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Though we should make it very clear we are in the business of Digital Asset Management (DAM), we happily recognise that SharePoint (SP) can be used for some basic DAM functions using its document library functionality. When weighing up whether you are in the market for a DAM system, or whether you can get away with using SharePoint instead, you may ask yourself the following questions:
  • What DAM functionality do I actually need?
  • Does SharePoint offer this functionality?
  • What are the additional benefits I get from purchasing a DAM system?
  • What is the difference in cost between customising SharePoint or buying a separate DAM system?
With these questions in mind, we are going to explore the functionality of these two systems in more detail. Hopefully by the end of this article you will be in a better place to make a decision about which system is right for you.
Update, November 2016. Since writing this article we're pleased to say we've created an integration between SharePoint and Asset Bank's digital asset management software. Making it even easier to have the best of both worlds.


So, what is SharePoint and DAM anyway?


What is SharePoint?

As per the Microsoft Office website, they say that:
Organizations use SharePoint to create websites. You can use it as a secure place to store, organize, share, and access information from almost any device. All you need is a web browser, such as Internet Explorer, Chrome, or Firefox.

What is Digital Asset Management?

DAM Glossary’s definition of Digital Asset Management:
Digital Asset Management (DAM) is a collective term applied to the process of storing, cataloguing, searching and delivering computer files (or digital assets). These may take the form of video, audio, images, print marketing collateral, office documents, fonts or 3D models. Digital Asset Management (DAM) systems centralise assets and establish a systematic approach to ingesting assets so they can be located more easily and used appropriately


Okay, got that… They look pretty similar definitions. So, what’s the difference?

We must admit, the definitions above are confusing on first read because they are quite similar. Let’s put it another way so you can understand the intended usage of these systems:
SharePoint is primarily intended by Microsoft to be used to create websites and to manage information.
A Digital Asset Management system is primarily intended by its creators to manage and share digital assets.

Let’s look at SharePoint in more detail

SharePoint is the platform that creates pages (and subpages) and can be used by individual members of one or several teams. A SharePoint Site (SPS) is the specific website area where you and your team share, collaborate and access information. For example a user in the Marketing team, primarily uses the marketing SPS but may want to view the HR site for information about latest personnel incentives or they may want to access the Sales SPS to review how sales are progressing over the month.
We’ve drawn a diagram below to illustrate how users could typically use and access their team’s SPS, but we’ve also shown how they can potentially access other team’s SPS too. You can also see how the individual team’s SPS’s link up to the entire organisation’s main SPS.
A potential SharePoint system structure
As you can see from this diagram, each team is accessing their own team’s SharePoint site (SPS) and they also may have access to other team’s SPS’s (depending on permissions granted by the admin users). SharePoint acts as an area to share information and documents. In this way it can also act like a ‘light’ DAM system, for example it can share and hold assets such as; images, logos, documents and so on. You should be aware that you may require some additional configuration of your SharePoint software by your development team to achieve exactly what you require e.g. customising a default workflow.

How does a DAM system work?

A DAM system works differently. Users from different teams and project teams use one DAM system to manage, access and share digital assets.

A potential DAM system structure


As you can see all team members (depending on access permissions) can potentially use the DAM site to store and access Digital Assets. The assets uploaded onto the DAM site have metadata added to them and are categorised accordingly. We’ve created another diagram below, of how a team could potentially use a SharePoint site and a DAM system together. As you can see these systems don’t replace each other, instead they work side-by-side to enhance the team members performance. In some respects they do have similar features, but they aren’t supposed to be used in place of each other.

Using DAM with SharePoint


It is important to note, that these structures are only suggested set-ups for a DAM and SharePoint solutions. There are lots of other set-up solutions out there for you to consider if you decide to proceed with implementing these systems.


What features do these pieces of software feature?

We’ve used an article by DAM Foundation’s Elizabeth Keathley ‘What is a DAM? The 10 characteristics of a Digital Asset Management System’ to help identify the key characteristics of a DAM system and explore how SharePoint measures up.
Features Digital Asset Management SharePoint
Uploading and Downloading Files Yes Yes
Versioning Controls Yes Yes
Methods by which assets can be shared and/or linked Yes Yes
Administrative capabilities and the ability to have different user types Yes Yes
Ability to perform actions on ‘batches’ of assets, such as upload, download, add to gallery, add metadata etc Yes Some configuration required
Unique ID codes for assets Yes Some configuration required
Can handle several different types of files most commonly images, documents and audiovisual files Yes Limited functionality
Workflow Capacity Yes Significant configuration required
The ability to create metadata fields/categories in addition to the meta data standards (IPTC, EXIF, XMP etc) Yes Significant configuration required
A robust and extensive taxonomy built on metadata fields/categories described above Yes Significant configuration required
Advanced search where metadata fields/categories described above Yes Significant configuration required
This table outlines the differences in DAM capabilities between a typical DAM and SP system. As you can see SharePoint can be largely used as a DAM system, but it may require significant configuration from your technical team to achieve a number of core DAM functions. We’ve tried to outline which items will need some or significant configuration, as they will not be pre-configured in SharePoint and your organisation will have to set up additional functionalities yourselves. When something in the table says “some” configuration required, this generally means work that will take a approximately a day to do, if something says “significant”configuration required, this generally means it will approximately take a week or more to set-up.

What can you take away from this article?

You should now be able to clearly recognise the difference between a DAM system and SPS. We now suggest that you think clearly about what you need to enhance your business processes, as the required software is likely to be a big and expensive purchase for your business. Here’s a bit of advice on the next steps on your journey to selecting a system that matches your needs:
  • Make sure you do your research
  • Read technical articles about SharePoint and DAM solutions
  • Work with your team and manager to compile a list of the essential functionality of your system
  • Find other organisations with similar needs and find out what solutions they use
  • Read online reviews of solutions you are considering
  • Shortlist solutions that are well-reviewed and match your requirements then give them a trial.
  • Discuss the proposed solutions with your IT team
Last but no means least, make sure you purchase the right system for your requirements! If you require a collaboration tool, with ‘light’ Digital Asset Management functionality, SharePoint might do the job. If you are serious about Digital Asset Management it’s more than likely that a DAM is what you need. In most cases it will be more time and cost-effective to purchase a DAM than trying to configure SharePoint to provide the same functionality. There’s also no reason why your DAM system can’t work smoothly in tandem with SharePoint at your workplace. Good luck!

Further reading

Microsoft Office (2015), SharePoint for IT Pros: This website is a great resource to use to learn how to customise a SharePoint system and really helps the users to really make the most of their SharePoint system.
Harry Hurt (2009), California Polytechnic State University: This is a slightly out-dated academic paper which evaluates SharePoint 2010 as a DAM system, there are some very interesting points that have been raised in this paper which might be worthwhile taking into consideration.
Various authors (2015), The Asset Bank blog: The Asset Bank blog is an area where we write various insightful articles to help you learn more and make an informed choice about a Digital Asset Management system.

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