Best Digital Asset Management software of 2020

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Digital asset management software is the best way to organize and keep track of all of your company’s digital content, from graphics and photos to videos, documents, invoice templates, and presentations.

Digital asset management, or DAM, is all about giving you the power to search, filter, organize, update, and collaborate on just about any type of digital file you can imagine.

Why use digital asset management software?

Once you’ve got more than a few people working at your company, you’ll quickly find that files get incredibly disorganized unless you have an explicit system for organization.

What happened to the sales agreement contract from last year? Where is the most recent version of our company logo? Which of these marketing email layouts did we end up deciding to use? If those kinds of questions sound familiar, it’s probably because your digital assets aren’t well-organized.

Digital asset management software provides you with an interface to explicitly search through your company’s digital media: you can filter for photos taken in 2017 by one specific photographer, for example, or all documents tagged with the metadata “invoice.” In this way, digital asset management makes finding files fast and easy.

On top of organization, digital asset management software also helps make sure you have access to your digital content anywhere in the world—no more trekking into the office to download a file. Today, all good digital asset management tools are cloud-based, meaning you can access and update your files outside of the office.

A related feature of digital asset management software is access credentialing: you can specify who has access to what files, and with what permissions (for example, only viewing the file, versus editing or modifying it). If you work with files that contain sensitive information, digital asset management is a great way to control access to these files to include only certain users.

One of the most fundamental problems that digital asset management software solves is version control: everyone is working on the same version of a file, and the older versions are intelligently organized.

If you’ve ever found yourself pondering whether you should use “company_logo_final_updated.png” or “company_logo_final2.png” in your marketing material, you know how much of a headache it can be to try to sort through your company’s files without a dedicated version control system.

Digital asset management software also gives you an explicit way to manage the lifecycle of your digital content. Files can be explicitly tagged as “drafts,” “under revision,” “in use,” or “retired,” for example. This prevents you from accidentally using an old version of an invoice, contract, or product brochure.

Digital asset management software is also great for collaboration: with a high-quality digital asset management system, you can share files with internal and external collaborators, even if they don’t have a license to your digital asset management system.

Some digital asset management software can even preview specialized file types, like Adobe Illustrator or AutoCAD designs, for external collaborators who don’t have the native software for those files and wouldn’t otherwise be able to view them.

From a design standpoint, one of the best reasons to use digital asset management software is to present a unified, cohesive brand image across your company’s content.

Digital asset management software makes it easy to ensure that everyone from marketing to sales to social media to public relations uses the same logo, the same color palette, the same fonts, and the same document templates.

Who uses digital asset management software?

Unlike more specialized business software, like email marketing tools or social media management software, your digital asset management software will be used by just about anyone at your company who is involved with using or creating digital media.

That means anyone on your creative team, including designers, graphic artists, and photographers, needs to be trained in on your software—they’re the ones putting new content, like logos, product shoots, and headshots, into your digital asset management system.

They’ll need to be well-versed both in uploading files and tagging them with appropriate metadata tags so your other employees can easily find the media they need.

You’ll clearly also need to get your marketing and sales teams up to speed on your digital asset management software, because they’ll be using both new and old digital content to create material for marketing campaigns, sales brochures, invoices, and contracts, to name just a few applications.

You should agree on a system of meta-tags to keep track of where your digital assets are in their development lifecycle, and pay close attention to who has access to each file. You’ll often need collaboration between designers and marketers before you’re able to agree on a final version of a particular digital media asset like a brochure or email header.

Your web development team and (if you have one) app development team will also need to pull digital assets from your digital asset management system as they design and update your website or your company’s app.

Fortunately, digital asset management software makes it easy to push content out to an external source, like your website. Making sure your web dev and app dev teams have access to the right files is important for ensuring a consistent brand image across your marketing, sales, and web materials.

Finally, some of the heaviest users of your finalized versions of images, logos, animations, and video will likely be your social media team. Especially on visually driven social media apps like Instagram, your social media content will draw heavily on photos and graphics.

You’ll need to make sure that your digital asset management software integrates well with your social media management software, so your team can draft up and schedule high-quality social media posts using the full range of digital assets at your disposal.

Features

At large companies with a lot of digital assets, by far the most important feature in digital asset management software is the search function. Unless your firm is small or brand-new, you probably have thousands or tens of thousands of different digital media files, if you include logos, photos, document templates, and videos.

To take advantage of all of this content, you will need a powerful search feature. A good digital asset management software suite will give you the ability to search not just by file name, but by file type, author, creation and revision dates, and, most importantly, metadata tags. These metadata tags let you filter by concept or by topic, as opposed to by file name.

You can tag individual people, departments, or even specific social media channels—for example, if you are running a social media campaign to promote a new product your social media team will want several versions of each product photo, because the optimal size and aspect ratio of photos for Instagram is different than the optimal size and ratio of photos for Twitter.

Cloud-based digital asset management software lets you access your files from outside the office. If your team does a lot of travel, or if you have employees who work remotely, you will want a cloud-based digital asset management software system that allows access from anywhere.

A good digital asset management tool will let you access and update files that already exist, but also upload new files without having to come into the office—this is not just convenient, but can dramatically speed up your ability to create new content if you rely on photos from on-location shoots.

Instead of waiting for your team to return to the office to start working on new marketing or sales content, you can start as soon as the photo shoot is over and the files are uploaded to your digital asset management system.

When all of your company’s digital assets are stored in a cloud-based system, you are also much better-protected against data loss.

If your company’s essential files are spread out across many different computers and hard drives, you have many more possible points of failure—cloud based systems are not only less prone to failure, they’re also automatically backed up, so even if you do have a server failure, you won’t lose your files.

Digital asset management software also allows for controlling user access to specific files. Some files in your system, like company logos or document templates, might need to be accessed by everyone at your company.

However, other types of files, like sales agreements, contracts, and invoices, might need to have access restricted only to a subset of your employees.

Good digital asset management software will enable you to set access permissions, both for individual users and for groups of users. This lets you apply all of the powerful advantages of digital asset management, even when your files need to have access controls.

Some digital asset management software tools allow you to share specialized file types with customers or collaborators outside your company. At companies that do any type of design work, one of the common problems you’ll encounter is a mismatch between the software you use to design your products or services, and the software that’s available to your customers or collaborators.

For example, a marketing firm might be working on a new series of brochures for a client: these brochures would probably be designed in software like Adobe InDesign.

Likewise, product design teams will draft up models of products under development in 3D modeling software like AutoCAD. But how do you share these files with someone who doesn’t have access to these specialized design software tools? Higher-end digital asset management software lets you preview specialized design files (even 3D files!) without needing specialized software.

Better digital asset management software will add metadata tags automatically when you upload files. While tagging individual files with metadata is a feature you’ll find on any digital asset management software system, higher-end software will have better features for automated metadata tagging.

This includes simple things like the author, date, and file type, but the very best tools also incorporate advanced machine learning capabilities to identify people, places, and even color schemes. These kinds of features can let you quickly find, for example, all of your product photos taken in the last year that have a lot of reds, oranges, and yellows in the photo’s color palette.

While not every company needs these advanced, automated metadata tagging capabilities, it can be a great feature to have if your company has huge amounts of digital media to sort through.

You may also find advanced metadata tags useful if you are importing digital media from stock photo databases or large file dumps from collaborators (for example, from a marketing firm you hire to create promotional graphics for your products).

FAQ

Q: What are digital assets?

A: A digital asset is any kind of file you might create, use, or modify when preparing digital media for your company. Most often, digital assets are associated with things like company logos, photos, and video clips, but digital assets also include things like letterheads, invoice templates, and contracts.

Digital assets even include more arcane file types like 3D models and design blueprints. Given this broad definition, it’s no surprise that many companies have a hard time organizing and keeping track of all of their digital assets without a dedicated software system.

Organizing your digital assets and gaining the ability to easily search through them is the motivating need behind digital asset management software.

Q: What is Cloud DAM?

A: Cloud DAM refers to digital asset management software that is cloud-based, meaning that all of your company’s digital media files are stored and backed up in the cloud.

Cloud DAM allows you to access, update, and upload new assets to your system from anywhere—you don’t need to be physically in the office to access the media you need. Cloud-based digital asset management is incredibly useful if your team travels a lot, or if you have collaborators across multiple locations.

The advantages of cloud DAM are so strong that there is pretty much no reason to go with a digital asset management system that is not cloud-based.

Q: How can digital asset management software help small businesses?

A: Small businesses tend to have fewer files to manage than a large business, but they also tend to move at a much quicker pace with development, prototyping, and sales or marketing campaigns.

As such, smaller companies will find themselves leaning more heavily on version control features in digital asset management software compared to the searching and metadata tagging features that are in heavy use at bigger companies.

Good version control helps speed up your collaborative work, which helps your company’s turnaround time. Of course, small businesses that focus on graphic design work, marketing, or photography will still end up relying on metadata tags and searching from within your digital asset management software, on account of the large number of files they’ll deal with on a regular basis.

Q: Can photographers benefit from digital asset management software?

A: Photographers were some of the earliest adopters of digital asset management software, and many of the features found in digital asset management software today, like meta-tags and ratings, can be traced directly to their use in photography.

With the advent of digital cameras, photographers became able to take hundreds or thousands of photos in a single day, and needed a systematic way to organize them.

Photographers tend to make heavy use of metadata tagging, so if your company works with a lot of photos or employs a lot of photographers, make sure your digital asset management software has strong support for metadata tagging.

Q: Can archives use digital asset management software?

A: Archives, museums, and curations can make great use of digital asset management, especially because so many manuscripts, pieces of artwork, and artifacts are being stored, shared, and analyzed digitally today.

Museums, specialty libraries, and other archival organizations will want to investigate digital asset management software that’s specifically designed for archival work, like ArchivEra from Lucidea, iDAM, or Axiell DAMs.

These software tools have many of the traditional features of digital asset management software, along with some additional perks that are useful for dealing with archival work, like scheduling showings or tracking the location of the physical asset (i.e. the artwork or the manuscript) in your archive’s storage system.

Q: Is there good digital asset management software available for Macs?

A: Since so much design work happens on Mac computers, you’d be hard pressed to find any digital asset management software that is not compatible with Macs.

One of the strengths of using digital asset management software in the first place is the ability for users in different locations, with different devices, to collaborate on the same files. Especially when using a cloud-based digital asset management system, device compatibility is less of a concern

Q: What open source digital asset management software is out there?

A: Compared to other types of business software, there are relatively few good digital asset management tools that are open source. If you’re committed to open source software, or just want something that’s free, look into tools like Phraseanet, ResourceSpace, and Pimcore.

The reason for there being fewer open source digital asset management software systems probably has to do with the fact that digital asset management is very storage-intensive. Open source digital asset management tools tend to require you to host and maintain your own servers to store your files, which can increase the workload on your IT team.

Open source digital asset management software also tends not to have the same level of advanced features and functionality that you’ll find in paid digital asset management tools.

Q: What is custom metadata in digital asset management?

A: Custom metadata refers to all of the metadata tags associated with a file in your digital asset management software that are not automatically populated by either the software or the system that created the file (e.g. your digital camera).

Broadly, your metadata for a specific file can come from at least four different places: the device that created it, the software that was used to process it, the digital asset management software, or the user (i.e. you). Custom metadata is the metadata that you intentionally add, on top of content that comes from the other three sources.

For example, a product photographer’s photos will have metadata from the camera, like the shutter settings and the GPS location of the photo. The photo editing software might add metadata like the photographer’s name and the date the photo was modified, and if you are importing files from a third-party system (for example, stock photo databases) there will also be metadata tags from the originating database.

Your digital asset management software might add tags related to the photo content or the color scheme. Finally, your photographer can manually add custom metadata, like the name of the customer or the name of the marketing campaign that commissioned the photos.

Q: Do you use digital asset management software for code?

A: Computer code is one of the few types of “media” generated by your company that is not well-suited for normal digital asset management systems.

Computer code has a few peculiarities that are best handled by specialized content management systems, and most well-organized companies already use version control software for computer code like GitHub, Bitbucket, and Azure DevOps.

Many of the key features are similar: Version control works very similar to digital asset management software, and there are also access controls and metadata for code repositories. Despite the similarities, it’s best to keep digital asset management software for your digital media, and use special code version controls for your computer code.

Recap

If you want a better way to manage the photos, graphics, videos, and document templates your company uses, digital asset management software is the way to go.

Digital asset management tools let you organize your digital media, access it from anywhere in the world, control access permissions, and easily search and filter your digital assets to find exactly the right content that you need.