Why You Need a DAM System: a Designer's Lifehack

Hi, my name is Eric Marston and I’d like to share with you the lifehacks that I’ve learned about switching from file servers to cloud file storage services like Dropbox — and finally ending up with a much more functional cloud DAM system in place.

For the past 10 years, my day-to-day job has been to create beautiful marketing materials for the company I work for as well as for our sales partners across the globe. Whether it is a catalogue, a product brochure, a printed leaflet or an interactive PDF — I mainly work in Adobe’s InDesign to create files.

In different years, there were from 3 to 8 people on my team, so we had to arrange our design workflow somehow to make collaboration smooth and creativity flowing. Plus, we had to confirm designs with the remote regional marketers and sales people, so we used to switch from servers, then to Dropbox and its alternatives — until we finally discovered the concept of a DAM system (digital asset management). That made work so much more pleasing and efficient. This is what the evolution of our design workflow looked like.

File Servers

Back in 2010, we had to maintain a dedicated 13.2 Tb file server to host mainly heavy design files “in progress” along with some latest final versions, as well as the historical archive arranged in folders by months and years. There were some challenges that we faced back then:

  • Inefficient file search and cluttered folder structure. Despite the fact that we were a small team of 4, it took us ages to find a specific file. Sometimes we mixed up with the versions, not knowing who had made the last changes to the file — so hours of work were lost. Sometimes we just couldn’t find a file at all.
  • Remote access through a VPN caused slow speed or/and extra costs for cloud storage. Part of our job was to send files to regional marketers for preview and approval. Remote people had difficulty with access, so we had to download 1-5 Gb files and upload them to file sharing services. This took us ages, and sometimes we even had to pay for the extra storage room.
  • High costs of a dedicated server. Our operational costs were too high for a relatively small organization, so we had to look for cheaper alternatives like cloud file storing systems.

Cloud File Storage and Sharing Platforms

At a certain point, we realized that a disorganized, slow file server that cost us a fortune was not an option for our design team any longer. So we started looking for some cloud-based file sharing alternatives with large or, better yet, unlimited storage, fast speed and high level of security. Frankly, we had tried at least 8 solutions, including popular platforms like Dropbox, Google Drive, Box, Sync, One Drive, pCloud and others.

Major limitations:

  • Software installation. To use some of these platforms in the cloud, you actually need to install software on your local machine to ensure swift synchronization. That was not a major disadvantage, however, it didn’t feel like a ‘true cloud service’.
  • Security flaws. As we work with sales materials that contain custom pricing and client information, we needed an encrypted end-to-end file transfer, which most services like Dropbox don’t offer.
  • Storage limitation per user. While we deal with design files mainly, sometimes even 1,000 GB per user monthly is not enough to meet our needs. So even super secure services like Tresorit didn’t do the job for us.
  • Average speed/low bandwidth. We never paid attention to the regions where the cloud storage providers actually hosted their servers — but should have done so. Sometimes appealing cheap subscription fee resulted in an average, overall annoying speed.

Also could be improved:

  • Lack of automated versioning. Although many cloud file sharing services like Sync or Box allow collaboration on files, they may not be design-focused. As we mainly edit InDesign and sometimes PhotoShop files, we needed a solution integrated with Adobe CС to edit layouts directly in the cloud with the opportunity to roll back to the previous version.
  • Lack of real-time collaboration. Plus, we were looking for a tool that would make our communication and overall workflow easier: something like automatic requests for review or permission, or short comments on files — all in one interface.
  • File search options still could be better. We had to migrate our archive of design files for over 5 years — and organize around 60,000 files properly. We felt we still lacked more advanced search filters, preview of all searchable files, and the ability to add tags and metadata.

Taking all these ‘cons’ into consideration, we realized we needed something more than just cloud file storage and sharing. This is how we slowly but steadily came to the idea of trying a cloud DAM system.

Cloud DAM System (Digital Asset Management)

DAM or Digital Asset Management means a type of software that:

  • is mainly used by a large group of users with multi-level accesses and permissions;
  • hosts a considerable number of complex media files;
  • allows real-time collaboration on files with automatic versioning;
  • most importantly — provides instant file search due to comprehensive embedded meta tagging.

Another considerable requirements for our team were deployment in the cloud as well as affordability and a good vendor reputation. We tried out and compared features, pricing and online reviews of the three popular cloud DAM systems Webdam by Shutterstock, Flight (also known as Cumulus for its on-premise version) by Canto and Elvis Cloud by WoodWing (now known as Swivle). There are many more other cloud DAM vendors — you can check out the Forrester 2017 report or compare ratings on some software review platforms like Capterra or G2Crowd. We chose these three mainly by the criterion of affordability.

I assume most of my design colleagues can relate to the problems we faced with our workflow until we implemented a cloud DAM system. And I hope my experience and observations will help you make the right choice between a file server, a cloud storage platform or a cloud DAM system. Good luck!

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