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The Art Of Achieving

Digital Asset Management solutions help companies save time and money.

As the industry evolves into technology driven businesses, an increasing number of companies are reaching a critical pain threshold in needing to control and manage their vast amounts of digital media assets.Technically speaking, a digital asset is any form of media that has been turned into a binary source. Digital assets, which for textile mills include everything from artwork, logos and photos to PowerPoint presentations, text documents and even e-mail, are proving to be valuable assets in terms of both productivity and company valuation. However, an asset is only an asset when you can find it, or you know that you have it in the first place.In this, the first of a two-part series, we will review the art and science of digital asset management. Digital Asset ManagementAccording to GISTICS research, an average of $8,200 per person per year is spent on file management activities, including searching, verification, organization, back-up and security. Creative professionals spend an average of one out of every 10 hours of their time on file management.Canto Software, developers of asset management software, reports that the average media user manages over 7,000 files distributed over a variety of storage mediums. The average creative person looks for a media file 83 times a week and fails to find it 35 percent of the time. Their research shows that digital asset management solutions will drop that to figure to 5 percent. Digital asset management (DAM) saves not just time, but money.Where do the savings come from Labor reduction is a primary contribution, allowing employees to spend less time locating assets and more time working on current projects. Another key benefit is that the ability to find and research existing work facilitates the reuse of valuable creative assets from previous projects. A by-product of this benefit is faster development. The ability to take advantage of work performed on prior projects will reduce turnaround time.The DAM process insures that only approved brand elements are used and are used in the proper context. The process automates the workflow, with the ability to keep track of versions or routing the asset to its next destination. DAM helps to build relationships by supporting the ability to share assets over an extranet with clients and suppliers. In addition, with the ability to allow clients or other departments to observe creative works in progress, DAM fosters communication and collaboration. While the term DAM implies its use for computer-generated artwork, a growing number of textile mills and product manufacturers are finding DAM applications an ideal tool for cataloging the years of hand-drawn artwork they have purchased as a part of each new development season.These companies have begun scanning or photographing these assets and building a database that not only makes it easy to find and use purchased assets, but provides a valuable tool for insurance valuation. The Spectrum Of ApplicationsA DAM application is simply a tool for organizing digital media assets for storage and retrieval. When searching for a digital asset management system, the first thing to identify is your objective. Let the priority of one or more of these goals be your guiding principle in sorting through the facts and marketing hype. The marketplace offers a broad range of solutions, ranging from individual workstations to enterprise-wide solutions.Desktop solutions represent the simplest type of DAM. They serve the needs of individual users with relatively small collections of content. This model can be conformed to a handful of stations in a low-security file-sharing network and sometimes even to larger studios, if one person is managing one type of media asset. While desktop solutions allow for descriptions and keyword searches, they typically only catalog thumbnails and references to the actual files, as opposed to the files themselves.A collaborative solution is the likely choice if your objective is sharing work-in-progress and finished media among a tightly knit group of co-workers. The content itself can be stored on a central server or across individual workstations including offline storage, such as CD-ROMs and tape cartridges. Other offerings include annotation capabilities and strong communications support for efficiently transferring files between remote users. Process-oriented solutions focus on workflow, orbiting around a centralized database of project management information that allows a producer to assign, prioritize and track a projects progress across the entire production team, including edits, conversions and sign-offs. Given that workflow varies greatly across different types of enterprises, process-centric solutions are often tailored to the needs of specific vertical markets.Industry-centric solutions extend the sharing of an enterprises media assets to suppliers, contractors and other partners. Such systems include high-level security that allows the primary enterprise to work with multiple parties without commingling proprietary assets. Merchant-centric solutions for e-commerce enable an enterprise to serve a high volume of on-line customers who will browse and purchase media assets. Merchant-centric systems routinely process secure financial transactions, drive order fulfillment processes, interface with inventory systems and report to accounting systems that can manage things like royalty payments to represented parties.Some businesses find that one vendor can handle all of their needs, while others implement multiple systems according to the disparate needs of various departments. In the latter case, the use of an open system architecture can allow these multiple systems to act on one central repository of data. Catalogs vs. RepositoriesDAM applications are characterized by architectural differences. The playing field can be subdivided into two basic categories, media catalogs and asset repositories.The primary characteristic of media catalogs is the use of proxies, such as thumbnails, in an indexed database that can be quickly searched by keyword. The actual source files are left untouched and under control of the operating system. The benefits of media catalogs include low cost, ease of installation and administration, and scalability across multiple divisions of an enterprise. Since media catalogs do not actually manage the content itself, anyone with system access can typically view, change, move or delete any content element. This usually precludes such features as check-in/check-out of content, rights management and automatic versioning (the latest version of a print, for example). Media catalogs can also become sluggish with large catalogs, especially if distributed across multiple servers or geographic locations.In asset repositories the content itself is physically stored inside a secure database. Benefits include security levels, replication, referential integrity, centralized data management and full hierarchical storage management and disaster recovery.Solutions based on the asset repository model are ideal when systematizing studios with industrial workflow, managing rights and permissions such as the intellectual property of either your company or a third party and structuring global access by employees, contractors, suppliers, partners and customers.This centralization of all assets into a single or distributed storehouse for safekeeping requires significantly higher performance hardware such as high-end UNIX servers, formidable on-line storage and high-speed networks. According to a report in New Media Magazine, it also demands a capital investment 10 to 50 times that associated with media catalogs, as well as a commensurately higher level of system administration. Off-The-Shelf Or CustomAnother important question to be answered is how much technical expertise is required in the installation and maintenance of a DAM solution. Much like CAD systems, the selection ranges from totally integrated off-the-shelf packages to custom solutions. Since the best-integrated application suites are built around process knowledge, they are ideal for business models centered on methodologies well established within a given industry. Such solutions are often easy enough to install that they can be set up by end users.The middle ground is populated by higher-level prebuilt components, enabling a business to use its more unique business knowledge in configuring a partially customized application. While the orchestration of prebuilt components will require modest knowledge of systems integration, this genre represents an excellent vehicle for creating a uniquely branded service.On the high end of the spectrum are universal server databases and search engines that enable systems integrators to assemble the best of breed for their unique needs. Each consists of a self-contained module automating one business function or the activities of a single employee.

October 1999