DAM vs. cloud storage services: What are the differences?

DAM vs. cloud storage services: What are the differences?

How does DAM differ from cloud storage services like Dropbox, WeTransfer and Google Drive? At first glance it might appear there is no difference – both solutions make it possible to save and share files. But if you look more closely, you’ll see how wrong that initial snap judgment is. In this article, we compare DAM software with the most popular cloud storage services in order to clarify the differences in detail.


Background: How did the need for DAM systems and cloud storage arise in the first place?

First let’s look back at the day-to-day work routines of companies in the 1990s. Digital assets like presentations, graphics and photographs were rare. Files of this sort were used primarily in the production of print media. And except for the marketing department, hardly any other part of the company dealt with assets of this kind. It was enough to store the files on local hard disks, a server or on storage media like CD-ROMs. Slowly, e-mail established itself as a medium of communication. People hadn’t yet heard of “cloud computing.”

Growing digitization created the need for DAM and cloud storage

Over time, however, things changed dramatically. There was a large increase in the number of photos, videos, documents and presentations. Digital assets were being used not just in the field of print media but also in new channels like websites, e-commerce solutions and social networks. At the same time, more people were involved in the production and use of digital files. Increasingly, external partners had to be included in the process too.

This situation led to several challenges. First, e-mail reached its limits because of size restrictions. In addition, it became necessary for multiple persons to have access to files at the same time – and not just in their office but wherever they happened to be. All of these factors created an enormous demand for (cloud-based) services to store and share files.

Cloud storage: Is it really the ideal solution for storage and file sharing?

Services like Dropbox, WeTransfer and Google Drive are supposed to solve the above-mentioned problems. But how secure are the files in those services? Where exactly is the data stored? Who can access it and delete it? Do cloud storage services really provide the best possible support for collaboration among multiple teams and stakeholders along with their workflows? And even more importantly, do Dropbox and the others make it easy to manage and locate digital assets even when large quantities of files are involved?

Legitimately answering these questions also reveals the weaknesses of cloud storage services. At the same time, the difference between these services and DAM becomes apparent. Digital asset management closes all the above-mentioned gaps with a much more powerful set of features. This is illustrated in detail in the following direct comparisons.

What is the basic difference between DAM software and cloud storage?

DAM systems and cloud storage services differ markedly in their strategic approach:

  • Cloud storage services put the user at the center of the experience. It’s about making file storage as easy as possible for the person using the service. Collections of files created this way are initially private. To share files, special folders are created, or links are sent via e-mail.
  • In a DAM system, on the other hand, the digital assets are at the center. They can be tagged with a variety of information the moment they are stored. This includes metadata with information like the version, permissions, and uses for which the content has been cleared. The objective is to manage a large quantity of files in a structured way and to make them easily accessible to a large number of users.

Digital asset management: far greater functionality than cloud storage

Cloud storage services proceed from the assumption that users are familiar with their files and understand the folder structure they’ve created. Digital asset management, on the other hand, assumes that the many users of the system need help finding files. After all, most of the assets have been created by other users. This brings us to the main advantage of DAM software: it makes it possible to find content that other users have created.

Other features that are usually not provided by cloud storage include the following:

  • Media-neutral storage of digital assets
  • Automatic exports of content for a variety of channels
  • Integration into other systems (e.g., CMS)
  • Replication of workflows
  • Fine-grained role and permission management
  • Functions for converting, renaming and scaling files
  • Options for adding copyright and license information

Direct comparison: DAM vs. Dropbox

Now it’s time for a direct comparison of DAM and Dropbox. For companies, the product “Dropbox Business” is particularly relevant here. The licensing models indicate that the service is oriented to smaller teams. The service is billed on a per-user basis. In a standard account, the storage space is also limited. With regard to the features, Dropbox concentrates on the ability to store and share content. The file sharing takes place with the help of links that can be protected with passwords and expiry dates. In contrast to DAM software, however, Dropbox doesn’t make it possible to track how users use the released assets.

Dropbox lacks several other features that a DAM system provides. In Dropbox, for example, it isn’t possible to tag assets with metadata. Although comments can be provided for files, there are no powerful functions for searching, filtering and sorting them. Only with add-ons is it possible to assign basic meta tags for files and folders.

No long-term backup in Dropbox

The fact that files in cloud storage are not backed up for an extended period also poses a risk. The backup feature does allow deleted files to be restored within 30 days, but for companies that manage hundreds or even thousands of assets, that option isn’t much use. With volumes of data on that scale, it just isn’t possible to quickly identify all the missing files. In DAM systems, on the other hand, multiple redundant copies are usually made of digital assets.


Clearances are easier to manage with DAM

Another disadvantage of Dropbox becomes apparent as soon as the number of users increases. It then becomes almost impossible to maintain an overview of what assets have been cleared for use. It is also not obvious who has already downloaded what assets. Clearing individual files for use is also extremely time-consuming. In contrast, digital asset management permits structured management of users, user groups and permissions. Downloads and uses of digital files are automatically documented.


Direct comparison: DAM vs. WeTransfer

WeTransfer is a file hosting service that focuses on the ability to send large files. In contrast to services like Dropbox and Google Drive, it isn’t primarily concerned with long-term storage and sharing of digital assets. There is no need to create an account to use WeTransfer. Users merely have to specify a recipient e-mail address. The addressee then has a week to download the file, after which it is deleted from the server. Files are encrypted when they are being transferred and when they are stored, but this isn’t a complete guarantee for data privacy and security.

WeTransfer is designed solely for short-term exchange of data

WeTransfer: kurzfristiger Datenaustausch

The difference between DAM software and WeTransfer is clear. WeTransfer focuses solely on short-term, spontaneous exchanges of individual, large files. Digital asset management, on the other hand, is concerned with long-term management of an extensive volume of data. It should be noted that DAM systems are also very good at dealing with extremely large files.

Direct comparison: DAM vs. Google Drive

Lastly, let’s compare DAM with Google Drive. The popular storage service from Google stores files in the cloud, on local hard disks and on mobile devices. Content is shared though individual permissions and links, as in the case of Dropbox. In addition to this, however, there are a few features that make the service unique. For example, Google Drive can open over 30 different file formats, including Photoshop files. Even if users haven’t installed the corresponding software, they can still access the files. Google Drive also generates a convenient preview and allows assets to be edited. As far as the basic license goes, Google Drive currently offers more storage capacity than Dropbox.

Google Drive has a large range of features but DAM software does more

Although Google Drive is one of the cloud storage solutions with the most features, the service still can’t hold a candle to professional DAM systems. One major disadvantage of Google Drive, for instance, is that no metadata or keywords can be assigned to content. The search function is limited to options like file type and owner. It isn’t possible to search according to specific criteria such as license, usage or validity. In sum, unlike a DAM system, Google Drive is also ill-suited to managing large quantities of digital assets with numerous users.


Conclusion: Cloud storage solutions quickly reach their limits

Cloud-Storage-Lösungen stoßen schnell an ihre Grenzen

In conclusion, we can say that cloud storage services certainly do have their uses. In particular, they give freelancers and small teams an easy way to store and share files. And the costs remain moderate in that regard. But as soon as the number of digital assets and users exceeds a reasonably low threshold, Dropbox and the other services quickly reach their limits. It becomes almost impossible to maintain an overview of the existing files, versions, users, permissions and clearances. These services also lack powerful search features that would allow users to locate files easily and reliably.

All of these problems are solved by digital asset management, which offers functionality that extends far beyond that of cloud storage services. In addition, high-performance DAM systems allow for media-neutral storage of files and automatic exports to a variety of communication channels, such as websites, social media and catalogs. These are all factors that lead to major cost savings and significantly reduced risk. Ultimately, this also justifies the higher investments required for DAM software.

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