Friday, November 12, 2010

Why have digital asset management?

I have a philosophy that you should always ask yourself why you're doing something when you do it (and preferably before), and keep on asking that question. For that reason, I wanted to backtrack and apply that to my new discipline, and to this blog. It will probably form a core stream of my writing here, tackling the 'what', 'why' and 'how' of DAM. A number of groups have described the key components in the operation of a DAM system, but I want to start by looking at the reasons for its being in the first place.

Briefly: the 'what'. It is probably the 'asset' within DAM that is most ambiguous, yet defines the discipline itself. My overriding sense of the term is that here assets are leverage. They are kept as a means to some conceptual end (as digital data at the logical level is never an end in itself) - looking at it in its broadest sense, that end could simply be that, in one way or another, someone is willing to invest their time in these assets, which is the key commodity in a digital economy. Any digital file needs to be worthy of an investment of time (that is, also, attention), otherwise it is not an asset.

In one example, digital records held by a business for legal reasons may never be seen, but have the potential for leverage in the eyes of the law. In another example, a university library's forward-thinking digital mission may capture a wider audience's attention and justify it's very existence to university administration, the leverage here serving to attract funding to ensure it's survival as a relevant institution. It could also be said that a business might potentially survive or collapse on the basis of its legal records.

All of this goes some way towards answering the 'why' of DAM, but this can clearly depend to a large extent on the sector within which one is operating a DAM system, as in the two examples above. At this stage I would like to look for some aspects of DAM that serve as the lowest common denominator in justifying its purpose. I believe that these are the access, efficiency and preservation of digital assets. These form the roots that then branch out into various manifestations of detail in different sectors.
  1. Access: DAM allows for the dissemination of digital information to those who require it. There is no asset without access, and this involves the understanding and application of metadata and ontologies, which form a bridge between access and efficiency.

  2. Efficiency: As well as optimising access, metadata and ontologies enhance suitability and reliability of information. Access needs to be rapid and fit for use to make digital information viable. This efficiency is the essence of the 'e' in e-learning, e-science &c. which in fact stands for enhanced - properly managed, digital information can undoubtedly enhance knowledge transfer.

  3. Preservation: Data needs to remain compatible and often interoperable between systems for effective use and optimised access. In most cases, it also needs to meet these criteria of use and access for extended periods of time. DAM systems can deliver this and avoid the need for costly digital archaeology, or total data loss, in the future.

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