Notes from Elizabeth’s Email

Subject: DAM Choice Committee Needs Your Help

Good Afternoon, Ms. Keathley:
For the last ten years our DAM team has been working with [DAM Provider Name Redacted], but we wanted to reach out to you for advice. We’ve noticed that other DAMs seem to have more features and are easier to use than ours. While the DAM we have now was top of the line a decade ago, we’ve decided to form a search committee and are hoping to issue an RFP (Request For Proposals) to several DAM Providers in the next few months. Do you have any recommendations for DAM systems that you think would be a good fit for our company? Are there any particular systems we should be cautious about dealing with?

Thank you for any help you may provide,
The DAM Choice Committee

Well, first let’s be honest, DAM Choice Committee: it’s very likely that your company told you to get this RFP process together months ago, and now it’s autumn, and the RFP details are due by end of year, aren’t they? Oh, fourth quarter, my busiest time of year. The volume of emails I get around the end of September and the beginning of October is quite large, and many of them are in regards to purchasing a DAM as marketing departments struggle to spend monies that should have been more evenly allocated over the entire year.

The first thing I tell those in the position of DAM Choice Committee is to be very careful about making any contracts or purchases with a DAM Provider quickly. Just as companies often have monies that must be spent by end of year, many DAM providers have sales quotas that they would also like to meet by December 31st. When the right DAM provider and the right client work together, a DAM can be a significant advantage to a company. When a deal is inked hastily and the provider and client are mismatched, the client wastes enormous amounts of time and money, and the DAM provider gains the client from hell. December 31st is just a date; those with true business savvy will know how to negotiate to keep their funding until the right decision is made for everyone. DAM implementations and contracts can often take three years or more to be fully realized, and this is not a decision to be made in just three months around holidays.

If you really are committed to issuing an RFP by end of year, I would recommend looking at companies that allow for clients to migrate data or leave if they find in a year or two their needs aren’t being met. When a DAM provider makes it easy for digital content and metadata to be migrated from its system to any other, that means the provider not only has an incentive to make sure clients are happy and willing to stay, but also that they have the confidence in their product and support to make leaving easy. In my experience, any company that is willing to write in system migration support as part of a contract is an ethical one.

Most DAM vendors will not offer end of service terms in their standard provider contracts, so those on The DAM Choice Committee will need to ask for them in their RFP. AS part of the contract, language such as this should be included:
Upon the termination of contracted services between the client and the DAM service provider, assistance with the migration of digital content and metadata will be provided at a cost of (cost can scale or be a one-time fee).

Details are negotiable. Many smaller DAM vendors will simply offer up the option of having all digital content and metadata extracted from their systems in a language such as XML, so that mapping the data from one system to another is easier. Larger DAM providers with SAS agreements will have contracts regarding the migration of items and will likely want a very large custom fee to move off their platforms.

Those on The DAM Choice Committee are about to learn about migration costs first hand though, as their RFP is looking at moving all the digital assets from a legacy system into a new one. If the older DAM company does not offer migration assistance, then the new DAM vendor may have ingest of legacy assets as an offering – but be warned this is an additional cost to the long term DAM service contract they will be signing.

Often I see companies of very poor management simply abandon an old DAM, complete with all assets, and start up a new DAM “fresh”, thinking that at some point in the future they will bother with all the costs and work of legacy content migration, or even worse, that interns or lower level employees can move assets over one at a time “in their spare time”.  For the first two years of my independent consulting practice, cleaning metadata from assets uploaded this way paid my mortgage, as well as the rent of two of my employees. The companies paying us to do the work over ended up with a much more time consuming, labor intensive, and ultimately expensive process in moving content this way than if the system migration had been done correctly in the first place.

Go ahead, DAM Choice Committee, and issue that RFP by end of year if your own job depends on it, but do not buy a new system right away. The very moment a Request For Proposal is issued by your company, many DAM providers will rush in with discounted plans that are too good to be true. Maybe you might save money by quickly inking a deal with a vendor seeking to hit their own yearly goals, but will it be money you have to spend double or triple down the line due to a rushed decision?

The best DAM purchase decisions are made with much contemplation and reflection. I can’t tell you which provider would be best for your company just from a few emails, because I don’t know your specific needs, nor the corporate culture where the system would be deployed. As for caution, again I would advise against any system that is excessively difficult to back out of (and in fact, some are nearly impossible to leave). Try to get a migration end game set up from the very beginning with your new vendor. Talk to others who have a DAM by vendors you are considering and find out what they really think about the product. Usually word of mouth by everyday users is the best guide of what systems really work and which are likely to fail.

As always, remember that the success or failure of a DAM is dependent not only on the programming and services offered by the provider. A successful DAM will always be based in a workplace culture that supports thoughtful long-term planning decisions, not quick fixes. The arrangement, description, preservation and access of digital assets takes time and thought. I wish all those in the position of The DAM Choice Committee this fourth quarter well on their end of year journeys.