Digital Asset Management Requirements for Higher Education

October 31st, 2019

Learn from Auburn University Montgomery’s Experience with DAM

Establishing your organization’s requirements is a crucial part of the purchase process for any new technology. You need to make sure the vendor can meet your needs, at a price that works. This is especially challenging in higher education. Needs are often different from other business industries, and budgets are tighter.

We sat down with James Armstrong, Senior Production Manager at Auburn University at Montgomery, who lead a Digital Access Management (DAM) buying project for the Office of University Marketing. Here’s what other higher education institutions can learn from their experience.

List of must-have DAM requirements for higher education

The requirements were fairly simple. Here are the most important factors it boiled down to for AUM:

  • No enterprise pricing – only needed 1-3 users as paid licenses.
  • No unnecessary storage charges – if I only need 1TB that is all we will pay for.
  • Intuitive UI – no mandatory on-boarding or training as an added expense.
  • Flexibility for multiple file types.
  • Flexibility to grow as needed by paying only for what we need – no forced “tiers.”
  • Password protection.
  • Online interface to browse assets.
  • Access for internal users and external users.

DAM Capabilities higher education orgs might not need

The three biggest cost-factors James realized they could do without were SSO, an advanced storefront for browsing assets, and exhaustive cloud storage within the DAM system.

Single Sign-On

“We looked at SSO (which we thought we needed) and how much of a cost it would add to just about any platform,” said Armstrong. This was one of those enterprise-y DAM features.  It seemed necessary for security, so that they could track who was using the assets and how, but also totally unaffordable. 

After much ado, Armstrong found the hype about SSO was a red-herring. It wasn’t the only form of login or security available from a DAM vendor. It was simply the most advanced, the most streamlined, and the most widely-advertised. “It turned out, we just needed simpler password protection,” said Armstrong. Sure, SSO would have been nice-to-have, but in the end, it wasn’t a must-have to meet their requirements.

Advanced Storefront

“Most platforms also charged for a ‘storefront’ web page for users to browse assets,” Armstrong explained. They knew they needed a way for students, faculty, staff, and vendors to access digital assets online, so at first this seemed like a must-have that was going to cost them. 

But what Armstrong realized through his research was that they didn’t need a full-fledged, feature-rich storefront. They just needed a simple front-end.

This realization saved them needing to spend extra on that web page, because their actual requirement was simpler than the advanced capability being sold as an add-on by many vendors. “The plan we have with Pics.io allows for 10 sites. Granted they are relatively basic, as they should be, but it allowed us the flexibility we needed.”

Cloud Storage

Of course the University needed to store files in the cloud. However, Armstrong realized that they already had plenty of cost-effective storage available from Google Drive. Google Drive allows education users to have unlimited storage for free. Why pay to store a vast number of large image files in a DAM when they’re already stored in the cloud for free?

Once he realized this, Armstrong set about looking specifically for tools that would integrate with Google Drive, or offered their own education-friendly discounts. 

Context: Auburn University’s DAM Needs

They needed to find a DAM or proofing solution that would work to manage thousands of logos and other digital assets for all of their departments. 

This was an urgent need. The homegrown system built by one of AUM’s previous employees was no longer functioning. Without that employee, it had become impossible to maintain as they scaled. Meanwhile, 5200 students, as well as faculty, staff, and third-party vendors, including the providers of their athletic apparel, needed access to these files.

Armstrong’s department was overwhelmed. He knew the solution would likely be a new software system. But it was tricky to find a DAM solution that made sense for their university context. 

What to watch out for when selecting a higher education DAM

According to Armstrong, the hardest part was figuring out exactly what they did and didn’t need–i.e. establishing requirements. The challenge, said Armstrong, was that there were “100 established businesses and 1,000 startups that claimed to do the job, and we needed to find the middle point amidst all possible vendors out there.”

The major vendors didn’t quite cater to their needs and constraints. Based on leading DAM vendors’ packaging and pricing tiers, AUM would qualify as an “enterprise” client. That’s because Armstrong had internal and external users who needed to access the assets. He also had a very large number of assets, with all of the logo design variations for their campuses. But the scope of features included in an enterprise package went way beyond what Armstrong needed. For example, there were only 1-3 users who needed all-access to the backend of the system–not the tens or hundreds a big marketing department or commercial agency might need. These vendors’ offerings were completely out of the ballpark when it came to budget anyway.

On the other hand, Armstrong couldn’t just pick the simplest tool out there, because he did have specific functional requirements and concerns. This was a much bigger scale than small business or personal use. 

After months of online research, Armstrong was an expert buyer. He knew what they needed–and what they didn’t. He could tell just by looking at a vendor’s website whether he would want to schedule a demo to see their DAM solution in action.

Tips for choosing the right DAM for higher education

1. Define your own market.

As Armstrong learned researching solutions for Auburn University Montgomery, the DAM market isn’t set up for higher education organizations. Vendors may not have your use case in mind when they build their websites and define their pricing and packaging tiers. That doesn’t mean you have to settle. It just means you have to “define your own market,” in Armstrong’s words.

Spend time researching how much other colleges and universities like yours budget for a DAM system. Try to figure out which products they’ve had success with. When you’re on the phone with vendors, describe your use case and constraints to vendor sales reps. Explain how it’s different than the typical enterprise clients they might work with. If your budget is already established, set that expectation with them from the get-go. You don’t want to waste your time, or theirs, if they can’t be flexible to match your resources.

2. Keep a list of requirements handy.

Whether you’re browsing vendor websites to check out their feature list, or on a demo call with a sales rep, have a checklist of things you expect your DAM to do with you at all times. Make sure you run through this list and compare it to what you’re seeing or hearing from the vendor.

You can also add new possible requirements to your list. You’re certain to hear about features and considerations you hadn’t thought of yet. Just make sure to run these by the other stakeholders at your organization for a sanity check. Separating the must-haves from the nice-to-haves will help you get a handle on which option will be the best bang for your buck.

3. Read reviews.

Other people like James Armstrong have experience you can learn from. Wouldn’t it be great to capitalize on what it was like to find, implement, and use DAM systems at their institutions? Reviews make it easy to get candid feedback, direct from others like you. Filter reviews by industry (i.e. Education) and organization size to focus on those most relevant to your context.