Leveraging In-house Expertise for DAM

by Collin Rickman, MLIS

You drum your fingers against your desk, nervously anticipating the news you’ve spent years waiting for: The latest iteration of your organization’s digital asset management strategy—an elegant and complex system of people, processes, and technology crafted for machine-like efficiency—has gone live.

One final time, you race down a well-trodden to-do list in your head, sifting for possible weaknesses. Are the user guides comprehensive, yet concise? Is our governance policy strong enough? Are our DAM cheerleaders dispersed strategically and ready to make waves at a moment’s notice? How is everyone’s internet connection looking today? Taxonomy tight? Metadata managed? Interface intuitive?

But those thoughts vanish as your inbox explodes with accolades, and your phone starts ringing off the hook. A grin dances on your lips. Sinking back into your plush leather chair, you laugh hysterically and pour yourself a glass of champagne—no, two glasses! When in Rome. Your work is finally finished!

Or not.

DAM is a living, breathing organism—a constantly evolving concept that demands the utmost attention from its practitioners. Long after the confetti is cleaned up and integrators have moved on to new projects, things inevitably change or go wrong.

Maybe your team supports clients with business needs that change often, and you need flexibility to rapidly meet and support those needs. Perhaps your organization is acquired by another, and your user base multiplies overnight, requiring increased capacity and performance that your system doesn’t possess. What is the solution when a critical server fails on the eve of an important deadline day, delaying access to important assets at the worst possible time?

While the answers to these questions vary from organization to organization, and depend on whether your DAM solution is self-hosted, SaaS, or a hybrid of some kind, chances are high you will be acting as a liaison by leveraging in-house expertise to meet your team’s technological objectives. The synthesis of stakeholder needs, IT department objectivity, and the practical realities of your day-to-day DAM operation can be challenging alchemy.

Luckily for you, librarians (and this writer) have a few tips to offer:

1. Translation. A typical librarian, like a DAM Manager, has expansive reach into many areas of an organization, as their jobs require them to wear many hats out of necessity. Most people don’t get this opportunity and, as a result, interdepartmental communication can sometimes be strained and counterproductive. Thus, being able to translate the needs of stakeholders (who may not occupy technically-focused roles) into terminology that makes immediate sense to IT allies is crucial. And the reverse is important too! Translating tech-speak for stakeholders is important so that they are aware of information that applies to their parts of workflow, and have emotional investment in the process. Exercising this muscle is not unlike going through what librarians call a “reference interview,” where the librarian seeks to isolate and articulate the essence of a patron’s request regardless of its appearance at face value. So, call upon your love of words, an interest in technology, and a desire to see disparate groups of people collaborate effectively, if you want to avoid misunderstandings. Not only will you maximize efficiency, stakeholders will grow to appreciate your connective problem-solving abilities.

2. Documentation. Sometimes, things get lost amidst the onslaught of details, meetings and challenges inherent in any large project. It is easy to let dreams run ahead of drudgery. It’s a good thing librarians have extensive experience in documenting and preserving information. Naturally, DAM managers can emulate this when creating an IT governance policy. You will make massive inroads in your IT relationship if you have an established guide to your DAM’s technical construction and operation. This includes, but is not limited to, a complete roster of any and all hardware; a list of employees involved with DAM operations along with their job titles, departments, contact information and DAM responsibilities; and troubleshooting procedures complete with scenarios and step-by-step instructions on what is necessary to resolve issues. Your integration team will likely need to play a role in this activity, and it’s likely an ongoing writing process—you will discover more quirks as time goes on. But having forethought and research at your disposal is a godsend for IT staff who are often expected to divine solutions with little to no information.It’s an important albeit mundane responsibility that makes all the difference in the world when the other shoe drops.

3. Distillation. Librarians are experts at squeezing out every possible drop of budget in order to maximize resources. After all, being able to prove a library’s usage rates and value are an important part to keeping the doors open year after year, whether in a busy urban public library or a special library. This same pragmatic approach is a natural fit in a DAM environment. IT sees system upgrades and customization in purely ROI terms—what the bottom line is, given that budgets and agreements are hammered out far in advance. This may conflict with the expectations and desires of some stakeholder groups for how they feel DAM should operate. Some requested features and solutions require hours committed to conceptualizing, testing and implementation that may prevent limited resources from being spent on additional issues. Other solutions may be great for large organizations, but unfeasible for smaller ones. Others, still, may be wonderful ideas, but only beneficial for a small subsection of the entire user base. Paring down high-level concepts into practical analysis will make it easier to arrive at informed solutions. This will also be the difference between overcoming unexpected setbacks and becoming mired in them. Have you truly delineated the must-have solutions from the nice-to-have solutions? The inverse is also true: Knowing when to stick to your guns and push for important solutions that others may hastily appraise as unnecessary can be a lifesaver later on.

4. Coordination. In the ensuing inconvenience that accompanies any major maintenance activity or upgrade, digital asset managers must be adept at ensuring that all participants and moving pieces are attuned to each other. Much like running a busy library or archives requires a librarian to be on top of scheduling and coverage during a time of crisis, a DAM manager must constantly analyze workflows to devise workarounds that minimize impact to business, bottom lines, and their stakeholders’ patience. Are upgrades being done at a time when the office is closed? Will this planned outage affect any imminent deadlines? If something goes wrong, is there enough time to diagnose and fix before business resumes? Is there a temporary system to facilitate requests, so as not to impact normal business? Keeping things humming along is not easy, but being caught off guard is even more difficult.

5. Preparation. Even the most dedicated librarian occasionally prioritizes to create some kind of order amidst chaos. The IT world is no different. When working with IT to isolate glitches and deploy solutions, a little groundwork and attention to presentation goes a long way. This is especially important if your team does not have a dedicated support staff, which is often the case. If a user discovers a bug, make it a point to augment your support tickets with enhanced information that can help narrow focus to possible solutions, speed up response time, and present themselves as well-founded and cohesive. These could be in the form of screen shots. Or an especially crafted step by step guide on how to reproduce an issue. Reference-ready contact information for other stakeholders required for collaboration is always helpful. Depending on how comprehensive your reporting services are, the exact times, conditions and environment of the incident at hand could be key to solving the problem. Or throw in some freshly baked cookies. Whatever separates your issues from the slew of other frustrated, cryptic missives that are sometimes received is a sound investment not only for your DAM project, but your own relationships with your IT colleagues.

Of course, these are only a few pieces of advice from a long line of librarian lore. But with some extra attention, using these fundamentals to your advantage can keep your customization and upgrade processes on solid ground. And as a member of DAM Guru Program, a friendly librarian is only an email or phone call away.

About Collin Rickman

Collin Rickman earned a Bachelor of Arts in Digital Technology & Culture at Washington State University, and his Master’s of Library and Information Science at San Jose State University.  His career began in archives, special libraries, and film preservation; but a twist of fate led him to sunny Southern California and his current position as an assistant DAM manager for Oakley. When he’s not lost in DAMworld, his interests also include net neutrality, information secrecy, e-waste recycling and gamification.

Collin has been a DAM Guru Program member since August, 2014. Connect with him on LinkedIn.


Read more from the “Librarian Tips for DAM Managers” DAM Guru Program series »

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