September 20, 2011

On Choosing an Open Source Digital Asset Management System

When I first blogged on open source digital asset management three years ago, it was a fairly new concept. The digital asset management product landscape was dominated by a few Enterprise-class vendors and a number of middle-tier workgroup solutions. Most case studies on open source digital asset management were for large non-profit university or library collections.

Fast-forward to the present and we are starting to see case studies of open source digital asset management implementations for commercial organizations. There is also a growing community around open source digital asset management and a number of product options (14 at last count) in various stages of maturity.

As more companies and organizations start to seriously consider open source as an option for digital asset management, it is important to outline a few key factors that should be considered when researching or choosing a system.

  1. Core Digital Asset Management Features
    Prior to selecting or implementing a digital asset management solution, you should first determine what are the critical features that a system must support to meet the needs of your organization or company. Do you need the capability to manage and convert Camera RAW images? Do you need video transcoding and scene detection capabilities? Do you need self-service capabilities or extensive access control capabilities? Defining these critical needs prior to doing any research or viewing any demos will help to keep your selection process focused.
  2. Availability of an Online Demo
    Open source vendors are not represented in Real Story Group's Digital Asset Evaluation report, so it can be difficult to track down information on specific features. However, unlike proprietary 'closed-source' digital asset management products, which can be a hassle to get a try-before-you-buy license for, open source digital asset management systems are there for the testing. Therefore, it is important that you take advantage of that open-ness and test the products that are finalists in your comparative feature analysis. While this might be somewhat time-consuming, most companies that have been burned by spending a small fortune on a closed-source system would attest that product testing, ideally against a demo script that is baselined against your functional requirements, is a smart use of your time.

    To make testing easier for you, most open source digital asset management solutions have some form of Online Demo available either as an anonymous guest or as a registered user. Once you get your finalist list down to one or two choices, it still makes sense to install the product in your local environment for deeper testing of your use cases and particular integration needs.

  3. Extensibility
    One open source perk is that with a smaller investment on licensing fees, a larger investment can be made on integrating the digital asset management solution with other content technology systems. In researching solutions, check to see if an open API is available. Does the system support RSS or Rest Services? Has the vendor or others in the community already integrated the system with other solutions? 
  4. Frequency of Releases
    It is important to understand the frequency of the release cycle for an open source digital asset management solution. If you pick a product that only releases an update once or twice a year it could mean that the developers are busy and may not have the bandwidth to address your needs, or that the contributor community is very small or dominated by just one company. If you pick a product that has a rapid release schedule it could mean that releases are not well tested and could be buggy when deployed.
  5. Licensing Options
    BSD, GPL, AGPL, GPL3, LGPL, Apache etc. - When working with open source software there are a number of different license models to be aware of. It is important to understand which license model a particular open source digital asset management solution is distributed under and what the particular limitations or considerations are. Visit http://www.opensource.org/licenses/alphabetical for more information on license variants.
  6. Support Options
    All commercial digital asset management vendors charge a maintenance fee which entitles the buyer to technical support and periodic product updates. Obtaining support for an open source system may be more difficult. Find out if the core system developers and maintainers have a standard support package, or if there is a consulting firm that specializes in both implementation and ongoing support of the open source digital asset management project that you are thinking of going with.

    Other things to look into include whether there a formal process for requesting features, or for reporting bugs. Outside of the core developers, try to find out if there are any local system integrators or digital asset management consultants (like DPCI) that have experience implementing the technology. Having local boots on the ground can save a lot of time and headaches.

  7. Community
    An active community is a great health indicator for any open source solution. An active community will help promote the solution and extend the user base. As the size of the community grows, new features will be added at a great pace and you'll have a larger pool of resources to tap into for support questions and any customization work. Also, if you do proceed with any open source digital asset management system, remember that it ultimately benefits you to contribute back to the community project. The more companies that use the open source digital asset management solution and contribute back to it, the more you will all have richer features to share to everyone's benefit.

I would like to mention that I am moderating a panel discussion on open source digital asset management at this week's Createasphere Digital Asset Management conference in New York. The session is Friday, 9/23 at 11am. If you can't make it to the conference, be sure to follow the live tweet stream on Thursday and Friday marked with a #Creatasphere hash tag and also check back here next week to read some of our additional thoughts.

Posted at 03:45 pm by Ivan Mironchuk

Drupal Association Organization Member

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