The average SMB or enterprise is now host to a tangled web of silos and legacy software woven together by legacy coding, understood by a handful of individuals (if understood at all). This creates a creaking digital infrastructure, bars business from updating their systems and in the end creates huge losses in productivity and efficiency. By maintaining legacy systems, silos and long-standing working practices the truth is that it’s costing you a lot more, in money, people and other resources. You are likely to need more technical and IT staff and budget, you’re probably spending significant resources on storage, disaster recovery and other failsafe mechanisms, it’s costing you a lot more than it should to update your highly customized software and putting the entire digital security of your business in the hands of one individual or a small group. Over time the complexity continues to increase and even if it’s been possible to administer ‘quick fixes’ that solve issues temporarily, the overriding Enterprise architecture remains problematic.
Some of the main reasons people cite for DAM procurement are to update legacy systems, to consolidate silos and to improve productivity and efficiency. The overall aims should be to reduce complexity, to centralise data, assets and workflow and remove barriers to updating and improving the digital architecture in the future. Unfortunately the opposite happens: money is thrown at the problem, additional software and/or hardware is bought which further complicates things, legacy systems linger and either projects fail or significant problems remain. Imagine that every time you need to upgrade or update your desktop computer you simply bolted on additional storage, RAM drives, Graphics Cards etc, you’d have a huge and cumbersome computer that probably worked less efficiently than your average laptop. This is how businesses often treat enterprise architecture and it has exactly the same outcome. When you upgrade your computer you don’t throw the old one away. You download valuable data or store it in the cloud, you transfer software or download the most up to date version, you might even keep useful components such as graphics cards which can be reused or repurposed. This is much like a digital overhaul and is a necessary part of keeping your digital architecture, up to date, efficient and future-proof.
The problem of legacy systems and creaking digital architecture plagues business, with some estimates suggesting 90% of businesses are negatively impacted to some degree. Sometimes to solve a problem you have to break it down into its simplest form, but businesses are reluctant to rip everything up and start again. Maybe such a thought process is the problem, you aren’t necessarily ‘starting again’, you are building a new foundation on which your digital architecture can be built. The perceived disruption that this causes can be the thing that permeates ever-increasing complexity. Rather than go through the perceived pain of removing silos and legacy systems, another level of complexity is bolted on and the problem is never really solved. This reluctance to change is holding back businesses and is dangerous, we see an ever-increasing susceptibility to cyber attacks that is fuelled by reliance upon legacy systems and poorly managed enterprise architectures. Recent attacks on the NHS, financial institutions and other major organisations highlight just how widespread the problem is, and hints at the catastrophic consequences of leaving things the way they are.
Metamorphosis is the process by which some animals progress from one stage of their lifecycle to another, the most well-known example being caterpillars turning into butterflies. The first stage of their life cycle usually comprises the majority of their existence and involves consuming, growing and assembling all of the necessary building blocks for the next stage of their lifecycle. During metamorphosis, they literally break down their body into simpler constituents, reassemble them and become something that looks and behaves entirely different. This doesn’t happen overnight: time and energy is required for everything to be reorganised and re-ordered before they can fly.
DAM puts the meta in metamorphosis. Companies that try to ‘fly’ before they’ve assembled the necessary building blocks to ‘metamorphosise’ are likely to fail. Your business can’t transform until you’ve spent time and effort setting up the people, information, processes and systems which facilitate a digital strategy. Metadata is crucial to this transformation. DAM is a master metadata engine; it is both powered by metadata and also powers your digital operations through the use of metadata. Companies which have the metadata structures in place to facilitate a better transfer of knowledge will achieve digital maturity far more easily than those who haven’t. Data management maturity is key to any successful digital transformation, it serves as the building blocks on which mature enterprise software stacks are possible.
You will need to have a detailed and well thought out strategy for metadata at the heart of your overall DAM strategy. Knowing what resources you have and how to reassemble and utilise them effectively is another key component of DAM strategy. Data is important for driving and managing people, processes and systems, but without knowing more about these resources, a data strategy is meaningless. Transformative digital strategies should be approached from both the top down and bottom up. Senior management need to drive the initiative, allocate resources, conduct change management and adapt the infrastructure of the company to support the change. The DAM manager needs to establish the metadata and assets you have, where and how they are stored and what you need to gain from procurement, and then setting up the necessary structures and plans to deliver this. Most businesses have an enormous reliance on digital systems and processes, and everyone from the CEO down is affected by it.
The basics of DAM: Learning how to walk
DAM is the foundational play for enterprise architecture. Getting the basics of DAM right is the key to everything else that follows. All too often companies want to go from 0 to 100 with their first step rather than getting the basics right and then updating and improving gradually. The Maturity Model Gap Analysis and the 10 Core Characteristics have both been developed to encourage businesses to get the basics right: you need to learn how to walk before you can run. The basis to do this is a well-constructed DAM strategy, which when properly actioned will allow you to get everything you need, some of what you want and maybe some of what you’d like to have. The universal advice when it comes to any software project, indeed any project which leads to serious upheaval within a company, is to always manage expectations. This extends into realising what is possible with the time and resources you have and the fact that you don’t have to do everything at once.
Starting with the gap analysis, it’s important for you to assess your business’ level of digital maturity, to identify gaps and where improvements can be made before you start to think about procurement. There’s zero chance that you can jump from ad hoc to optimal in one step, so be realistic about the improvements that you can make with the resources you have and the scope for the project. It’s possible that attempts to improve digital maturity can be made before DAM procurement, such as taxonomy, governance, resources and an audit of workflow tools etc, which in turn will allow for a more far-reaching DAM system to be installed. Improving the digital maturity of the business can provide a framework for growth and gradual improvement, and set the organisation up to better adapt to a changing digital landscape.
Alongside data maturity, people are a huge asset who, when managed correctly, aid in the overall maturity of your business. It’s important to recognise that different people will have different expertise, expertise which can be utilised and repurposed to roles within DAM. Change management may be necessary in order to put people with technical and business expertise in the right place to improve your overall alignment, i.e. the success with which business and technical knowledge align within the company. Change management shouldn’t be a scary term, just the inevitable consequence of preparing your staff structure for DAM procurement or optimisation. New talent may need to be acquired from outside of the company, but it’s usually the case that talent can be sourced from within, avoiding potential disruption. Once talent is recognised or acquired, it will be possible to establish a network of admins for the DAM, each operating in a different department or business unit.
Preparing to fly
Once you have a solidly functioning DAM, you have the staff infrastructure to support operations, you are managing and utilising data effectively and you’ve stripped out legacy code and systems where you can, it’s time to optimise what you have. The focus is now around improving the processes and systems you have in place, to improve the overall efficiency of your workforce. It’s possible that tough decisions must be made, you may realise that a long-standing partnership or way of doing things has to change. The good news is, a pre-existing degree of digital maturity can make the change less of an upheaval. With DAM as the foundation, the content part of master data management, any change to downstream systems or the processes that stem from them are much easier to manage. This is a point often overlooked with DAM: you are able to centralise both assets and metadata, and by doing so you gain granular control over all your digital operations.
An important thing to realise is that no one system is likely to be the solution to all of your problems. Unless your workflows are incredibly simple and your scope small, you may need several software working together to a common end. Knowing what each software is capable of and what it is good at is an important part of optimising systems and processes in your business. If you expect too much of DAM or you expect other management software to perform the role of DAM, you may never attain digital maturity. You have options here: Go with a vendor with open APIs who are experienced in integration, go for a vendor who offers a suite of software which includes DAM or develop new functionality in-house or via an agency/partner. In all cases focus on best in breed software, recognise that the 10 Core represents what DAM is good at and functionality not detailed in the 10 Core may be better delivered elsewhere.
Much like the caterpillar, preparing to fly takes time and involves you taking all of the elementary pieces of your organisation, reorganising them and making each one work for an improved purpose. It might be that this period is spent rolling out the DAM across the enterprise, tidying up any remaining legacy components, developing company-wide taxonomies and controlled vocabularies, establishing rights management protocols or workflow practices, or simply encouraging company-wide adoption of the DAM at an end user level. The overall goal should be to optimise the way you utilise people, information, systems and processes in order to be ready for technological innovation that is yet to come.
Time for take off
Technology is moving at a faster pace than most businesses are able to handle. The rise of SaaS and Cloud DAM systems mirrors the wider technological landscape. Companies that are less inhibited by legacy systems and code, that are often smaller and more agile are more easily able to take advantage of new innovation. They are benefitted by their simplicity, are more flexible , are able to adapt to a changing landscape and amongst other things less susceptible to failure and cyber attacks. It’s easier to point out than it is to enact, you aren’t going to rip things up and start again overnight. However, putting off the inevitable change that needs to come, could be damaging in the short term and catastrophic in the long term. In a world that produces petabytes of data every day, we need to become metadata-literate now or be left behind. We are already seeing the cracks forming, huge cyber security leaks caused in part by outdated systems. Security is but one reason why we need to make the change. There are clear competitive advantages to being future proof and this should be held up alongside security when evangelising the need to have a digital revolution now before it’s too late.
For those of you serious about DAM we recommend you follow our free guide to the Six Steps to Digital Asset Management Success The Maturity Model Gap Analysis and our free requirements gathering documentation.
James Rourke - Data Scientist @ Codified Consultant