An insightful read by Digital Asset Manager Emily Vargas on how to tame 2 million assets with sound digital asset management fundamentals.
What companies/organizations have you worked for as a DAM professional? What was your role at each?
I freelanced for about 8 years before I became permanent at Wilson Sporting Goods, so I worked at several places to get a more rounded experience as a Digital Asset Manager. Before Wilson, I was at Pearson, McDonald’s, Sears, Playboy, Answers Media, University at Buffalo SUNY Digital Libraries, Rochester Institute of Technology Archives, Bausch & Lomb Archives, and worked for a smaller photographer in Rochester New York. Each place here in Chicago I was a Digital Asset Management Contractor, or some form of that title, but in Rochester and Buffalo I was more of an archive and photographer assistant. Each place I was either working to digitize physical assets to be searchable in the DAM/database or working with born-digital assets in a variety of formats such as graphics, photography, video and audio. I also have had many experiences working with an exiting digital collection that had outgrown the original setup where I was brought in to fix an existing setup so that the collections were scalable for future growth.
How do you describe digital asset management to others?
When I describe DAM to others, I come to it from my perspective as a librarian where we are organizing and cataloging the physical or digital content to serve the needs of the business as well as serving the people who are running the business. We are working to document the history of the company as we are also concurrently working on the new business needs such as e-commerce, product development, social media, videos, catalogs, and in-store displays, as well as all the photography assets that are needed to create that content such as product photography, lifestyle photography, and beauty shots possibly even video or audio content.
How did you learn DAM? Any recommended sources?
I had been working for a photographer and a couple archives through my undergrad in photo school, but ultimately was encouraged to go to library school. Library school was so beneficial to me to learn the basics of organization, but once I graduated I started interning and freelancing anywhere I could get into in order to learn more about the variety of libraries and content that those libraries were working with. I found myself most drawn to Creative Departments within corporations that drew on my photo and production background, while putting my library education to work to help our departments be more efficient.
Ultimately, different topics require different approaches and research, but if you understand why something had been done in the past then you can better evaluate how to proceed for the future. When in doubt, I go back to the basics and open my Intro to Cataloging and Classification (Chan) book from library school. Drawing on my knowledge and then collaborating with our users has given me the greatest successes.
What’s the most important thing for someone new to DAM to understand about DAM?
Listen and talk to your users. You can do anything and everything to your system that you want, but if it doesn’t work for your users, then it doesn’t work. If it doesn’t work for them, then they may start using something else that you cannot preserve and protect. You can’t help your users unless you understand what they need.
When I first started at Wilson, I interviewed a variety of stakeholders worldwide from the customer service reps, sales, marketing, creative, directors, and general managers. This gave me a 360 perspective of not only how the business operates, but also how they are using the system and what they need from it. Ultimately the changes we needed to make were simple and no-cost that we brought in over 3,000 new users in a two-year time period as well as re-establishing our DAM as the single source for content and information.
If you weren’t doing DAM as a career, what would you be doing?
I would still be working with photographers in a production position, managing a photo studio, or maybe creative project management. I enjoy working with creative and photography studios to help them create efficiencies so that they can spend more time working on their craft.
What is your ongoing greatest challenge with DAM?
The daily manual work that is required to make the system work such as asset-specific metadata and on-boarding new team members to follow SOP standards. We utilize automated practices as much as we can, but there are still elements that require the human interaction and I am only one person responsible for managing over 2 million assets, which is growing by the minute.
What is your vision for DAM? What will it look like in 5 years?
More automation where DAM is working with PIM and PLM to update and manage the metadata of specific collections of assets such as product photography. I would also love to see the automation tie in marcomm where someone would get the full package of assets for each product such as product images, marketing assets, videos, and lifestyle. More content to support each product in order to help our business grow.
What was your biggest mistake with regard to DAM?
My first attempt at Facets and setting them up was such as disaster. I was excited about the capabilities and set them up with too much detail. The end result required so much ongoing maintenance and updates on the backend that our team was constantly re-tagging assets that had already been done before. Most of what we put in place ended up confusing or frustrating our users more so than helping them. For example, the facet for color we broke down into specific colors such as dark green, medium green, light green, but due to the subjectivity of this topic, the metadata ended up not being consistent. What I learned was that sometimes, general is better especially for something like color. What you see happening on many sites such as Zappos, you can choose a color family such as “Green” and then you get all the products that are green regardless of what color variation of green they are. Ultimately your facets should be helping your users narrow down the content in their search results faster.
What was your biggest success with regard to DAM?
My second attempt at facets. I understood what went wrong and so I married the idea of facets with metadata inheritance and taxonomy. What I ended up with is a system that is tagging assets for me as everyone is actively working on the DAM. This is so powerful for myself as a solo librarian that has thousands of users worldwide. This has been successful because the facets are generic, but powerful when paired together such as Brand + Sport + Content Type + Year so we can easily filter through content to get to a Wilson football package from 2014 because those assets are living within their designated structure for Wilson > Football > Packaging > 2014 and therefore can inherit the metadata from those folders that we setup. This gives the system the ability to create those relationships that ontologies would typically create, while still maintaining the taxonomy-based system.
What more would you like to learn about DAM?
Right now, I am really eager to learn more about ontologies. I am so fascinated by the relationships between assets and how they lead users to more content that they are looking for in order to benefit the business.