Across the last decade there has been a revolution in supporting technology aimed at improving the efficiency and effectiveness of creative operations. As these systems continue to develop to meet our needs they continue to add functionality. But in doing so, the lines of distinction between these systems are blurring making it more difficult to search for the system or systems that will best fit our needs.

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Today we have project management systems (PMS), content management systems (CMS), document management systems (DMS), marketing operations or marketing resource management (MOM or MRM) systems, customer relationship management (CRM) systems and traditional digital asset management (DAM) and work in progress digital asset management systems. To make it more confusing, much of the functionality of these systems overlap. Each of these systems manage creative assets and workflows but have a different purpose or focus. They also have unique functionality that can be used in conjunction with other systems to develop a more comprehensive end-to-end solution. When looking for a new system, it is sometimes difficult to know where to start if you don't understand their focus and typical functionality.

Project Management systems manage projects and project data, workflows, and resource scheduling. They focus on planning and organizing projects and resources. These tools also provide creative groups with the necessary metrics to make good decisions. They often include collaboration, approval routing, estimating and invoicing, and reporting functionality. Some may have CRM and light digital asset management capabilities. DAM in these systems is generally limited to aggregating assets by projects on local servers. (Across the years, we've written extensively on these systems. See here for more comprehensive information.)

Content Management systems manage, publish and distribute content. Functionality includes the ability aggregate and ingest content from various sources. These systems also have the ability to enhance, edit and review files. Finally, these systems generally include tools to package, publish and distribute content. Content Management systems are generally designed for content aggregators, distributors and retailers. These systems typically support graphic images, video, audio, metadata, XML files, HTML and other documents and may include collaboration, approval routing and reporting functionality.

Digital Asset Management (DAM) systems also manage, publish and distribute content but with a different focus. A DAM system provides a centralized library for ingesting digital files, searching, retrieving, distributing and archiving. The digital files are stored by the DAM system in a database, or on a file system exclusively managed by the DAM system. Metadata attached to each asset is entered by users at the time of ingest to categorize the files and make them easier to find and secure. The metadata is typically stored in a database alongside the files. The combination of the digital file and its associated metadata is referred to as a "digital asset." Users can browse and search the DAM to retrieve the assets they need, as well as download, share or deliver the assets in various formats and resolutions. These systems are designed for content creators and studios and generally include functionality to share these assets with internal and external stakeholders.

Work In-Process Digital Asset Management (WIPDAM) is similar to a DAM system in that it can provide a central repository of digital assets. However, unlike typical DAM systems, WIPDAM systems include additional functionality that is specific to team collaboration, such as rating systems, contact sheet generators, communication tools, and fast upload, download and ingest methods for large media files. They also provide vehicles to easily share assets with various stakeholders and manage user permissions for a very high number of digital assets before final assets are approved. These tools enable an organization to collaborate on assets and manage their creative workflow process in a more streamlined, efficient way.

Document Management systems are a special use case of DAM systems. These systems are used by document distributors to upload documents, as well as restrict access and manage content revisions for internal and external stakeholders. Functionality generally includes document ingest, metadata support and searching, workflow, collaboration, approval routing, version control and publishing tools.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems manage relationships with current or future customers. Functionality includes sales force automation, contact automation, opportunity management and pipeline forecasting. These systems are most often used by groups with dedicated account managers, such as in an external agency. It is extremely rare for an in-house team to use a CRM system.

Marketing Operations or Marketing Resource Management (MOM or MRM) systems are used to manage marketing operations and resources, as well as to increase and measure the efficiency and effectiveness of the marketing department. These systems often include workflow management, planning and budgeting, approval routing, procurement, and measurement and reporting. These systems generally are used to support entire marketing departments not internal agencies due to their costs and complexity.

In addition to these categories, even more exist. Determining the right system, or more likely the right combination of systems, to use to improve your creative efficiency and effectiveness begins with understanding your current and future state requirements. The next step is to choose the type of systems to review and then match your unique requirements to specific vendor functionality.