big step

Businesses hear "user adoption strategies" and often think "training or internal communications exercises." This significantly underestimates the scale of the task.

User adoption and change management are arguably the most important factors when implementing DAM systems, with success in the latter relying strongly on success in the former. 

We covered four of the phases businesses go through when creating a user adoption strategy, so let's take a look at the final four. And as previously mentioned, when going through this process yourself, assess these suggestions in light of your own specific case. 

The Phases of User Adoption Strategy

Businesses processes

For your DAM initiative to achieve a critical mass of both users and assets, you'll need to change your business processes so the DAM becomes integral to them. Where feasible, every digital asset that enters the business (or is created within it) should be held within the DAM and should leave via it as well. If you can realize this goal, it will maximize the inventory of assets, offer the potential of re-use and provide insight trends within the business.  

On the output side, it will become far easier to see what assets are being used, by who and for what. This generates a considerable amount of potentially valuable business intelligence which can enable managers to make more informed decisions. To use a metaphor, your DAM should be like a transport hub where the digital assets are like passengers who arrive and depart in an orderly fashion with the aim of reaching their destinations as efficiently as possible.  

It should be noted that even with near-full adoption by everyone in the organization, you probably won't be able to achieve 100 percent success with this goal, but the closer you can get, the higher the potential ROI.

Integration and interoperability

As noted above, the more your DAM is woven into the fabric of your organization's operations management strategy, the easier it becomes to realize its benefits. Business processes are the human side of the equation and integration and interoperability is where DAM interfaces with your existing IT systems and applications. The more solutions the digital assets are obtained from and distributed to, the more users will come into contact with the DAM.

In some cases, DAM transparency or invisibility might be beneficial, because it has no direct functional role for the staff concerned. For example, one method to meet light or occasional digital asset demands is to provide access in a facility outside of the DAM via intranets or even public websites (if the material is non-sensitive).  

Integration strategies can positively affect DAM adoption while allowing the core application to focus on a smaller group of users. One example is allowing users to retrieve and manipulate assets directly within other applications, so they don't need to search and download them first. These ancillary methods can increase DAM adoption and simultaneously improve productivity. A  number of vendors now provide capabilities like direct access to assets from within tools such as Photoshop, web CMS solutions, etc.

Although DAM solutions offer far more interoperability options than previously available, you won't find standard solutions for every integration you need. Custom integration exercises are usually professional services undertakings (i.e., will involve consulting costs) so choose carefully what to prioritize.

User feedback

Prior to the introduction of DAM initiatives, businesses obtain user feedback to inform system selection and customization decisions. Ideally, the same is true for any business process adjustments (and as part of a wider risk analysis). 

User feedback is equally essential post-implementation, both to compare and contrast with the original objectives and because of staff changeovers and other operational circumstances changing. DAM software as well as internal procedures and policies will need to evolve and adapt as a result.

A combination of both structured methods and less rigid forms (e.g. focus groups) are usually needed to get an accurate picture of user feedback. Standard approaches like sending out surveys, etc. don't necessarily provide a representative sample. Depending too heavily on these methods can lead to a skewed impression, based on which staff were more motivated to complete the survey.  

Seasonal patterns can also skew results. For example, if you ask for feedback from the communications department while it's in the middle of producing the annual report, you probably won't get many responses. Take these sort of factors into account before making changes based on individual sets of responses. Validate responses with either deeper analysis or further studies.

Some people (especially those in very busy, production-oriented roles) may not be able to offer feedback via surveys or focus groups no matter when you ask them. In those cases, it might be necessary to go and see them, so they can show any issues they face and explain the implications. Link user feedback to user profiles and solicit feedback accordingly. The depth you go into should correlate with the extent that the person uses (or may use) the DAM on a daily basis.

Don't discount the opinion of someone who does not (or cannot) participate. It's not unusual to hear phrases like "if x doesn't want to provide us with their opinion, they can't expect to have an input into the DAM" (where x could be anything from a single stakeholder to an entire department or business unit). While a lack of feedback obviously isn't ideal, you can't dismiss the value of their input. Persist. Try alternative methods until you get something tangible. A wide range of opinions gives you a clearer picture of what the majority of users think about the DAM and helps you avoid wasting money on changes or features which only a small sample of users will find valuable.

Auditing and user activity profiling

Comparing what people say with what they really do when using the DAM is a useful reality check. An article on DAM News last year about measuring DAM ROI has a number of similarities with devising strategies to increase user adoption levels. Your solution vendor should be able to provide a number of built-in reports to identify the number of people who created accounts, logged in and other key events like downloads, searches, etc.  

While unlikely to find everything you need as a pre-rolled report, at minimum look for an audit of system activity which can be analyzed in a custom manner (e.g., using a spreadsheet, etc).  From my experience, vendors are generally quite helpful when it comes to helping you to slice and dice usage data. The smarter ones realize that it is as much in their interest as yours to improve adoption levels (and if not, those vendors may need a gentle reminder of that fact).

Look for how well represented specific groups of users are. Normally this will be based on the department or business function, but that depends on the structures and divisions your organization uses to differentiate employees (or relevant third parties like suppliers). A usage distribution curve which is proportionate to the number of staff in each group would typically be the objective for many, but this also depends on what activities the personnel concerned get involved in. If they have little or no need to make use of the digital assets held in your DAM, lower levels of adoption in those cases might not be an issue (indeed, it could indicate some misunderstandings about what relevance it has to them).  

Also look for who contributes assets. Even if you centralize ingestion and a dedicated team of people catalogue everything, you should record the business unit each asset is associated with. If one department is over-represented it might affect adoption levels for everyone else because none of the assets appear relevant. Of course if this is intentional as the DAM is oriented towards the needs of that department, it is less of a concern.  

All of the studies and conclusions you may reach after conducting them are highly case-specific. Even so, the system usage data should (usually) validate the feedback you collect from users themselves. If not, find out why there is a discrepancy. The reasons could include software faults or other obscure combinations of circumstances, but more often than not they point to a facet of your user adoption and change management strategy that requires attention.  

Collecting this data may require considerable effort, but the value outweighs the effort. Avoid the temptation to engage in "curve-fitting" to try and explain differences away or post-rationalizing reasons for a correlation between user feedback and auditing data.

Adoption is the Name of the Game

While adding new features or adjusting processes to a DAM system can increase ROI, the greatest single opportunity is in getting more people to use it. 

The manager (or managers) who led the DAM initiative are ultimately responsible for increasing user adoption. If the software proves to be the root cause of poor adoption, commission changes or replace the system if changes are impossible. While significant differences still exist between DAM platforms, they are gradually beginning to converge in terms of functionality. Unless the incumbent application is quite old or was developed by a vendor without a track record in DAM, changing platforms will have less of an impact than increasing adoption levels and integrating Digital Asset Management concepts more closely with wider business processes.

Editor's Note: Read the post that kicked this series off: The Stages of Digital Asset Management Consciousness

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by  Tom McCagherty