published on the DAM Coalition website, a property of Pro Video Coalition. As DAM Coalition was decommissioned in early 2015, this content was moved with permission.

An In-depth Interview with Picturepark’s David Diamond

David is the author of DAM Survival Guide and is also the winner of the 2013 DAMMY-of-the-Year Award, which was created to recognize excellence and innovation in digital asset management technology. He has served as director of global marketing for Picturepark, a Swiss DAM software vendor, since early 2012. At Picturepark, David developed the DAM Guru Program, a free service that connects members of the international DAM community and also helps to place them with employers.

In this in-depth interview, we talk with David about how expectations around what people can and should expect from their DAM system have changed, what DAM vendors should be focused on and what he sees in the present and for the future of the industry.

DAM Coalition: The evolution of digital asset management is something we’ve been focused on lately, and the recent announcement by Picturepark falls in line with that theme. Do you see offers that allow people to use and experience a DAM system for free as an important part of helping them make an informed choice about a DAM system?

David Diamond
David Diamond

David Diamond: The DAM industry is strangling itself to death because we’ve made everything too complicated and we do virtually nothing to provide any true DAM education. We’ve splintered the term digital asset management into a million little ghettos and we expect the world to figure it all out and then pay us for the privilege of using the software we offer.

People come to DAM begrudgingly and fearful. There is nothing fun about the software DAM vendors offer—we make tools. No one becomes famous for having DAM talents. Contrast this to the tools that are used to create the content we manage and you can see the distinct differences.

There is no ego incentive to become a DAM management genius, so there is less motivation to become one. I think this extends to decision makers too. At the top of every enterprise software purchase process is someone who stands to gain or lose from the outcome. People approach Photoshop and PowerPoint with a sense of the possibilities those programs will provide. They think in terms of increased sales or notoriety. Because the long-term benefits of DAM are so horribly obscured at the beginning, DAM always seems to have more downside than upside.

This is why Picturepark has been doing the things we’ve been doing, such as DAM Guru Program, the #LearnDAM initiative, the form-free eBook downloads and, now, the free 6-month subscriptions you mentioned. I waited years and years to see a vendor-neutral organization tackle DAM education with this much gusto but it never happened. From the first moment I told Ramon [Forster, Picturepark CEO] that I wanted us to focus on DAM education, he understood why and he was onboard.

Of course there are plenty of industry people—other vendors and such—who think what we’ve been doing is all about marketing. But our most vocal conspiracy theorists tend to also be those who offer little or no quality DAM education themselves, so this doesn’t surprise or bother me much.

But there are also those who do get it. For example, a few months ago I heard from the CEO of another DAM vendor via LinkedIn. He wanted to let me know that he considered what we were doing at Picturepark to be the “best b2b marketing efforts” he’d ever seen. Obviously he couldn’t say so publicly; but I appreciated that he took the time to say so privately. And when we announced our form-free eBook downloads, an employee from another DAM vendor commented—publicly this time—“I love you guys.”

Getting back to your question about whether what we’re doing actually helps people make better purchase decisions: We recently got an email from a prospect that we didn’t win. We were so touched by what he’d written that we posted it on our blog. In short, he thanked us for giving him the tools he needed to learn enough to make an informed recommendation to his managers. Ultimately, Picturepark wasn’t the best fit. So we lost a prospect but our industry gained another DAM manager who actually knows something about DAM. He might recommend Picturepark to others—maybe not. But I know he’s going to promote Digital Asset Management, and that’s the outcome that all of us in this industry need.

We consider our main DAM competitor to be DAM ignorance. If we have to fight that singlehandedly then so be it. We’re offering the best DAM webinars, eBooks and white papers that we know how to make, and we’re no longer even asking people to fill out forms to access any of it. Our recent announcement of free half-year Cloud DAM accounts for up to 10 users is intended to let organizations see how digital asset management can work within the organization over time, not just within a few weeks.

DAM vendors like to spew best-practice advice that tells prospects to do their homework and carefully determine their needs. Then they tell them to figure it all out in a few weeks or—in one recent case I saw—7 days! Sorry, but that’s a damned joke. Short trial periods are designed to pressure prospects into making sales decisions. And bad sales decisions are why there are so many unhappy DAM users and pissed-off DAM organizations. Used-car sales tactics are ruining this industry.

What’s the difference between learning DAM and trying DAM?

Learning about DAM is understanding the art and science behind Digital Asset Management—it has nothing to do with DAM software, any more than learning to become an architect has anything to do with first choosing a preferred hammer. By contrast, trying DAM is something an organization should do only after they know what they aim to accomplish.

Unfortunately, this usually isn’t the case. It’s more typical that someone is charged with finding a DAM system without knowing much about DAM at all. This usually results in people signing up for demo accounts and then finding it’s a waste of time because they don’t know what to do or try once they’re inside the accounts.

Unless we’re dealing with a prospect [at Picturepark] who is switching from another DAM system, most of the people we speak to know little to nothing about Digital Asset Management. We’re not going to turn them away and tell them to get back to us once they’ve learned more; but we know better than to push them into a sale. The “6-month accounts” thing was intended to offer people a place where they can test what they learn, without having to keep an eye on the calendar.

After 6-months with Picturepark, they’re going to know enough about what they need to either know Picturepark is right for them or to know why another system might work better. In either case, it’s a win for us because we don’t want unhappy customers.

How have people’s expectations around what a DAM system can do for them and for their organization changed over the past decade?

Without a doubt, expectations have outpaced reality. People today expect DAM to do the dishes. In some respects this is a good thing because it keeps DAM vendors on our toes. The bad part is that vendors tend to introduce half-baked features that don’t get the planning and UX considerations they deserve. I think Ralph Windsor from DAM News coined this the “features arm race,” which I think is a perfect assessment.

As a marketing director, this of course poses challenges, so I do all I can to make sure we avoid that. But I’m far more a DAM user than I am a marketing director. So rather than just deal with these situations, I become a screaming, maniacal customer-from-hell who expects it all to be fixed today, and I want a handwritten apology for my troubles too. I think this is why I get along so well with other DAM users. And as painful as it might be for my employers, I think it benefits them too. You know, until they fire me.

Considering the speed of technology, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement about a latest version or newest release. With that in mind, do you think organizations and even DAM vendors underestimate the people aspect of DAM?

The problem with people is that we’re prone to inconsistency and irrationality; in fact, most DAM solutions reflect us perfectly. But we want our software to be better than we are—smarter and more organized. We become frustrated simply because most DAM software is not any better than we are at doing what we need to do.

Consider mapping applications on a smartphone. Are they perfect? No. But they do something much better than we can do it as humans, so we give them the benefit of the doubt.

You can transfer this same phenomenon to social networks like LinkedIn: Have you ever stopped to think about what a clusterfuck LinkedIn has become? And with each update, we’re left scratching our heads even more. And don’t even get me started about Skype’s de-evolution over the years.

DAM software solutions are really not much worse than these applications. The difference is that these apps offer a clear, tangible benefit that users appreciate. By contrast, look at how hard the DAM industry tries to convey the benefits of DAM. Is Microsoft trying to explain the benefits of free international phone calling? Of course not. And does LinkedIn have to sell the value of linking with other professionals for free? Nope.

This doesn’t mean DAM vendors don’t need to do much more than we’re doing now. Sexy new UIs are a first step but they don’t address workflow stupidities. And, really, what people hate about DAM is not ugly icons; people hate all the jumping around the UI they must do in order to get anything meaningful done. Nothing good will happen there until UX designers join R&D teams and DAM employees start actually using their own software.

Tell us about the people who are working in DAM. Are you seeing organizations hire people specifically to work on DAM and DAM strategies, or are you seeing more people who are already within an organization assume those duties?

This really varies according to region. In the US, it’s increasingly common to see dedicated DAM positions but this isn’t as common in other parts of the world. The weekly DAM Guru Program #GuruTalk interviews are wonderful for seeing where today’s DAM professionals got their starts. Some are from library science backgrounds; others from photography or other creative positions. We’re also starting to finally see people enter the workforce who actually trained for this.

I think it’s still too early to really see how this will play out. At the same time you have employers only starting to see the value in a dedicated DAM professional, you have a global workforce that simply isn’t educated in DAM-specific disciplines. So even when you want a DAM Guru—no pun intended—they’re not easy to find. This was one of the primary charters of DAM Guru Program—to put the world’s DAM professionals under a single virtual roof where prospective employers can find them.

When you see or talk to people who are struggling with their DAM system or strategy, what do you tell them?

I guess it depends on the person’s situation. If someone is having trouble molding a new system into something functional, I usually assume the problem is taxonomy or metadata design. I believe that when you can hang a system on a metadata schema that makes sense, the DAM makes sense. And even the most basic DAM system can be usable if the metadata schema is in good shape.

This was actually the impetus behind Picturepark’s Adaptive Metadata technology. Sometimes, a single metadata schema doesn’t fit. And often, a metadata schema needs to evolve over time. By giving users the ability to adapt their schemas, they find the DAM becomes more obvious and meaningful.

I ran into this earlier today while on the phone with a major agency that’s looking to replace an older DAM. They want to adopt a global metadata standard but they wisely suspect this isn’t possible. Client A has the metadata standard it wants to use, while Clients B through Z have their own schemas. Meanwhile, the poor agency is expected to work with it all, and they’re struggling as a result. Adaptive Metadata will fix this because it will enable them to manage different metadata schemas in layers that are specific to each client. But only Picturepark—as far as I know—has a solution for this at the moment. So organizations using other systems really have to become creative sometimes.

Also, the schema in use has to reflect more than just the organization’s needs. For example, if the DAM’s search interface sucks, hierarchical browsing becomes more valuable than it is in a search-awesome system where people can type something and find exactly what they need.

The limitations of a system can often affect system design more than anything else. A stupid DAM that’s well configured can go a lot further toward usability than a killer DAM that’s poorly configured. But how can someone new to a system really consider all of this? Worse, how can someone consider this all while she’s still considering several systems?

I’m never shy about referring people to a library sciences professional. Someone once suggested that I must have a librarian fetish because I’m up-selling their services all the time. In truth, I just get the value of what they offer. Libraries don’t organize and maintain themselves. And nothing kills a DAM faster than bad organization that results from horrible metadata schema design.

I think the other most common ailment I see people struggle with is a DAM system that either no longer meets their needs or that isn’t well supported by the vendor. In this case, you might think I just tell them to buy Picturepark but that wouldn’t make any sense. There is an art to knowing when it’s time to dump your DAM, and doing so should never be the first resort. If you can’t get the support you need from the vendor, see if a partner might be available to take over your account.

Working with a DAM vendor partner can also be a good idea if that partner works with more than one DAM. If you do find that you need to dump your DAM, you at least have someone who can tell you how green the grass actually is on the other side before you jump the fence. In our partner network, we have FHCon, which also sells and services Celum, EPYX that also sells Elvis, and we have Modula4, DataBasics, Carey Digital and a few others that also sell and service Cumulus.

If any users of those systems have become unhappy with the support they’re getting from the vendor—or they’re concerned about the future of a product—I recommend they connect with one of these companies for a less biased assessment of the other options available.

In any case, migrating between DAMs is serious business that shouldn’t be taken lightly. In addition to the technical and financial components, you have a massive human psychology consideration that might not be easy to manage—different typically receives more hostility initially than bad, no matter how bad bad has become.

What’s a recent trend or topic in the industry that has you concerned or at least has your attention?

In my previous answer, I mention how dumping a DAM should never be a DAM customer’s first recourse to addressing problems. Ironically, it seems that some DAM vendors are dumping their own DAMs today at a rate that even exceeds that of their customers. We’re seeing single vendors buying up other DAMs and we’re seeing vendors release “DAM Lite” products in addition to their primary systems. Why? Why not just make the primary system do what you need it to do?

It’s like one day you have Product A and Product B competing against one another. Then, the next day you put Product A and Product B on the same Web page, give them new names and logos, and then expect the world to believe the Coding Fairy blessed them with complementary use cases. I think it’s the same when a vendor introduces a new DAM. Can you imagine how ridiculous it would sound if Salesforce bought another CRM and then tried to explain why it actually made sense to use both?

I’m sorry, but we DAM vendors—all of us—are way too small to adequately support multiple systems. When a new system is introduced, I think it’s safe to say the old system is on its way out. Either that or the vendor is just making some really stupid business decisions. If you can’t commit to your own DAM system, how can you ask customers to do so? And what does this say to prospects?

Multi-DAM vendors like to pretend there is some natural synergy between their systems but I think it’s pretty easy to see through that. Who wants to manage multiple DAM systems? Wasn’t the entire point to DAM to have a single source of truth for everything? I assume customers would like to know that their DAM vendor is entirely focused on their chosen product and their continued benefit.

This actually brings me to my next concern, which is a lack of DAM interoperability standards. Because our systems don’t talk to one another, DAM vendors can’t find natural synergies between the systems we offer. Instead, everyone is a competitor.

For example, ADAM and Picturepark are based on the same underlying .NET architecture. Perhaps there are situations in which those two systems could be used to extend functionality to users. Could ADAM users benefit from our Adaptive Metadata? Absolutely. Could our users benefit from some of their workflow design tools? Sure. But you can’t just toss data between our two systems so we compete instead of adapt ourselves to be perfect partners.

But the big problem with the notion of a DAM interoperability standard is that it will take someone like Adobe to really make it happen. And I think Adobe has its hands full right now just trying to make its own product acquisitions work together. They might, however, be the only company that DAM vendors would be willing to work with on such a thing.

Then you have the interests of the legacy systems, like Cumulus and MediaBeacon. Canto’s first priority for users getting away from Cumulus is going to be to get them onto their new SaaS offering. But that alone is going to be a tall order, given the huge discrepancy of capabilities between Cumulus and that new system. In fact, it would be easier to move from Cumulus to Picturepark or another fully-featured DAM, even though a different company is involved. And as long as MediaBeacon continues to be well supported as a current platform, there’s no incentive for them to make it easy for users to adopt other systems.

Until we have an easy, reliable way to move data between DAMs, DAM vendors are going to be replicating one another’s feature sets, wasting time, and preventing us from really finding our own niches in the greater industry. Imagine how stagnant computer programs would be today if each one had to provide its own file-saving, printing, networking and other such subsystems. Because computer apps can share these services, their developers can focus on what differentiates them from one another rather than replicating technology.

Imagine what the DAM industry would look like today if the core functions of DAM, such as search, metadata extraction, asset processing or data sharing, were standardized. Sure, we vendors like to think our development genius enables us to build a better mousetrap than everyone else; but let’s be honest: it’s hard to find a winner in this battle for market supremacy, which has now lasted more than two decades.

What does next generation of DAM look like?

Unless the DAM industry gets its act in order, the next generation of DAM is going to look a lot like content management because that’s exactly where DAM will live, rotting away as a nothing more than a menu option.

If all goes well, I think DAM becomes more like electricity—a required resource that’s available from anywhere and works with everything. I see it as a metadata-managed global file system that every program can use and every service can access. When I connect to my corporate network, what I see from my Open/Save dialog boxes is my organization’s DAM—universally accessible, standardized and obvious to me.

But anyone who’s known me for years knows this is nothing new to me—I’ve wanted DAM to become this for as long as I can remember. It just hasn’t been easy to get others who have the power to change things to see it. Again, hello Adobe? Apple? Microsoft?

Tell us more about #LearnDAM. What kind of information can people find via this initiative?

The intent of this initiative was to make it easier for people to find quality DAM education materials just by searching Google or Twitter or wherever for #LearnDAM. But with the exception of the DAM News team, Henrik de Gyor (Another DAM Podcast) and a few others, the only content publisher leveraging this so far is Picturepark.

As someone pointed out to me, though, perhaps others are taking the initiative seriously in that they know not to use the hashtag for materials that aren’t true DAM education. I just hoped it would encourage more publishers to develop better content and let the world know about it.

#LearnDAM seems to be about Picturepark today only because Picturepark supports it more than anyone else. Other vendors seem to ignore DAM Guru Program for the same reason—they want people to think it’s a Picturepark marketing tool. But we have no problem retweeting DAM Guru Program #GuruCalls for people to help with other software systems and we have no problem letting qualified applicants from other vendors into the program.

Like I said, DAM ignorance is our primary competitor. The notion that multiple DAM systems would be up against one another in a bid tells me only one thing: the prospect still isn’t sure about which system would best meet their expectations. But the more we educate people, the clearer it will become to them when they’re seeing the right system.

In the meantime, I just wish DAM vendors would stop fighting over pieces of a pie that hasn’t even yet made it out of the oven. Instead, we should be sharing recipes and really build up a demand for what we sell. I don’t know—maybe I’ve been working for a Swiss company too long.