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Why version control is a key part of digital asset management

by Canto  |  January 20, 2022

5 min. read
Version control interface for digital assets in Canto.

Today’s creative teams are working with more digital content than ever before. Tracking changes and updates to those assets is also becoming much more complex due to the increasingly hybrid nature of the workforce. Rather than working within the confines of a single office, today’s teams are frequently distributed across multiple locations and collaborating with people outside their organization. Although cloud technology has made it possible for these hybrid teams to have access to the same digital asset libraries, maintaining visibility over those assets and tracking changes over time requires powerful version control tools.

What is version control?

When assets are stored in a centralized location, it’s much easier to create a single source of truth that tracks their history. Version control broadly refers to a set of tools used to manage evolving content and document how digital assets have changed over time. In simple terms, it makes it much easier to determine whether someone is using the correct file at any given time.

While version control is sometimes thought of as a way of identifying the most up-to-date version of a digital asset, this is only one specific application of the functionality. Tracking ongoing changes to a file used for one specific purpose tends to be a very sequential process. Content management systems and cloud storage platforms often label assets with numbers to indicate the most recent version (so version 1.0, version 1.1, version 2.0, etc.). This form of tracking is usually sufficient for tracking updates to a single file used for a single project.

But in practice, most creative teams are working with multiple files across multiple projects. A marketing campaign, for instance, often deploys several versions of content over a variety of channels. Images used for social media posts, for instance, might be different from the versions used with digital ads or website pages, to say nothing of physical, printed content. A single image file, then, may exist in several formats to meet the requirements of different mediums and channels.

Export options for image of chocolate tart in Canto digital asset management system.

Version control tools help teams manage these various iterations of digital assets to ensure that the correct version is being used for each situation. They also preserve previous versions of a file along with the unaltered original, which is critical when changes need to be undone quickly so a project can keep moving forward.

Why version control matters

One of the biggest advantages of version control is efficiency. When people can quickly locate the correct version of a digital asset, they can get back to working on a project and spend less time sifting through folder after folder of similarly titled files in search of what they need. This is especially important for content-intensive departments like marketing teams, which often spend more than three weeks a year searching for the right digital assets.

Without some form of version control that clearly identifies each version of a file, creative teams will often end up duplicating work or starting over from scratch even though there may be a suitable asset available to them. For example, rather than going back to the original source image every time, they might be able to locate a video clip that’s already been edited for length or an image that’s been cropped or color-adjusted to meet specific branding requirements. With the ability to locate various versions of a digital asset, collaborators can complete projects faster and avoid repeating work that’s already been done elsewhere.

Another big advantage of version control is its ability to track digital rights across different iterations of an asset. Since every change made can be traced back to the original source file, it’s much easier to determine what licensing terms are attached to it and how it can be used. This is especially important in collaborative projects as files are shared between contributors who may belong to different organizations or work as independent contractors. Each change made to a file could potentially impact its copyright status, so being able to track evolving usage rights across multiple versions can help avoid potential legal complications in the future.

Enhancing version control with digital asset management

Digital asset management (DAM) solutions combine version control functionality with content production workflows and access controls to track and understand how digital assets are being used within an organization. They provide a single source of truth for all content, ensuring that everyone working with the system will always have access to the ideal version of an asset on any project.

Metadata for image of doughnuts, including usage rights and hex codes.

Each piece of content within a DAM platform contains detailed metadata that indicates how it has been used and changed over time. This data is not only important for tracking the asset’s history, but also for managing how it is accessed and shared. While specific users can be granted permissions to access and edit content, DAM software offers much more secure and efficient means of distributing content by way of sharable links and embed codes.

Administrators can set up these integrations to ensure that the correct versions of digital assets are always being shared with contributors or clients. In some cases, this might mean always sharing the most up-to-date version, but in other instances, it might apply to content that has already gone through an approval process. With the right setup, updates to digital assets can be pushed out to all authorized users without having to distribute new links or embed codes, which makes it much easier to maintain brand consistency on collaborative projects.

Take control of your assets with Canto

Canto’s innovative Smart Albums and Portals make it easier than ever for creative teams to manage multiple versions of their digital assets and share them with remote collaborators. Between comprehensive metadata and automatic Smart Tags, contributors have a variety of tools that help them locate the files they need quickly. Creative directors can also set up special folders and task workflows for various projects to enhance transparency, maintain version control, and ensure everyone involved in the creative process has access to the assets they need to complete their work efficiently.

Detailed reporting features allow organizations to see how digital assets stored in Canto are being used. In addition to tracking version histories, auditing tools also provide visibility into who has accessed files and where those assets are stored. Canto also integrates with the world’s leading cloud storage platforms, browsers, and applications to enhance creativity and efficiency.

To get a hands-on look at how Canto can improve version control for your digital assets, sign up today for a free trial.