For generations, people have used folders to organize their important information. It began with paper, physical documents and files that needed to be organized and found quickly. Since then, the folder system has gone digital. Every computer and most user interfaces use folders to house digital files and content the same way that they are used in the real world. The beauty of digital folders is the ability to create folders within folders, a hierarchy and decision tree that allows users to easily navigate large libraries of files.
Like most software systems, digital asset management programs often use these folder structures to house content. As long as these folders are named and organized in an intuitive way, this folder structure allows users to quickly and easily find content. It serves as the backbone of a healthy DAM system, becoming the basis of permissions management and scalability. Folders are a system we are familiar and comfortable with. A new wave of digital asset management theory is gaining speed, however. Several organizations have chosen to go “folderless”. In this article, we outline the reasons why ditching the traditional folder structure is gaining popularity, as well as the use cases that could make it a good fit for your organization, and some tips for managing a folderless DAM effectively.
What is a Folderless DAM?
In simple terms, a folderless DAM is a digital asset management system that does not utilize a folder structure to organize digital assets. That may seem straightforward, but without folders separating assets into distinct groups, organizing permissions structures, and serving as the basis for sharing assets, other features must serve as the foundation of the digital asset management program. In the past, assets have been found by answering the question of “where can I find it?” instead of “what is it?”. Employees have depended on memory and institutional knowledge to navigate the folder structure rather than common sense and clearly-defined and understandable standards. Folderless DAMs run on clear processes and strong buy-in from the team.
Why a Folderless DAM?
Folderless systems for managing digital assets come with a number of benefits. First of all, is efficiency in your team’s ability to manage the program. Rather than waiting months for new employees to memorize the folder structure, your team is able to use a simple, documented controlled vocabulary to search for assets they need directly from the search bar. Using metadata, your team doesn’t need to click through a folder path and then scroll through all the files in the folder to find what they need. They can quickly retrieve specific and curated content by applying filters to the library.
Using a traditional folder structure, teams are able to lock and protect certain areas of the folder hierarchy based on their security needs. Without folders, permissions are based on metadata and specific user’s account settings. If assets need to be locked, they can be searched through metadata and their permissions settings changed directly or specific tags can be applied to triage them from the rest of the library. This way, entire folder trees do not need to be locked and valuable assets kept away when copyright permissions change or the company rebrands.
Along with efficiency, ease of use can improve in a folderless DAM system as well. Many folderless DAMs have multiple views that users can toggle between to improve their experience and speed up their searches. These views can allow users to see the most recent assets, certain file types, or other categories quickly without having to click through folders.
5 Tips for Implementing and Managing a Folderless DAM
1. Metadata Enrichment
As mentioned above several times, the secret to success without folders is metadata. If your organization does not use metadata or its application is inconsistent, maintaining a folder structure, for the time being, is likely best. If your organization does use metadata and its application through the current library is consistent, as well as understood, then this transition may make sense. Robust metadata enrichment allows your users to filter the library in general ways all the way down to the most granular detail, but its application and management are time-consuming and imperative to the system’s success. Ensure that you know who is responsible for this task and the metadata they apply is standardized and understood by end-users.
2. Documented Standards
To guarantee that your end-users and managers of the DAM program all work on the same page and have an identical understanding of how to use the program, it’s vital to build and document standards. These standards include controlled vocabularies, file naming conventions, and best practices for how to search, share, access, and use assets across your many systems. Without these being seen and available to your team, the DAM will quickly devolve into chaos, and getting it back to calm will be a headache without a clear folder structure to lean on.
In any DAM system, governance is imperative. It ensures that assets and users are managed properly, standards are being followed, and new opportunities to expand the use of the DAM are identified and executed. In a folderless system, these responsibilities become more important. Cleaning up any DAM is difficult and time-consuming, but especially so when assets are not clearly organized in a controlled hierarchy. If metadata enrichment falters or standards are not updated, your team can quickly fall behind. Identify who will govern your program and what their responsibilities are before implementing a folderless DAM.
4. User Permissions
A large part of the governance team’s job will likely be managing user permissions. As users come and go, it is their job to ensure that proper access is assigned and irrelevant or outdated assets are retired. This ensures that no one accidentally uses an asset they shouldn’t, placing your branding strategy or legal standing at risk. With folders, managing permissions may mean that certain assets get lost when they shouldn’t, but managing large user groups with unique permissions is difficult. Ensure that user groups and their permissions are understood before implementation.
5. Metadata that Sticks
The final major consideration to make before going folderless is ensuring that your metadata is directly applied to your assets rather than simply stored on your DAM platform. If the latter is the case, migrating to a new platform or system will be nearly impossible, as your metadata will not transfer to a new system and your team will have to start from scratch. As you build your folderless DAM program, routinely confirm that your metadata is stuck to your assets by making small changes to the metadata, downloading the assets, and ensuring the changes appear outside the platform. This way, if your organization outgrows your platform, the program can be maintained using new technologies.
There are clear benefits to using a folderless DAM system. That is why many organizations are making the switch. This shift comes with lots of work and planning, however. If you’re unsure if a folderless DAM would work for you or if your team is ready to implement this change, contact Stacks!