Introducing the Digital Asset Lifecycle (DAL)


Introduction to the Digital Asset Management Lifecycle

by Chris Ransick

There's more to digital asset management than just uploading an asset into a digital asset management (DAM) system, applying some metadata and letting users search and download the asset. When working with digital assets, it's essential to understand the milestones which make up the asset's lifecycle, what each milestone entails, and the best practices for its management during each milestone. In this piece, I will look at the milestones which make up the digital asset lifecycle.

First, what is a digital asset?

Let's define what I mean by the term digital asset. We need to do this because there are multiple asset types, and each asset type has its own "lifecycle" specific to its class. Wikipedia defines digital assets as: "A digital asset, in essence, is anything that exists in a binary format, comes with the right to use and is searchable via metadata." The main types of digital assets are images, Illustrations, audio files, video files, motion pictures, marketing files, text, documents, and presentations.

An asset's value is the sum of the time and resources needed to move it from "concept" to "production." In some cases, this might be as simple as purchasing a stock image, or it might be as complicated as creating a major motion picture.

The digital asset lifecycle

Each asset type has its distinct lifecycle, but generally, there is a bit of overlap between asset types. Milestones can run sequentially or in tandem to other milestones. An example of the asset lifecycle are the milestones of a marketing photo image, which has 11 distinct stages.

The stages of the digital asset lifecycle (marketing photo image example)

1. Concept - The concept stage is when the idea of an asset occurs. In the marketing images case, this is when an art director or designer conceives what the image will look like for a marketing execution.

2. Collaborate - During the "concept" stage, collaboration takes place between the writer, creative director, account executive, and client. Multiple roles have input into what is presented to a customer and what is finally approved.

3. Procure - The procurement stage is when the art buyer (image purchaser) sources the photographer, sources talent, negotiates a contract, creates a purchase order, submits the invoice and documents the talent and rights information.

4. Create – In the create stage, the photoshoot production occurs. A marketing photo asset has a photographer, his staff and may require model(s), a location, and a set. During the create stage, the art director/designer is supervising the shoot on location, in the studio, or virtually.

5. Review - The review stage is when the marketing image is submitted for approval. Generally, there are multiple approvals involved since there are multiple approvers. Initially the art director, then the creative director, and account executive approve before post-production and then again after the asset has moved through the post-production process.

6. Post-Production - The post-production stage is when an asset is modified with retouching, color calibration, and prepared for final production use in print or digital mediums. During this stage, the asset work files usually live in a project server.

7. Ingest - The ingest stage is when the asset moves to an "in-production" or "FINAL" status and is ready for use. Best practice has the asset delivered to the digital asset librarian,  who ingest the asset into the DAM system of record. The asset is tagged based upon the company's taxonomy and made searchable. At this time, the asset has access rights associated based upon pre-defined usage parameters.

8. Search - The asset is "FINAL" and searchable by asset users. At this time, the asset might be associated with a collection of like campaign assets.

9. Access & Transform - During the access and transform stage, asset users determine the physical requirements needed for their marketing production and apply them to the accessed asset. Assets can be accessed by download, linkage, and integration between systems.

10. Repurpose - The asset now lives in the DAM system of record. It is used and reused for multiple purposes for as long as the image and talent rights are current. Image and talent rights can be extended or renewed as needed if buy-out rights weren't negotiated up front.

11. Archive - The archive stage is generally the last milestone in an asset's life. If the asset is no longer usable due to talent, rights, product, or campaign issues the status of the asset in the DAM system is changed from "In-Production" to "Archive" preventing possible reuse.

The benefits of the digital asset lifecycle

Using the digital asset lifecycle provides companies with a mechanism to manage assets holistically from their creation to their final archive. It's essential to recognize that digital asset classes have different lifecycles, and the best practice is to apply asset management throughout the full asset lifecycle. By embracing the control over the digital asset life cycle, processes can be streamlined, rights and talent usage issues will disappear, costs will be aggressively negotiated, correct assets will be used, DAM systems will be managed using best practices, and speed to market will be accelerated.

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