The DAM Playbook

10 Core DAM Characteristics

10 Core accreditation evaluates DAM systems on Core functionality and competencies

10 Core DAM Characteristics accreditation is an industry standard, developed in 2014 by IQ Equity alongside a group of DAM professionals and thought leaders.

It assesses the core functionality necessary to carry out Digital Asset Management.

To date 40 companies have been accredited, including industry leaders and smaller, less well known companies.

The roster of 10 Core Accredited Vendors is forever growing, as we monitor the industry and engage with more vendors.

Digital Asset Management (DAM) is more than just a storage solution; it is unique among other platforms in its ability to manage and utilise both content and metadata, manage individuals and teams and serve as the basis for workflow, collaboration and integration.

Unfortunately we have long seen the term Digital Asset Management used to describe systems which are not fully capable but rather deliver a limited subset of DAM functionality.

This is a confusing state of affairs for those researching DAM or purchasing a DAM system. It can also have negative impacts on software vendors wrongly described as DAM.

It is an evaluation process which looks at 10 key areas, covering 22 dimensions in total. Any software which passes the 10 Core can be deemed a fit for purpose DAM system.

The 10 Core also measures proficiency in these 22 dimensions, distinguishing how well vendors carry out core functions.

IQ Equity only works with 10 Core Accredited Vendors, using the 10 Core scores as a base metric in The DAM Playbook and during our work as consultants, analysts and strategists.

If you want us to assess core functionality in an unaccredited vendor, we can carry out 10 Core accreditation of a vendor as a service, with a full report on our findings provided to you following the demo.


Ingest metadata and assets including images, documents and audiovisual files.


Secure assets and metadata to ensure that they’re not misused or published prematurely.


Store assets and metadata of different types.

Render / Transform

Transform assets from one format to another.


Enrich and analyse via the use of audited data.


Relate versions, derivative and similar assets.


Process in the management, creation, and review of assets with workflow tools.


Find through metadata, collections, workflows, and access control tools.


Preview different file types on the DAM without downloading them.

Produce / Publish

Produce and publish internally and externally utilising integrations and proprietary tools.

DAM systems INGEST digital assets individually or in bulk, and allow for the manipulation of those digital assets and their metadata individually or with mass actions.

This is accomplished in part by assigning a unique
identifier to each digital asset on ingest.

Different methods of ingestion can be important strategic variables. We live in a rapidly changing world when it comes to social media and how we ingest data, so why should DAM be any different?

Increasingly we expect personalised experiences, from the way we setup our smartphones to the algorithm-driven social media profiles we use that are effectively tailored to us.

The people in an organisation who use the DAM system are a fundamentally important consideration in any DAM project.

Our first interaction with the DAM is often ingestion – are we an admin, a photographer, a partner, a creative and how does this impact the way we ingest content? Long gone are the days that FTP (File Transfer Protocol) was considered innovative, nowadays we want drag and drop, cloud access from a mobile app on 4G, we want to link Dropbox or Google Drive to the DAM system so we can search through our written content, we want to use the API to drag in content from the company CMS.

The DAM Maturity Model outlines the importance of information and particularly metadata, which impacts heavily on other parts of 10 Core, including Relate, Find, Secure and Store.

Without a strategic plan for metadata, which is enforced from day one of any DAM project, you will fail to truly reap the benefits of DAM.

Without properly marked up content, you will continue to operate a disorganized silo, pay money to reproduce digital assets, your staff will waste time looking for content and you will have little to no control over what happens to your content once it has left the DAM.

One of the most common reasons a vendor’s solution fails the 10 Core evaluation is the inability to embed metadata. Embedded metadata is fundamental in that information assigned to a digital asset remains with it throughout its lifecycle. Without the ability to embed metadata the digital asset only really has meaning within the DAM environment.

Without embedded metadata we can’t really call something a digital asset; it is not an asset to us, merely a file, as useful as any disorganized, hard to find, meaningless file that we might shove into a shared folder or leave on an external hard drive in a drawer. It is more important than just adding a few keywords for SEO.

Metadata, in fact all data, is part of the story we want to tell about our content and is the basis on which all successful, mature businesses ensure that important content, digital assets and information are not destroyed.

Some of the more innovative DAM vendors are starting to think of digital assets as entities, with information intrinsically associated, we must also start to think this way, and the first step is embedding.

DAM systems SECURE the digital assets they contain.

Security in a DAM extends to defining access control lists (ACLs) for digital assets and defining roles for users accessing the system.

System security, firewalls and suchlike are important in DAM, however, in 10 Core security is about access, permissions and user management on the one hand, and rights management on the other.

They are intrinsically related because both involve restricting what people can see and do. They differ in that access and permissions relate to what users can do in the DAM environment, whereas rights management also applies to what users can do outside of the DAM environment. We suggest that you should be thinking about both when it comes to strategy.

Any reasonably sized business needs to place restrictions on the release and accessibility of its content and therefore readily configurable internal permissions and secure access are essential.

Users expect some single sign on functionality, temporary access and user types; this takes us back to the idea of personalised experiences which can be tailored with permissions. More than that, it gives you control.

We need to get out of a silo mentality where we throw all the content into a shared drive and forget about it.

Control at the user and digital asset level has knock on effects when it comes to consistency (brand and otherwise), quality control, digital asset misuse and of course the wider issue of rights management.

Unfortunately extensive rights management is something that is missing from a majority of DAM systems. We are seeing more of the industry starting to integrate and develop rights management tools, highlighting its importance in your strategy.

If we truly are to utilise DAM as the foundational technology in the storage and delivery of content, then it’s important that we know where our content is being delivered to, who’s using it and what they are using it for.

Some DAM vendors are doing this, some are starting to, it’s your responsibility to know where you’re going on your DAM journey and act accordingly.

In an ever more interconnected future you need to know about your content even when it no longer resides in the DAM.

Many enterprises have been subjected to multiple lawsuits for copyright infringement that they never suspected they were committing, that could have been avoided with a bottom-up rights management solution driven by DAM.

DAM systems STORE digital assets as both binaries and metadata.

A DAM system can store multiple file types, and allows for the customisation of metadata fields and the metadata in those fields attached to the stored files.

Storage is perhaps what you first think of when it comes to DAM. In the 10 Core we focus on the ability to handle different types of digital assets and metadata, and on customization.

Customisation refers to the ways in which it is possible to use metadata on the system. How the DAM handles digital assets and metadata is the foundational point for everything that comes after.

Many DAM systems started life specialising in one digital asset type and often DAMs will still lean towards a certain asset type when it comes to storing and interacting with digital assets in the DAM.

These days, we expect some functionality with all common digital asset types, however don’t overlook its importance.

Part of a successful strategy is knowing what digital assets you have, what format they take and then which DAM vendor aligns best with your needs.

We have already touched on the importance of metadata. Any DAM worth its salt will have ingestion workflows that allow you to markup digital assets in bulk.

The more able DAMs will have what we’ll call metadata profiling, which is any technique which aims to streamline the process of metadata markup, or personalize the experience based on asset type, user permissions or suchlike.

We see long-established DAMs that are powerful but extremely complex and metadata configuration that requires extensive technical knowledge.

DAM is no longer restricted to the tech-savvy IT professional or archivist, end users are often less technically-capable but require a similar degree of control over metadata administration.

Your strategy is to decide where your business sits when it comes to complexity, flexibility and ease of use.

DAM systems RENDER / TRANSFORM digital assets on ingest into new forms, such as thumbnails or proxy files.

The new forms generated on asset ingest via transformation should all be stored as asset parts of the original file uploaded.

All DAM systems must be capable of converting file types, changing image sizes and resolutions and making at least simple edits such as cropping.

A level of automation of these processes is also required, the most obvious example of this is the automatic creation of thumbnails and video previews.

The more capable DAMs have advanced editing tools and integrations and the ability to transform digital assets on mass. This is the first area where you really need to focus on one version of the truth.

Successful operation of a DAM and use of your digital assets, requires a high level of iteration. The ability to create multiple versions, derivatives and renditions of digital assets is fundamental to making the best use of your digital assets and the tools at your disposal.

What used to be specialist uses for DAM are now becoming ubiquitous – the creative process is a perfect example, with DAM now performing a central role in the production of rich content.

In order to have a successful collaborative process, everyone needs to be on the same page, which is why we place such importance on inherent associations between the original asset and all versions and renditions thereafter.

Automation, to a large extent, creates these associations for you. Thumbnailing and the creation of low resolution previews are essential and have knock on effects when it comes to findability, preservation of high resolution originals and one version of the truth.

Some DAMs are capable of bulk editing tasks and some vendors are experimenting with machine learning initiatives to automate processes like metadata markup and editing.

Although some of this may seem unnecessary now, you need to look 5 or 10 years down the line and decide which vendors are ready to take you on that journey.

DAM systems ENRICH digital assets through the extension of metadata and metrics regarding the use and reuse of the asset throughout its lifecycle.

The term enrich is easy to misinterpret, obviously there are multiple ways that your experience can be enriched, through metadata and user interfaces for example.

In 10 Core the focus is on the way that the DAM gathers data and how this data is used. It must be possible to access data on the system and the usage (downloads, uploads, versioning etc) of digital assets at the bare minimum.

DAMs that perform better here have integrated analytical software, have developed proprietary tools and are tracking content in integrated software or through embeds.

To improve the operation of your DAM system you need to gather data on how it’s being used. This goes further than simply looking at uploads, downloads and user logins.

You need to track individual user activities, look at how easily people find content, look at what your content is being used for, who is using it and a multitude of other complex queries.

The rise of Big Data and Data Science in the wider world highlights just how important data is to organisations. With the right tools you can discover what is not immediately obvious, improve working practices and improve the way your content is delivered.

Reporting and Analytics is an area in which many established DAM vendors score low.

It’s important for you to know what data the DAM captures, in what form the data is stored and whether the DAM has tools available to analyse and report upon it.

Depending on how complex your workflow requirements are you may also need to find out what data is being captured from external sources as well as integrated software.

Don’t assume that all DAMs are made the same, the depth of integration, strength of the APIs and the use of certain architectural components like Elasticsearch all contribute to a vendor’s success here.

DAM systems RELATE digital assets by tracking the relationships between and among an original asset and versions/variants of the original.

Versioning and version control tools are central to a digital asset’s life in a DAM system.

Version control is a core feature that we expect from DAM systems.

As we mentioned earlier, in true version control there is one version of the truth, i.e. one asset which might have multiple versions which can be accessed if required.

Each asset must have a Unique ID number, versions will either share a UID or part of a UID, or the UIDs will be linked physically on the back end in someway. There must also be facility to create other types of relationships between digital assets.

DAM systems often fail 10 Core certification because they lack true version control. In order to collaborate effectively, version control must be present.

Without it you end up in a disorganised situation where digital assets are misused, branding is inconsistent and nobody can find anything.

Without it your DAM is little more than a storage medium and it’s difficult to monitor the creative process. The relationships we create between digital assets during workflow, collaboration and creation are what drives a continued creative process in the form of reuse and repurposing but also tells part of the story of the asset lifecycle.

We don’t just have a finished piece of content that is opaque and isolated, we have a record of all the constituent parts, all those involved in it’s creation and a wealth of other related content to access for anyone who might be interested.

The most immediate benefit of versioning is that by having one version of the truth we know which asset is the version to use. Yes we can look at all the work that has been carried out up to this point but we remove the risk of people using old branding or unfinished content and a whole host of other issues relating to consistency.

Relationships outside of version control are important as well. Usually we create relationships with shared metadata, taxonomy and controlled vocabularies.

We should also be able to construct more complex relationships so that less obvious associations are highlighted.

For example, we might want documentation to always travel with a digital asset, we might want to associate all the digital assets in a particular campaign, assign owners, link digital assets to external databases and a whole array of other relationships.

This is another way to enrich our content, to encourage reuse and to share ideas more readily.

DAM systems regulate a structured PROCESS in the management, creation, and review of digital assets with workflow tools.

Via programmed workflows, DAMs allow for a decentralised workforce to collaborate together in a centralised system.

All DAM systems must have workflow capacity, although the complexity and form that this takes varies widely.

Some form of ingest workflow and review and approval workflow should be possible. Management of workflow is varied across the industry, but you should expect to be able to assign tasks to users and inform them of the fact.

Traditionally DAM has been less workflow driven than other software, but organisations that manage their content optimally, have realised that DAM is the foundation of business strategy – and that workflow is therefore a key consideration when selecting a DAM system.

The exact nature of your workflow requirements obviously depends on the nature of your business.

Your main decision when it comes to workflow is how much of this you intend DAM to be in control of; this decision must be made regardless of whether the workflow tools are proprietary or integrated.

Many DAM systems have a sweet spot in one particular area, be it marketing, packaged goods or audiovisual management, and vendors either develop proprietary tools, or focus on integrating a particular subset of third party workflow tools.

It isn’t always immediately obvious how proficient a DAM system’s workflow tools are and we would recommend in-depth assessment later in the procurement process.

First, however, you must establish primary areas of suitability, such as the ability to handle particular file formats and metadata standards, the underlying technological architecture, your existing workflow software and whether the vendor supports it, including geography and potential cost of ownership.

You then need to compare solutions side by side, look at how well integrated software is and how pervasive workflow is in terms of versioning, relating content, metadata markup, user administration and the capturing of data. All of this will help you to maintain one version of the truth.

The management of workflow is another important consideration. Every vendor will claim to have workflow tools, but the ability to offer a dedicated space for workflow which encourages collaboration and allows tight grained administrative control is less common.

Something we increasingly see is integration with creative operations, proofing, and project management software such as ProofHQ, Workfront and ConceptShare, which provide annotations, and review and approval capabilities, among others.

Some vendors rely more on their own Workflow Dashboard, in both cases you need to look at users’ ability to communicate and call to action, how easily and to what depth workflow can be tracked and monitored, as well as the level of automation and workflow triggers available.

The 10 Core can only take you so far with workflow and this is an area we go into more detail with elsewhere in BEYOND CORE.

DAM systems allow users to FIND digital assets and to retrieve those digital assets by facilitating search through metadata, collections, workflows, and access control tools.

By increasing the discovery of digital assets that may not have been easily accessible before ingest, a DAM assists workers in leveraging existing content for maximum work potential.

DAM systems have a search facility built in, but we are looking for a little more than simple search.

Filters, queries and boolean operators are examples of the type of things we now expect. Search should also be made more efficient with stemming, fuzzy search, and search facets.

In terms of navigation, we expect that there is some fluidity in navigating around the DAM – that there is more than one way to move from one place to another.

Navigation is also affected by the UI, with dashboards, widgets and more personalized user experiences becoming ever more common throughout the industry. Thus the ability to find is less straightforward than it might seem and is an important consideration.

Your search requirements rely to an extent on your workflows and the nature of your business. Knowing the functionality you require will again involve looking to your staff and the way they locate content, for example a photographer and product manager are likely to have very different ways of finding content.

The underlying technology should be considered, ElasticSearch and other recent iterations of Lucene and Solr are expanding search from a locate and return medium to something more intelligent that captures and utilises data, increasing your ability to enrich and improve the DAM.

Vendors are experimenting with machine learning; recognising features within images, reading text from scanned documents and speech to text on video.

These are all examples of tools which increase the findability of content without human input. You might need to consider how useful these cutting edge technologies are to you, but perhaps more importantly how useful they will be in the future.

We are moving away from the keyword-driven search of Web 2.0 and into a more semantically driven, intelligent search. Perhaps a simple search will do for now, but innovative and forward thinking customers and vendors will be looking for where they want to be further down the line.

Finally remember that both pre-and-post implementation, proper metadata management and establishing the correct relationships must be a major part of your strategy when it comes to finding content.

The 10 Core looks at core functionality and focuses less on UI/UX and other more intangible considerations. The ability to navigate around the DAM has functional considerations such as those outlined above, but relies also upon the look and feel of a DAM system.

As mentioned previously, you will need to strike a balance between functionality and usability and nowhere is this more apparent than in the way someone navigates the DAM.

All too often a lack of navigational structures and a reliance on rigid folder structures makes a DAM system feel dated, even if the DAM is functionally capable. In a reasonably sized organization you will have a spectrum of user types and UI/UX must try to support the needs of the entire spectrum.

DAM systems have a PREVIEW function that allows users to view digital assets before downloading or opening a file on their own device.

By allowing users to take a look at digital assets in search quickly, without download, DAM systems reduce the amount of time users must spend in search.

Once you’ve found a digital asset, you want to look at it.

It must be possible to preview images, documents and audiovisual files in the DAM.

Without this capacity DAM is nothing more than a file storage system where you need additional software to actually access your digital assets.

Thumbnails and low resolution previews save both time and computational power as well as increasing findability, thus encouraging reuse and repurposing.

Depending on the typical use cases that a DAM vendor serves you might also be able to preview less common digital asset types, such as 3D files, dynamic Adobe ID and PS files, or scroll through multi page documents and single frames in video.

There are organisations where such functionality is crucial, for example news publishing scenarios might require a fast turnover of prepress to postpress content and so need more advanced document preview capabilities.

Another example is in creative-heavy and/or product-centric organisations where the need for Adobe ID and PS files would be much greater.

For most organisations these are not essential and would be considered nice to haves or something promised on the vendor roadmap.

Most DAM systems have a way in which a space can be created to look at batches of digital assets, it comes with many names, but lightbox is perhaps the most common.

Lightboxes tie in with your ability to provide access to external users, along with workflow, as part of the approval process.

It has long been a feature of DAM, but is starting to expand into more of a showcasing feature and ecommerce space for purchasing marketing content.

In the past this functionality might have occurred elsewhere but as we’ve said, DAM is expanding in its reach and what it’s capable of.

DAM systems PRODUCE / PUBLISH content by providing methods whereby digital assets may be shared, linked to, or otherwise be distributed outside the system.

This DAM function may be as simple as generating a URL on ingest or as complex as allowing users to build collections of items for sharing with a workgroup.

Our final port of call looks towards the end of the digital asset lifecycle – the production of content for release and curation.

As with search and workflow there is a lot of variety here, but we expect there to be production or publishing software within the DAM, or via an integration, and that there is a way to push content to a website (via an embed) or software system (such as a Content Management System).

The ability to produce and publish can be an aspect of workflow but also the endpoint, if this is the case, the specific tools you require will be linked to your workflow requirements.

Possibly the most common publishing medium is CMS, indeed many DAMs were built from CMS and many others alongside one.

The more proficient vendors are those who can pass content and metadata between DAM and CMS but maintain one version of the truth, where the DAM manages the content on the CMS.

This is true of other mediums and highlights again the fundamental strengths that metadata, particularly embedded metadata offers all the way through the digital asset lifecycle.

You need to assess how well your current publishing / production mediums are supported and how tightly linked the digital assets are to the DAM.

Embedding digital assets in integrated software, web pages and so forth reaps the same benefits as embedding metadata.

Your digital asset has now left the DAM but you remain in control, your efforts in enriching that asset with metadata now dictates its usage.

Taking inspiration from Martech software some vendors now track and monitor digital assets, gaining sentiment from social media and measuring success by views or downloads.

This is certainly a growth area for the industry and should be something to consider if analytics and reporting are important to you.

This all goes back to the idea of DAM as a foundation, the main control centre for all of your operations.

Map your DAM DNA. And find your best-fit, fast.