a global sales manager is almost giddy as her troops gird for a new product launch. The confidence comes in knowing that when her field sales force logs onto a central, Web-based server, they'll find in a dynamic database the exact presentation assets they need to support that launch, at the exact time of need — including PowerPoint slideshows and speakers' notes preapproved by the branding police and tweaked for sensitivity to different cultures or languages.
A marketing manager's pulse quickens as he takes a panicky phone call from on high. His team needs to pull together a pitch for a promising new prospect — in three days. But the manager's tension eases as he accesses his organization's online media-asset repository. A natural-language search generates a well- cataloged list of pitches given to similar prospects in the same industry during the past three years. Guided by descriptive metadata, the manager chooses one he can customize and update for his own use, saving enormous time. The presentation is repurposed and a draft beamed to an online project folder where marketing colleagues in three different cities provide review and annotation. The manager accesses the folder to pick and choose from those changes — no need for courier service to transport revisions — and the pitch is ready with time to spare.
An industrial supply company eyeing e-commerce as a way to make its products available more quickly over the Web finally makes the leap. Now customers can search the Web-based catalog of new products just two weeks after they're introduced, a far cry from the three to six months it took to see the new line via print catalog. The company also realizes big savings from no longer having to print and mail so many catalogs.
The power of digital asset management
Thanks to digital asset management (DAM) systems and software, these best-case scenarios have become more commonplace in corporate settings. Known by many monikers — including digital media management (DMM) and media asset management (MAM) — DAM refers to the software solutions that support the archiving, cataloging, retrieval and repurposing of digital media and text that can include photos, video and audio files, streaming media, PowerPoint templates, Web pages, engineering specs, legal documents, internal memos and more.
What's the big deal, you ask? After all, until recently managing these assets hadn't been considered a big issue — and certainly not a strategic weapon — given the ability of file cabinets and other archiving tools to house and index the existing load. But the explosion of digital media has changed all that, as has the corporate world's continued fixation on multi- channel branding strategies. Digital media file types have proliferated like weeds, outpacing the ability of dated or standalone filing tools and databases to provide adequate indexing, search and repurposing capabilities across an organization. Disorganized hard disks, dead-end searches and lost files have become the norm, as have expensive redundancies. Every day, more large companies discover while archiving that they have duplicate artwork, photos or images purchased by different divisions of the organization. Research from Gistics Inc., a Larkspur, Calif., market research firm, suggests that the average number of media and text files stored on desktops alone exceeds 7,000 per machine, and the average creative person spends one of every 10 hours of his time on file management, with searches eating up about one-third of that time.
As any marketing manager, corporate communications head or sales director will eagerly point out, there can be times when nothing is more valuable than getting the right file in the right format to the right place at the right time. Anyone who's labored over a new presentation or promotional campaign, only to find a week later they could have simply tweaked or reused a similar pitch created last month in another arm of the company, or who's spent 50 minutes searching for an MPEG-2 clip when it should have taken 50 seconds, fully appreciates the time- and cost-savings benefits of digital asset management.
Digital media are strategic assets like any form of working capital, and their efficient management is being increasingly recognized as a competitive lever by companies all over the world. DAM systems also can lead to new revenue streams by deploying or reassembling assets in novel ways. Consider the automobile company that used its vast photo assets to create an automotive history archive and to sell stock footage from its corporate videos at good margins to broadcasters.
Which DAM solution is right for you?
There's no shortage of DAM solutions on the market, each suited to different warehousing, cataloging or workgroup collaboration needs, budgets and even specific industries or media types. Gistics says some 300 technology providers now serve the market for media asset management, offering everything from off-the-shelf packages to highly customized solutions. While some organizations find that one vendor meets all their needs, others prefer to mix and match, using a cast of vendors to address requirements of different divisions or business units.
The DAM market taxonomy features two major categories: enterprisewide solutions and solutions designed for individual workstations. Enterprisewide solutions, with price tags often running into the hundreds of thousands and even millions, usually integrate asset storage and cataloging, workflow management, search and retrieval, all connected to dynamic databases on an organization's network. Enterprise-class DAM software runs on top of these underlying databases — the latter sometimes sold separately from search engines — using the latest technologies like XML, Java and common object request broken architecture (CORBA).
All digital files are integrated into one platform, often Web-based, so users anywhere around the globe can access digitized photos, video, audio, graphics and other files. Most enterprisewide systems have scalable features that allow digital libraries to mushroom without fear of tapping out storage space. Enterprisewide solutions often include workgroup or collaborative solutions as well (which some sell as individual products) enabling project teams to collaborate online as they prepare digital media for use in presentations, Web sites, ad campaigns, marketing materials and the like. High-end versions allow users to review or annotate work in progress from customized project folders located on central servers or send thumbnails for preview among remote users without having to download actual files.
On the individual workstation front, more inexpensive desktop solutions provide the best fit for media professionals looking to manage smaller but still substantial amounts of images or data stored on a hard drive. Some very good packages are available for less than $300. Stand-alone solutions typically offer such features as thumbnail previews of media elements (rather than access to the files themselves), image libraries, searchable indexing and keyword systems. Some solutions offer Web integration and open database connectivity (ODBC), allowing them to talk to foreign databases as well.
For those without the infrastructure, bandwidth or expertise to host a DAM solution themselves — and without special data-security concerns — plenty of vendors stand ready to host rich media for you. Coors Brewing Co., for example, recently contracted with e-Motion Inc., an enterprisewide DAM provider in Washington, D.C., to host all of Coors' digital-media content for corporate presentations as well as such marketing activities as packaging and point of sale. Using a standard Web browser from anywhere in the world, Coors employees can access that media on e-Motion's servers 24/7, and also collaborate online.
Why DAM investments pay off
Digital-asset management systems can help drive organizational strategy and competitive advantage on a variety of fronts. But the case for investing in DAM solutions is usually made based on improving access to and the reusability of valued digital assets, as well as on creating new process efficiencies in collaborative work and rights-management procedures.
Cataloging, search and retrieval benefits
Whether it be archiving and cataloging JPEG, MPEG2, TIFF, PDF, Quark files or an aging sound format like SND, the best digital-management systems help users at networked as well as standalone sites save considerable time and hassle in search-and-retrieve mode. DAM software allows you to build custom libraries of PowerPoint presentations, conduct advanced indexing regardless of archive size and browse via thumbnails for most audio-video formats. With media catalogs, thumbnails can be searched via keyword in indexed databases (the catalogs don't actually contain the files themselves). An asset-repository system, on the other hand, stores media content inside secure databases. In the case of PowerPoint slide shows, most DAM software allows you to search presentations by key word, by "hot topics," store presentation text separate from other media and more.
With Artesia Technologies' Teams 4.0 software, for instance, you can capture, organize and repurpose PowerPoint presentations, creating links between complete presentations, slides and templates. Presentations can be decomposed, slide by slide, into base components — with assets created for each individual slide, the master template and the whole presentation — with a scannable thumbnail image built for each. Users can then reuse or repurpose presentations from archived files by choosing slides they want and adding them to a "basket." If you want the slides to conform to a master template, you drop that template in the basket as well; the Teams software then takes basket contents and automatically generates a new presentation.
More fruitful searches
Rather than traditional keyword searches, some DAM systems feature visual or content-based search technologies. "Salespeople, corporate communicators or presentation development teams are constantly dealing with last-minute changes, and they need to find something right now, not in an hour," says Gistics CEO Michael Moon. "Visual-search technology aids in that. When someone locates an image that's close but not quite right, it gives them a search tool that can quickly find all images like it."
DAM systems not only manage high-resolution still images, video or audio files, but also the descriptive information — known as metadata — affixed to each file. Metadata, like key words, photo captions or low-resolution thumbnail images, can be stored alongside the file or linked to it through various "pointers." No matter where that file travels, it will always carry dog tags identifying who created it and when, a content description, whether it's been approved by all the right parties for use and more, depending on its intended use. Among other things, metadata helps you avoid having to search five hour-long videotapes to locate a measly two-minute digitized clip.
Companies with vast collections of digital assets also benefit from the precision bloodhound work of natural-language search engines. Say you have a vague memory of a successful ad campaign featuring moody teenagers transformed into happy ones through use of a product, and you want to find it. While most key-word searches likely would lead you down the wrong path, a natural-language search — where you can type in full sentences, such as, "moody teenagers lounging on the beach" — probably would locate your prey in a hurry. Why the improved searching? The person creating the metadata for the file might have used "angry young man standing in surf" as the identifying tag, never using the words moody or teenager.
A reseller's gold mine
Of course, if you're only warehousing a library of 100 PowerPoint shows with some 30 slides each, key-word searches will likely handle the job just fine.
DAM has particular value to organizations with reseller channels. Each reseller of say, cellphones, likely has a unique requirement for product photos of a particular format — size, color, high- resolution black-and-white for use in newspaper ads, Web-enabled and more. More often than not, resellers have digital media needs that the mother ship can't meet. "So one thing you want in your DAM system is the ability to render a particular file just in time to meet a particular reseller's need or classification," says Moon.
Ditto for organizations with franchised operations or affiliate companies. Franchisees in particular have a regular need to access digital-media files from headquarters for use in advertising, promotional campaigns and the like. There was a time when McDonald's franchisees who wanted a photo of a Big Mac and fries had to travel to corporate headquarters to manually search for and scan images they liked, with a second option of having a researcher select and ship images — without the franshisee being able to see them first. But with restaurants in more than 100 countries and a growing need from the field for images for PowerPoint presentations, McDonald's knew it was time for a more efficient, enterprisewide DAM solution. The first order of business: put JPEGs of its images in an online, password-protected library system, allowing franchisees to browse images from their home bases. Today McDonald's managers from Singapore to Mexico City can search the online database and retrieve media. Online, they can even work collaboratively on projects.
Reusability, workgroup collaboration and versioning control
The ability to repurpose or customize archived presentations where the heavy lifting has already been done in terms of design or content is an area of strong ROI from DAM systems. "How many times have you built a presentation or marketing materials, then a year or two later realized you needed something similar, only you can't find it and have to re-create it from scratch?" asks Terry Fischer, president and CEO of Graphic Detail Inc, a Raleigh, N.C., DAM supplier.
Above all, a good system should keep you from reinventing the wheel. Say you're about to pitch an investment-banking group. Using DAM, you can search a log field for the history of other pitches made to that industry or even specific company, with presentation outcomes attached as metadata — perhaps an audio annotation from a previous presenter with her "lessons learned." Using that pitch as a template, you can recast or tweak it to match your unique circumstances. Or perhaps you're pitching to a certain segment of another market, maybe to high-end clientele. You can access the central media-asset repository and search for presentations tailored to that market niche.
Web-based collaboration is increasingly seen as a must-have feature for creative teams working on tight deadlines across time zones. These DAM features make virtual teamwork a reality, speeding approval processes and turnaround times by avoiding couriers or snail mail, not to mention saving on shipping or mailing costs. DAM-based collaboration tools allow project teams to post work in progress to Web-based folders and mark or annotate still art, video, Adobe Acrobat files and more. But Elizabeth Sun, a senior program director who follows the DAM industry for the Meta Group in Stamford, Conn., cautions that collaboration rarely takes flight simply as a result of introducing cutting-edge technology. "There's the cultural question of whether collaborating and sharing information is accepted or encouraged in the company," she says. "Some cultures are very proprietary when it comes to sharing information internally. Implementing the technology is the easy part. Changing cultures and people is much harder."
Versioning control is an equally valuable function for projects that have extensive review cycles or are regularly updated, where it's critical that DAM users have access only to the latest version of digital assets. This process-oriented function allows a team leader to track a project's progress and history from afar, including markups, conversions and approvals.
Many DAM systems also have automated tracking and accounting features that make it much easier to manage licensee relationships and contract administration. Rights-management functions also help control access, preventing unauthorized users from downloading or modifying certain content.
Organizations use DAM, for instance, to set up extranets that licensees can visit to download media or images, with royalty or rights arrangements built into the transaction as metadata. Electronic check- in and check-out procedures help the licensing organization track usage.
Multichannel brand management
In addition to the aforementioned functional uses, DAM has yet another powerful application: as an engine driving multichannel branding strategies. With the ability to synchronize and speed deployment of digital media and other vital assets across retail, field sales, reseller, online or call-center channels, DAM's branding firepower is considerable.
In its consulting work, Gistics positions DAM as a major player in what the research firm calls "brand-resource management," which is defined as an integrated strategy that reduces time to market, time to synchronize and time to version in an organization's branding process. CEO Michael Moon likens this brand-management capability to U.S. strategy during the Persian Gulf War. In the Gulf, the U.S. military command deployed the latest technology to tightly coordinate land, air and sea assets to maximize their potential against opposition forces. "In much the same way, DAM allows you to coordinate and closely manage broadcast or print advertising, in-store point of purchase and channel or online marketing to maximize branding potential across channels," he says.
In these channels, "time to market" refers to reducing concept-to-store cycle time in product launches, as well as CAD-to-showroom cycles. "Time to synchronize" means reducing the time required to get all brand resources across multiple channels — both domestic and international — on the same page. That means synchronizing advertising, public relations, trade promotion, direct response, Web sites and everything else. "Time to version" refers to reducing the time it takes to customize digital assets to a given channel or season, localize assets for different cultures or languages or personalize assets to customer group, psychographic or individual customers.
According to Moon, synchronization timelines are especially critical in light of shrinking product life cycles. In the computer market, for instance, a three-month life cycle driven by leaps in technology isn't unusual, "which means you have three months to drive product into channels and into customers' hands," he says. "And if it takes you even one full week to synchronize and deliver marketing or presentation assets to people in those channels, that one-week delay can be very costly in a three-month cycle that produces maybe $100 million in sales. Eliminating that delay might produce three or four more million dollars in incremental sales, which gets the attention of CFOs and CEOs every time."
To realize these benefits, however, the whole system must work equally well for everyone. "Improving performance in these three areas requires reusable, agile, multipurpose digital assets that are made available to employees on a self-service basis around the clock," says Moon.
The road ahead
Those interviewed for this story agree that, like most technologies, DAM will continue to evolve and find new applications in the not-too-distant future – especially when you consider the increasing mobility of the global workforce, its ballooning reliance on the Web and convergence of all sorts of digital and wireless technologies. Industry observers project, for example, that it won't be long before DAM annotation or markup tools are commonly used in wireless, hand held environments. Envision the head of marketing stuck in an airport delay but needing to review the latest version of an ad campaign on a tight deadline. Using latest-generation DAM tools, she could flip up her hand held's antenna, review the ad video on her hand-held, make text annotations or other suggestions and beam those changes back to her creative team before stepping on the plane.
Elizabeth Sun, the analyst who covers the DAM market for Meta Group, also says we'll increasingly see DAM merge with other systems such as, Web-content management systems, where the Web in essence becomes a presentations server. The integration trend is well in motion, with DAM systems already merging with such things as customer relationship management (CRM) systems, she says.
"I also think we'll see improvements in the data-mining capabilities of DAM systems," Sun says. "Imagine being able to type in a request like, 'I need to do a presentation on XYZ,' and having the DAM system come back with, 'given your parameters, these are the possible buckets you should dip into for your content or media.' But we're just beginning to think about this," she says.
Soon, companies around the world will be doing more than just thinking about DAM – they'll be using it every day to prop up the bottom line.