I've noticed while acting as an advisor on several recent digital asset management procurements that there is often confusion on the part of buyers as to the difference among what I call the "three tiers" of DAM end-user applications: the core application, the administrative application, and the external portal or "self-service" application.
As such, I thought I'd take the time to explain.
1) The "core" application is the interface (usually web-based, but sometimes a desktop client) that employees within an organization use to upload and manage assets. It often has a wide breadth of functionality, some of which is visible (or not) to those end-users based on their rights.
2) The external or "self-service" application is usually a pared-down version of the core application. It is only accessible via the web and tends to be leveraged by users external to the organization. The functions tend to be limited to download, upload, and other simple transformation functions that allow agencies, partners, or customers to easily and securely access digital assets in their desired format.
3) The administrative application is for the system administrator to configure, manage, and specify how people will access #1 and #2, review analytics of how the system is being used, and so on.
Where the confusion often starts is when, as is often the case with DAM products, #2 looks completely different from #1. This is where it's important to note that most DAM products are a platform: that is to say, highly malleable and open to customization. That includes the interfaces. So when a vendor is showing the core application and then switches over to the external or as they sometimes call it (to further confusion) "portal" application, chaos ensues.
"Wait, what am I looking at now?" says the brand manager. I often then find myself drawing boxes and arrows illustrating what's behind and in front of the firewall, and having to say, "you can make the interface look however you want it to." Internal brand managers sometimes feel their external suppliers should have the same user experience they do, while others could care less -- as long as the task is accomplished.
If you're looking at DAM systems, it's important to examine and test the core/internal, external, and administrative applications. If you don't want to perform a lot of customization, be sure to get clear information on what the default configurations are, and test those default UIs with your use-case scenarios. Some vendors neglect their admin interfaces as if admins don't care about usability. Sometimes external applications are overly complicated, or over-simplified, depending on how much functionality you may want to offer to external agencies and partners.
And, since that external application often comes at an additional cost, be sure to determine if you really need it. I've seen some brand managers recoil in horror, saying some "fancy" external application isn't necessary. For them, putting the completed assets on an FTP server for external partners to access would be just fine.
We review the differences among these applications, and how they affect overall DAM pricing, in our DAM research stream.