The Art Of Achieving

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