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To understand the importance of digital asset management, we only need to cast our minds back a few years, when assets like photographs were stored in dusty piles on shelves or the drawers of filing cabinets. With thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of images stored that way, how easily could someone be expected to find one particular image? How many hours/days would it take, and how much productivity was lost in the process?

The short answer is lots. Jump forward to the present and that needle-in-a-haystack scenario is becoming a thing of the past thanks to cleverly designed software that helps organisations label, catalogue, store, and retrieve their digital assets, from the most convenient location imaginable – the desktop.

Today, programs like Cumulus are making this a reality for an ever-growing number of organisations around the world, with software that offers much more than a virtual cataloguing system. While providing an organisational framework, it also plays a crucial role in protecting those digital assets from piracy. Protecting assets, in other words, that an organisation puts a high value on, but the ease of digital piracy undermines.

Header images: Born Into; Optical Itzak 2; Estonian Jewellery; John Lewis/The Boy who Wanted to Touch the Moon; John Power/VJ Mix
Original publication: Design Graphics: DG Magazine 2006
Republished with permission

Let’s talk about it

The Digital Asset Management Asia Pacific conference (DAMAP – www.damap.com.au) brings together global leaders in the field of digital asset management (DAM) to discuss issues surrounding intellectual property rights, e-commerce, workflow and system management, to name just a few.

Delegates will meet in Sydney, Australia this year from 27-29 September, with business futurist Craig Rispin delivering the keynote address. Rispin will be discussing the findings of a year long, global research project into DAM, it’s impacts on software and organisations of all types, from the private sector through to government.

Among the many other speakers at DAMAP 2006 will be Jennifer Neumann, founder, chairwoman and CEO of Canto, a company sitting at the leading edge of DAM. Cumulus, Canto’s flagship DAM product, is the sort of solution organisations are already turning to, once the value of protecting and better managing their digital assets becomes apparent.

Cumulus streamlines the management of digital assets, giving users, both inside and outside an organisation, the appropriate level of access. In so doing, Cumulus simplifies a variety of day to day tasks, from production, publishing, communication, and marketing, to workflow management and version control.

Cumulus and the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board

A case study prepared by Geoffrey E. Bock of Bock & Company titled How Cumulus Delivers Content for the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board laid bare the workings of a carefully designed, fully operational DAM system within an organisation with a vast number of digital assets. The Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, as its name suggests, works to promote the dairy products – principally the cheeses – produced in a region widely known as America’s dairyland.

Responsible for communicating Wisconsin’s milk marketing messages to supermarket chains, restaurants, national food distributors, school districts, and other bodies, the WMMB has at its disposal a colossal database of photography and graphic design. Each year, it may add up to 1000 new images to its library, already home to over 50,000 images. Needless to say, accessing those images was both time consuming and labour intensive.

The cost of this was obvious; simply, the WMMB was not able to respond to requests rapidly. “For a number of years, we tried to build something on our own, only to find it was too expensive and too time consuming,” LuAnn Gracyalny, manager of Interactive Communications explained. “Finally we decided to that we needed to sit down and take a close look at the whole project. We also knew we wanted to put our photos on the web.”

Identifying the need for a DAM solution

In 2001, the WMMB had learned enough about its business needs to make a list of criteria to assess potential DAM solutions:
  • an image library would need to store a range of image types;
  • images need to be easily retrieved;
  • users must be able to search for images using keywords;
  • assets must be catalogued by many different criteria, based on business needs;
  • the system must support multiple internal users who can access the shared library within a corporate internet;
  • authorised users from outside the company must be able to access the library remotely; and,
  • the digital rights process must be simplified.
With the operational needs neatly outlined, it became clear the WMMB needed more than a research library, something with the ability to index and distribute images over the web, and manage the regular updates of a dynamic organisation.

Getting it right from stage one

Teaming a systems integrator with a librarian, the WMMB built a comprehensive solution using Cumulus, specifically designed to improve the organisation’s internal production processes, and ensure rapid access to photos by those outside the business over the web.

“We took the time to ‘do it right’ by developing the business processes, the metadata, and the file naming conventions to streamline our digital asset management system,” said Mary Litviak, Creative Services Coordinator. Investing that time and thought into establishing a system which reflected organisational requirements also meant the WMMB could build multiple libraries, each focussed on a different sector of the business, making it a whole-of-business solution.

Moreover, internal staff, related organisations, and other users could be granted access to the collection to download the images they need, when and where they needed them, without delay.

Now, the library is available over the web, the WMMB can also serve magazine writers, publishers, retail, and media outlets almost instantaneously, with images that will ideally satisfy the need for which they are sought - time is saved at both ends of the process. All that is required by those outside the organisation is a login and password, granted through an authorisation process. And those old filing cabinets are not the daunting prospect for employees they once were.

It’s getting bigger

As the understanding of DAM broadens, so the range of targeted solutions grows. CanFlow, a new Canto product, streamline workflow for organisations like the WMMB, from the creative process right through to distribution of the final product.

“This opens the door for IT departments to adopt a DAM solution and to offer it as a service to the different departments of the organisation,” Neumann commented in a press release about CanFlow. “At the same time, the world is still centered around old-fashioned file-naming conventions, folder-based work-step automation and point solutions using incompatible technologies. Obviously this is a dead-end street. This is where CanFlow comes in: it is built around standards and open-source technology to allow tight integration not only with other Canto products, but also with key products and technologies from other vendors in order to enable complete solutions."

Digital Quay

Enter Digital Quay (DQ). The same DAM service can be offered off-site. That is, your assets can be held and managed by a storage facility that exists elsewhere, but offers your constituents the same simplicity of use and access as if it were housed locally. DQ’s WAM!NET services combine content management and delivery capabilities with the SAVVIS global managed IP network, offering a comprehensive set of solutions to the problem of creating, managing and distributing content.

In many ways, it’s a virtual community between organisations that need to exchange huge amounts of data, such as a publisher and printer or a studio and post production centre.

Kurt Reiter, Chief Technology Offer at DQ, explains there are compelling reasons, beyond efficient use and ease of access, to mange your digital assets in such a way, including the avoidance of digital piracy. From recorded music to movies, information with a dollar value to organisations is now reproduced and transmitted illegally, and unprofitably, between computers millions of time a day around the globe.

Although music piracy has received plenty of attention, Reiter says digital film piracy is one area content producers can help create a viable revenue model. “Adults may prefer to see big movies on a big screen rather than a laptop,” he told The Age newspaper. “They are slightly older, slightly fussier, and we have a disposable income.”

According to Reiter, controlling digital assets in this instance requires setting boundaries on movie downloads before broadband is installed everywhere and piracy becomes an entrenched means of sourcing products. It places a responsibility on organisations to better manage their assets. The same idea is applicable to advertising agencies whose logos, copy, and printer ready artwork are a similar resource, or, for that matter, anyone with digital assets liable to piracy.


All of these issues and more will be discussed at DAMAP come September 2006. As more and more work is done digitally, and the issues surrounding digital assets grow to become a day to day concern, DAM is one area of contemporary business that proves the adage a little bit of knowledge can go a very long way. Visit: www.damap.com.au www.canto.com www.digitalquay.com.au www.databasics.com.au

Terri Dentry is an independent film journalist, animation producer, and the Director of thinkRED film & media in Melbourne, Australia.

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