What is a Digital Asset Management System (DAM)?
If you take the literal translation of what a 'Digital Asset' is, then in essence it is any form of media that has
been converted into an electronic (binary) format that has a ‘value’ to a company.
What are the characteristics of a DAM?
A Digital Asset Management tool would typically be expected to provide the following list of generic functions:
Organizing digital assets
Manipulating digital assets (converting, merging, collating)
Searching for a digital asset
Verifying the integrity of digital assets
Delivery and distribution of digital assets
Securing digital assets
Backing up digital assets
In terms of the way in which a DAM stores its assets – they can broadly be subdivided into two basic types;
a) media catalogues.
b) asset repositories.
What is a Media Catalogue?
The primary characteristic of a media catalogue type of DAM is that the actual source files are left untouched
and under control of the operating system or network drive – so the Media Catalogue is not managing the
asset itself. What the Media Catalogue does is create a layer of information about the actual files themselves
and stores this typically in a database as an ‘index’ of the assets. This index is used as a source of information
to search the assets and then access the native (original) asset via a link for whatever purpose it is required.
Typically the Media Catalogue will present thumbnails of the source image or a snapshot of the movie as the
information that is displayed prior to retrieval. Media Catalogue have the benefits of being lower cost, easy to
install and administer, providing a fast search result and scalable across multiple divisions of an enterprise.
Given that they don’t control the actual asset, anyone with system access can typically view, change, move, or
delete any content element without using the Media Catalogue interface unless the storage locations are set
up to prohibit such activities.
The downside of some of the more basic Media Catalogues is that they can lack features such as check-
in/check-out of content, rights management, and automatic versioning (the latest version of a print, for
example). Equally, some of the more basic Media catalogues can also become sluggish when scaled,
especially if distributed across multiple servers or geographic locations, as the index may have to retrieve
information across multiple networks and storage environments (though increasingly with web clients (as
opposed to desktop clients) this can be negated.
What is an Asset Repository ?
In asset repositories, unlike the Media Catalogue, the content itself is physically stored inside a secure
database and accessed only via the Digital Asset Management software. The assets are viewed directly within
the DAM rather than viewing e.g. a thumbnail view of the source image. This results in a host of benefits,
including security levels, replication, referential integrity, and centralized data management (including full
hierarchical storage management and disaster recovery). Whereas the Media Catalogue is used to reference