The Coming DAM Crisis

According to news reports, Digital Asset Management is booming: one report assured me that “we’ll be managing $5.36B worth of digital assets by 2020.” It’s certainly a great space to be in for DAM vendors and should be for experienced digital asset managers. So why is it so hard to find any DAM pros? I see DAM positions sit unfilled for months or, worse, searches are abandoned because the right candidate could not be found. Sure, some folks have transitioned to different careers, gone back to school, or decided to retire. But most have gone to work for vendors or become DAM consultants. In the past month alone I know of at least three DAM superstars who’ve left careers at growing companies to work for DAM vendors. Though I can see the attraction of helping guide vendors towards more user-focused features, I think the underlying reason is more worrying.

Companies don’t know what to do with digital asset managers. To what position do you promote a DAM manager… DAM director, chief asset officer? Unless C-suite understands the great value DAM brings to the company, these staff may be the first to be let go during a restructure. They may think “why do we need folks to run our DAM program if we have a vendor’s professional services to do this for us?” To my fellow DAM professionals, this is what we need our DAM conversation to be about. DAM pros continually improve workflows, evaluate their systems, ensure digital assets get cataloged, that metadata is consistently applied, keep data safe (and trustworthy), and, above all, ensure users have access to digital assets. We don’t only manage the DAM systems. We are in the thick of daily operations, often consulting on file naming conventions, folder structures, migrating files from user desktops, and gathering feedback in the most unusual of places. I once overheard someone complaining of system latency in the office kitchen.

Vendors and consultants may purport to have users’ best interests at heart. However, they are (not all… think ResourceSpace) for-profit entities: their primary objective is to increase sales and get paid. They rarely sit in the office kicking assets and taking names. So unless we change things up, DAM as a profession is headed towards a crisis. Companies stand to lose brilliant minds: who wants a job that is a professional dead end? Do you have a DAM promotion/retention path at your comapny? If so, I hope you will describe it in a comment below.


  1. […] The coming DM Crisis is a worthy, interesting article by  Ian Matzen, MLIS. It discusses the value of an internal DAM Pro, their role in understanding a company’s workflow, challenges, and ongoing development; as we have pointed out, a DAM is not a project, with an end – it is an ongoing, living system that needs to adapt to an organization’s innovations… unless your organization doesn’t change, in which case it will probably not be in business in the foreseeable future. […]

  2. Is there another profession off the top of your head in which you constantly have to justify your *existence* to clients, company staffers and freelance project managers like you have to do when you’re a DAM?

    Is there another job — outside of professional hatchet men or “consultants”- – that others have an almost instinctual response to distrust or not cooperate with you as you try to perform your duties? In their most private spaces and places? You insisting they have nothing to fear, as you concoct a plan of Discovery, Audits, Governance, Controlled Vocabularies? Even our terminology is borderline sadomasochistic with leather undertones.

    Is there a more arduous, anti-millennial thankless role — always on the wrong side of payroll, always hovering near the teats of an outfit’s high end technology — but usually disallowed from being part of the team — than that of your average, over-intelligent under-challenged and semi-compensated digital asset manager?

    Is there a more strained relationship in modern enterprise than that of the Folder Structurer aka The Dublin Schemer, aka The Content Migrator with those w/in the ranks of territorial designers and directors who are often the toughest crowd to please in MarTech, i.e. your own team? As you reel off new rules, new processes, mandates, new permissions, new workflows, new dysfunction, new blah blah blah blah, blah blah keywords blah blah date stamp blah blah source of truth blah blah when all they’re thinking about is where to best hide their .INDD files from you?

    Is there a sense of pity you sense from others when you describe exactly what you do for a living?

    Is there another “vital” and “compliance”-mandated role in which few companies value them enough to hire one full-time?

    Like all the world’s reptiles who could all die en masse tomorrow and not affect the “balance” of Mother Earth one stinking iota, would anyone notice if the the DAM profession was sent out to pasture by a wave of poorly managed data nihilists who cling on to external hard drives, desktop folders named “D O N O T E R A S E” “private!” and “RECYCLE BIN” like their work is relevant to * anyone* past the project at hand not to mention their obscene font-hording antics and tag-averting missed opportunity?

    I myself have worked in a multitude of industries and dozens of wide ranging roles. In no other have I ever felt the existential hum of WHO fAM I AND DO I MATTER than I do when I am working as a DAM.

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