Metadata management in DAMs still inadequate

Along with asset ingest and processing, metadata management is one of the core competencies of any DAM system. Or so it should be. In reality, I have yet to encounter a DAM system user who is content with how their system handles metadata.

Even before true DAMs really existed, but creative professionals tinkered with their assets, there was metadata. The importance of metadata management in Digital Asset Management is hard to downplay.

Now, let’s not dismiss the fact that by nature, metadata management is perhaps the least glorious task in DAM or any associated processes. Let’s be frank: metadata is tedious. Not surprisingly, assigning metadata often gets unloaded to an intern or the most junior employee, you know, that one just out of college.

In metadata's defense, however, DAM vendors are not particularly attentive to the issues of metadata. All of them say they support metadata, but that can mean that one vendor favors XMP over IPTC, another one offers 300 hundred metadata fields without an easy way to trim that down in the user interface, or the system doesn’t read all metadata on ingest, making the migration process even more painful. A vendor may create cryptic and proprietary metadata standards, or make metadata management difficult in some other way. The list can go on and on. (And we do review in depth all of these cases in our Digital and Media Asset Management research.)

As a result, what happens in many organizations is that metadata policies and standards are avoided or postponed like that unpleasant dentist visit you are dreading. But postponing and hoping the problem goes away on its own doesn’t work well in the world of metadata (or dentistry, for that matter). Without metadata, your DAM users will inevitably say “I cannot find anything in this system.” In worst-case scenarios, this may lead to procurement of a new DAM system, absolutely unnecessarily.

So what can you do? You can start here:

- Understand your metadata. It sounds simple enough, but, done properly, requires time and effort
- People, processes, policies are important regardless of which DAM system you use. Make sure to devise your common controlled vocabulary and strategize your metadata before jumping into the implementation
- When selecting a DAM vendor, make sure they can support your metadata strategy
- Make sure your vendor supports several common metadata standards and specifications, and does that equally well for each one, so that you have enough flexibility
- Make sure your vendor supports open standards in some way to ensure interoperability, and, if and when necessary, your exit strategy
- Make sure your metadata schemas can be (more or less) easily modified without having to call your IT department, or submit a support ticket with vendor's support desk.

In the spirit of the new year, let's all pledge support for metadata, and make this resolution stick. Love thy metadata, and it will love you back.

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