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Exploration of Digital Asset Management Systems

by Kris Boone, Professor and Department Head; Gloria Holcombe, Communications and Marketing Specialist; Audrey King, Instructor, Department of Communications and Agricultural Education, Kansas State University
ACE Grant Project 2016

Why digital asset management?

Digital asset management (DAM) has been a frequent topic at ACE conferences during sessions, at learning community meetings and casual hallway conversations. Like many institutions, Kansas State University is struggling with how to manage and archive digital assets, from photos and videos to B-roll and infographics.

In addition to the historical value of images, people are wasting time searching for images and possibly retaking photos or duplicating video shoots. Photos logged only by date without searchable metadata cannot be found quickly to accompany a news release or social media post.

About seven years ago, the K-State Department of Communications did some research and purchased a system to catalog its existing slides and photographs plus a slide collection from an alumnus. The system was difficult to operate even with help from IT professionals and did not solve our digital management issues. We still have partial access to the system but no longer pay for upgrades.

What we did.

Kris Boone and Gloria Holcombe submitted a proposal for a professional development grant to research digital asset management (DAM) systems that would include photos, videos, B-roll, permission documents, etc. for the department and the university’s Division of Communications and Marketing. The goal was to survey other institutions to determine what DAM systems they use and interview those who rate their systems highly. The funds were used for graduate student time. Audrey King came on board to conduct the survey.

Boone, Holcombe and King put together a short Qualtrics survey and sent it to Holly Young to distribute to all ACE members via listerv. One or two follow-up messages were sent to generate more responses. The survey asked questions concerning the DAM system their units were using related to differential access, searchabilty and level of satisfaction. Twelve responses were received, and four people agreed to be interviewed. King conducted the interviews, and a student transcribed the text. The questions asked in the phone interviews were more specific and allowed for the interviewees to elaborate on their responses from the original survey instrument.

What we learned.

Results indicated that organizations were using different systems at varying degrees of effectiveness. There were also different levels of technology used. These ranged from external hard drives to cloud-based systems. The major concerns shared by organizations included streamlined uploading and downloading, organization, tagging, security, networking, access and, of course, cost. The following were concerns and needs expressed by participants:
  • Reasonable cost
  • Billing system to bill clients online
  • Cloud based
  • Unlimited memory
  • Security and varying degrees of accessibility
  • Editing within software
  • Speed
  • Workflow
  • Unlimited number of users
  • Integrated project management
  • Mobile upload capable
  • Ability to relate assets to others
  • Support for multiple file formats
  • Online training
  • Excellent customer service

Extensis Portfolio was the only formal DAM system reported as being used. The one user enjoyed the system, thought it had great customer service and found it easy to use. K-State purchased this system in 2010 but was not pleased with access, downloads and the need for constant help from information technology personnel. The department has some access to the system but did not purchase the most recent upgrade. Other institutions use a combination of CDs, external hard drives, DropBox and Flickr. These systems are reported to not be very streamlined and waste a lot of time.

The survey and interviews did not provide enough specific data to recommend a single system. While the idea of data and asset management is not new, there does not seem to be enough institutions using a formalized DAM to make a definitive suggestion or even compare and contrast the current systems being used.

In talking with ACE members at conferences, other institutions have researched systems that might work for them but have not been able to secure funding to purchase, implement, train, and staff those systems.

King, Holcombe and Boone did a session, How should this DAM thing work?, at the New Orleans conference. The PowerPoint will be shared with these learning communities: leadership and management, publishing and graphic design, electronic media and photography. Based on survey results, discussions during the DAM presentation and related sessions, institutions really want clear answers about what works best, how much systems cost, and the amount of labor needed to make a system run properly.The low number of overall responses makes it difficult to make a solid recommendation or fully understand the extent to which DAM systems are being used.

Where do we go from here?

Holcombe reached out to various people on the K-State Manhattan campus for input on their current systems. Some systems are working OK for their individual groups but don’t allow sharing or provide adequate backup in case of natural disasters. 

A spring meeting included photographers, videographers, editors and writers from the Division of Communications and Marketing, the Department of Communications and Agricultural Education, K-State Foundation, K-State Alumni Association as well as University Archives.

At this time, several people who attended the spring meeting are previewing systems, including Extensis Portfolio, used by survey respondents and other colleagues across the country. University library staffs are looking at ways to collaborate, especially on open access items.

The group is compiling DAM system requirements and how such a system could be more efficient and prevent duplicating efforts across the university. The University of Missouri shared their previous research criteria, which K-State incorporated into their system requirements. With serious budget constraints, the group will need to come up with compelling reasons to justify purchasing a system.

Other collaboration items include: keywords (both visual and sensory), best management practices, how to cover some costs through grant funds, someone to oversee the system, storage needs and how long items should be stored in units before moving to archives.

The group plans to pull together several workable options with costs and benefits. The information will be shared with interested ACE learning communities (leadership and management, publishing and graphic design, electronic media and photography).  To further this research it may be necessary to distribute this survey or a similar instrument in a few years to see if changes have occurred, more systems are being used, or a clearly superior system can be determined.

Survey questions

  1. What kind of digital asset management system do you use?
  2. On a scale of 1 to 5 please rate your satisfaction with the system, 5 being the highest.
  3. On a scale of 1 to 5, how difficult is the system to use, 5 being the most difficult.
  4. At what level is the system used?
    University wide, field educators, local levels, freelancers, extension communicators, among communication units
  5. Is the system searchable?
  6. Does the system feature rollover (The ability to rest your mouse over a thumbnail image and zoom in)?
  7. Does the system feature differential access levels for uploads and downloads?
If you are willing to be contacted regarding a short follow-up phone interview please leave your contact information below.

Phone interview follow-up questions

Thank you for completing our questionnaire regarding digital asset management systems.  We would like to follow up with a few questions if you have a moment.
  1. You seem to be pleased with your digital asset management system. Did you look at other systems?
  2. How long have you been using it?
  3. From your perspective, what are its best qualities?
  4. What do you consider to be obstacles in the system or flaws? Have you figured out a way to work around those?
  5. Is there a vendor representative that you would recommend we talk to about this?

Thank you so much for your time and responses.

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