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DAM 101

Understanding the Upstream and Downstream Workflows of DAM

Ben Owen

By Ben Owen | Feb 03, 2022

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Here on the Stacks blog, we spend lots of time demystifying the terms and jargon surrounding digital asset management (DAM) and the processes involved in planning, implementing, and managing a scalable DAM program. These terms and processes are important but are often concealed behind words and phrases uncommon in regular speech. They aren’t always easy to define, either. For these reasons, the Stacks team enjoys stepping in and making DAM both easy to understand and achieve in the real world.

Many of the most important DAM terms refer to the movement of assets throughout an organization during its lifecycle. To build an efficient, scalable, and understandable DAM program that end-users will buy into, it's vital to understand the different stages of the asset lifecycle. The movement of assets can be divided into three distinct phases: upstream, in storage, and downstream. In this article, we'll outline the characteristics of each of these phases so you can easily map the current movement of your assets and/or how you’d like them to move in the future.

Upstream Workflows

Upstream workflows refer to all the activities or processes involving assets before they enter the DAM system. Below, we've listed most of the major activities and phases involved in an upstream workflow, as well as the major factors which must be considered to properly build an effective DAM program.

Asset Creation

If we're talking lifecycles, the first step is always birth. Assets, in order to be used, must be created. This is a given, but there are some important things to consider at this stage in the upstream workflow that affect later stages. First, why are people creating assets? Are they recreating assets that already exist because they can’t find the older ones? Once assets are produced, where are they going, and how is their original creator being tracked? In many cases, new assets sit on individual hard drives, inaccessible to anyone else in the organization until they're sent along when requested.

Asset Collection

To avoid the problems of lost or duplicated assets or ones missing critical information such as who made them, you’ll need to regularly collect assets from your creators. For many organizations, it's easiest to set up a central repository, give all their creators access to it, and require them to place new assets in it when they're completed. Tools like Dropbox, Box, and some DAM platforms work great for this step in the process. DAM platforms can be tricky, however, as not all of them are conducive to easily applying metadata to assets. With this later stage in mind, be sure not to rush the ingestion of assets. Typically, it’s best to set up an “Incoming” folder with sub-folders for each creator so you can keep track of who created what and capture that information in the metadata. An example is below.

Asset Approval

Once your newly-created assets are all in one, organized place, they’ll need to be approved. This should be done regularly by managers in your different creative departments. This ensures that new assets meet your brand guidelines and communicate your core values before they’re used. You’ll also need to confirm that all assets comply with copyright guidelines and are permissioned appropriately. Once assets are approved, move them to another folder in your collection tool. If your DAM platform allows users to easily apply metadata, you may want to use it to collect and approve assets since many DAM platforms have features and functions to make this process quick and easy.

Asset Enrichment & Ingestion

Once your assets are created, collected, and approved, it's time to enrich them with appropriate metadata and place them in the DAM system if it wasn’t your collection tool. To make this process quick and easy, your organization should spend time building a robust and easy-to-understand metadata taxonomy and controlled vocabulary. For each stage in this process, you’ll need to assign “owners” to regularly execute these tasks and keep assets moving through the pipeline. Once assets are tagged appropriately, they’ll need to be uploaded to the appropriate place in the DAM system. If your enrichment is done on the DAM platform, be sure the metadata attached to assets is maintained after they are pulled out of it.

In Storage Workflows

Permission Management

Once assets make their way into the DAM system, the next step is to manage the permissions and access rights around them. If your DAM platform uses folder structures as the basis of permissions, make certain you’ve planned ahead and developed an intuitive folder structure that allows users with various permissions levels to find and use the assets they need. At the same time, be sure to track expiring copyright and usage permissions around assets that aren’t yours.

Asset Sharing

Your assets are now fully protected both from misuse and access by the wrong person. Because of this, your team can confidently and securely share them within and without your organization. Assets can be shared securely and easily from many DAM platforms, especially from cloud-based systems. Keep track of who is asking for and sharing assets the most, as well as what kinds of assets are used frequently so you can adjust your creative needs accordingly.

DAM Integration

If your organization is utilizing a DAM platform to house assets, you may have the ability to integrate it with other systems your organization uses to deploy assets into the marketplace. These systems may include your brand’s content management system (CMS), product information management (PIM) system, or your customer relationship management (CRM) tool. Many DAM platforms allow the seamless movement of assets from the library to these other systems without having to download them or worry about version control.

Downstream Workflows

Downstream workflows, in direct contrast to upstream workflows, are those processes that involve moving assets out of the DAM system and into other systems in or outside of your organization. The success of these activities is largely dependent on the effectiveness of your upstream and in-storage workflows.

Asset Use

The reason assets are called assets is because they have value. That value is realized by putting them to use for the growth of an organization. Due to the digital and visual nature of the marketplace today, as well as the importance of a strong brand identity, consistently deploying assets is key to business development. If your assets have been approved, enriched, organized in a DAM system, and have up-to-date permissions, your team can quickly and easily pull the perfect asset to deploy in the market at the optimal time. This ability will give you an edge over your competitors and allow you to reach consumers with compelling content first.

Asset Retirement / Archiving

As birth is the first step in any lifecycle, retirement is often one of the last. There will come a time when an asset is no longer the most relevant or effective in the market or is no longer up-to-date with your brand identity or core values. For your DAM program to continue running smoothly, you’ll need to regularly archive assets like this or remove them from the system. Archived files can still be valuable, but you need to be sure to separate historic assets from current ones.


Understanding these upstream and downstream workflows will allow you to build and maintain a strong DAM program for years to come. As stated, this gives your brand a considerable competitive advantage. If you need help getting started on your upstream workflows or don’t have the bandwidth internally to handle all these activities regularly, Stacks can help! Contact us today to learn more about how we can make digital asset management easy for you

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