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The DAM recruitment puzzle

If digital asset management is at the beating heart of the customer experience–and there are good reasons to say that it is–what’s the problem with staffing it properly?

I know: we’ve been through this already with cloud computing, enterprise architecture, and big data analytics. Everybody agrees that here’s something essential, vital, to operating a successful business–and then there’s a shortfall in qualified cloud specialists, architects, data scientists, and engineers. It’s familiar enough, and now it seems to be affecting DAM.

Basic questions about the job weren’t answerable by those trying to hire—such as: What DAM system is the corporation trying to launch?

One of several articles on this topic I’ve read recently was published by CMS Wire, a customer experience resource. In it, Elizabeth Keathley warns that DAM vacancies are going unfilled, despite the availability of qualified applicants. How is that possible? According to Keatley, HR departments–and even more so, the third party recruitment agencies they use–don’t yet truly know what DAM is:

“Often basic questions about the job weren’t answerable by those trying to hire — such as: What DAM system is the corporation trying to launch? What types of assets will be loaded — just images, or video, multimedia and rights documentation as well? Is coding required for the job, and if so, what language is being used?”

As a result of uncertainty, recruiters tend to offer short-term trial contracts, of little or no interest to experienced DAM managers already in permanent positions; and businesses are primarily searching for candidates who have run active DAM systems, not information architects or librarians beginning the DAM journey.

Keathley also mentions unreasonable expectations, like believing one DAM-focused employee can create and run a system which would really require a substantial team. 

But after all–what is a DAM manager? Can we at least agree about that? Mark Davey, president and founder of the DAM Foundation, says that, in order to create a DAM system it helps to have an in-house champion, preferably executive level, and a vendor-agnostic consultant. You also need a vendor, of course, unless you’re building the infrastructure from scratch. But what’s indispensable, he told an audience at a DAM conference earlier this year, is a librarian.  Without a librarian, he said, DAM has a zero percent chance of working.

So–is the librarian the DAM manager? Possibly. Writing this time for the DAM Foundation, Elizabeth Keathley explained that the long-term depression in librarian salaries in the United States means that “DAM professionals would do well to keep the term ‘digital asset managers’ and not call themselves ‘librarians’ or ‘archivists'” even though “the jobs are very much the same.”

So the DAM manager companies are looking for, and failing to find, is actually a librarian. Except when he or she is an engineer. In another CMS Wire blog, published just last week, Ahava Leibtag explains that content engineers are “vital” to the health of marketing content. What does a content engineer do?

Bridging the gap between technologists and marketers is the content engineer’s primary role

“Content engineers are responsible for all the technology that support the delivery and distribution of content. Understanding relational databases, structured content, how automation tools will integrate, choosing the right CMS, technical implementation and so on. (But) bridging the gap between technologists and marketers is the content engineer’s primary role.”

A content engineer, Leibtag adds, is not just a developer, because the role requires strategic thinking in alignment content creators. What’s more, it’s clear from this description that the content engineer is actually not a librarian–not someone appropriately tasked with curating the business’s content assets and devising taxonomies to ensure that its stored and retrieved in an efficient manner. The librarian–sorry, DAM manager–needs to be adept in using a CMS, but won’t be someone capable of developing the full architecture for content storage and distribution.

The DAM foundation, for all its useful resources on staffing, doesn’t talk about the engineering aspect of DAM: perhaps that’s something it assumes businesses will leave entirely to the in-house development team, or even to a DAM vendor. 

Recruiters might be forgiven for their uncertainty about the skill-sets and staffing levels required to create and run a DAM system in all its aspects. Knowledgeable commentators are still filling in the gaps. And this might seem a small point to make, except that it’s a microcosm of something we’re witnessing all across the marketing tech landscape–from social media management, through DAM, to programmatic: a disruptive uncertainty about who needs to own the moving parts of complex processes which mash together IT, business planning, marketing and sales as never before

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