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Defining the DAM Thing: How Digital Asset Management Works

David Doering

August 2001 | I have a saying I use in consulting: "Where there's pain, there's gain." And nothing suggests pain like having users try to discuss storing and sharing digital information. "It's called content management," says one. "No, it's really media asset management," says another. A third suggests "Digital Asset Management." None of them seems to know exactly the distinction between the terms. What's more, the limitations of existing management structures strike different organizations in different ways, at different times, which leaves the waters pretty murky when it comes to devising solutions that will keep essential documents and their infrequently called-for counterparts organized, accessible, and systematically stored and categorized. The need for effective digital asset management, while arguably quite pressing, is relatively new and thus largely undefined. What's more, its potential role in repurposing content for future revenue generation is as unproven as it is enticing. This probably explains why the storing and retrieval of content is often disorganized and why content developers don't turn to software solutions nearly often enough.

Michael Miles, president of DoxTek, a Utah-based document management company, says that these terms seem like flavors of the week. "First, it was document management. The next year it became knowledge management. Now, it's called content management. Next year, who knows?"

However, we here at EMedia, ever the resource for digital content developers, do know. After considerable analysis, we now offer a proposal to resolve this confusion. What's more, we'll provide the definitive digital content development flow chart to see how a DAM solution fits into that flow. For you see, just as our latest 3D celluloid hero, the misunderstood ogre Shrek, describes himself, digital asset management is like an onion. But not in the sense that it makes you cry; rather, it has layers.

Peeling Out

The first layer of the onion is the Knowledge Management sphere. In essence, knowledge management encompasses all of what an organization generates, uses, and promulgates to the world and to itself. This would include all of its reports, databases, Power Point presentations, phone logs, visitor logs, transportation and shipping manifests, photos, videos, and more.

Knowledge management is a proactive strategy: you create a system to offer and measure the use of company information. Companies using KM will better understand their users and their comprehension of such things as policies, procedures, or simply the available tools to do their jobs.

Next in line is content management. It is on a lower level than knowledge management as it need not include reports, logs, or other informal kinds of information transfer in a company. For our purposes, content management covers the creation, storage, and printing or delivering of audio, video, or JPEG images, Power Point slides and slide shows, scripts, brochures, or other printed ephemera. It would not include, for example, shipping manifests of such to the appropriate client or perhaps other tracking information as might be incorporated in a knowledge management scenario.

Further under the skin of the onion is the Media Asset Management sphere. The MAM sphere is a subset of content management as it is focused on the audio and visual media generated within a company. Thus, a MAM system would track MPEG-2 videos but would not necessarily include desktop publishing files for printed materials. It would, however, include any illustrations created for such printed materials.

Finally, the Digital Asset Management sphere represents the smallest of the spheres in the knowledge/content onion. DAM systems focus on the repurposing and resale of digital assets–audio, video, slides, and the like. As such, it may not cover all the media content generated for a firm, as some assets would remain internal or for one-time external use.

Here our characterization differs from that posited by other analysts, who prefer to designate DAM as the larger of the two spheres when compared with MAM. They define "digital" to include other than audiovisual media assets; hence, they see it as a larger group than MAM. We prefer to consider "digital" asset management, while similar to media asset management, to reflect the concept of reusing these media content elements. At least one vendor, Artesia, is promoting this use of the term.

In passing, we also note the term "data mining," an ergot-gaining bit of jargon that encompasses the whole content onion. Data mining is similar in ways to DAM in that it involves trying to reuse existing content. Unlike knowledge management, however, data mining is a retroactive process. Mining is focused on discovering and repurposing/ reusing existing content or information. Typically, data mining applications extract numerical and text information from databases. However, with the pervasive nature of rich media assets, data mining must soon include the capacity to recognize and relate relevant digital content to a user's data mining request.

Why DAM? Ask GM

A digital content creator knows that a video or audio production has two values: intrinsic and commercial. As Apple Computer notes as well, any piece of content has intrinsic value since it may be reused later on in another presentation. This saves the creator time and energy that might otherwise be wasted in recreating the same or similar content.

Content also has commercial value since it is typically created at the request of a client. This client may be internal (for example, marketing may want a video of a new software product) or external (such as for a rock band's music video). Either way, the content has value.

The content also retains its value for some time. So how do we extract this value? That is the purpose of a DAM system. By cataloging all of its digital media assets, a company can leverage that content for future use and resell it.

A case in point, General Motors has over 100 years of media assets on hand. These include photographs and films from the 1800s to the present of cars, trucks, production facilities, personnel, and more. Prior to implementing a DAM system, GM made about $4 million a year on licensing this content for use by documentary filmmakers, book authors, scholastic and research presentations, and others. After implementing the DAM system, GM made accessing, selecting, and purchasing appropriate licenses much easier and enabled it to be accomplished without a lot of human intervention (which often delayed or eliminated possible sales in the past). Adopting this system has led to a six-fold increase in revenue from $4 million to over $25 million per year in licensing.

In fact, GM's recent television campaign for the Chevrolet Suburban–featuring vintage photographs and footage from the 1930s, '40s, and '50s–suggests that GM content creators over in advertising are also taking advantage of the new DAM catalog.

The Content Process

Let's now examine the flow of content generation, retention, and distribution for a moment to see how DAM improves the process. This content can be any media–digital or analog–as well as any sub-type, such as JPEGs, MPEGs, Word documents, Power Point presentations, or spreadsheets. Most media content travels through a rather limited lifecycle that can be simply characterized as "The Content Process." Typically, this process consists of four stages, as follows:

  • Creation: In this first stage, an artist, writer, editor, or filmmaker creates new content using existing material as a basis or by generating entirely new content.

  • Storage: Next, the new content is stored. For us, this content would typically directed for storage on a hard drive on a RAID device, with an archive on tape, or preferably on an optical jukebox.

  • Delivery: In this stage, the client (either internal or external) receives the requested content in the appropriate form factor. This may require generating a CD, DVD, or VHS tape in many cases. It can also easily be a streaming video using MPEG-1 or 2, RealVideo, or another motion video format.

  • Lost and Forgotten: Sadly, the disposition of most content is to be relegated to a hard drive and forgotten. When the content's creator leaves the firm or is promoted, the content often becomes abandoned and ultimately lost.

The Content Process, Round Two

It is at this latter step of loss and forgetting that the Digital Asset Management system changes. Rather than simply let content gather dust, we can move towards a digital asset management architecture that will increase its lifespan and keep it accessible for future reference and use. This approach will also make that content available, as in the GM example, for future repurposing as a source of new revenue.

Our new architecture now includes some new steps for our developer, as follows:

  • Indexing: As content is generated and stored, it is indexed according to various possible criteria called "metadata." Metadata does not merely describe by whom, when, and how a piece of content was created; it can also be used to interpret and catalog the content itself. One common example of metadata used in a digital asset management implementation would be a storyboard of key frames from a streaming MPEG-2 video.

  • Resale: Following indexing, an online user may access the developer's content catalog to select existing images or videos.

  • Rights Management: At this stage, a new module, handling rights to the content, now will filter or restrict the use of the content by the purchaser/end-user. Rights management is not simply for external use, however. It may be needed to restrict access or use internally as well. This might occur, for example, with corporate information or licensed images from a third party incorporated into the content.

  • Reuse: With a viable rights management structure for digital media in place, the internal content developer can now research and select appropriate content for reuse in new content. This represents a significant savings potential for users. It can also be a significant "hassle"-reducer as well. Consider a corporate executive needing a Power Point presentation. Rather than have to regenerate slide after slide, an executive can now peruse the company catalog for video, animations, or simply text content–all without having to regenerate the content.

  • Review: A final benefit of an online catalog with a DAM system is the ability to review older content more easily. Outdated materials can then either be archived offline or otherwise removed from the system. Needless to say, an optical library such as a CD or DVD jukebox would provide a tailor-made integration with a DAM solution.

By incorporating an easily accessed content catalog into its digital content creation cycle, a company gains both the savings from reusing content as well as revenue from continued sales of the same elements.

Who Can You Call?

Putting together a DAM solution takes more than simply adding an Excel spreadsheet to the creation process. An effective DAM solution should have a Web interface with filters to allow real-time viewing of all supported content.

There are many vendors in and entering into the DAM arena, with perhaps three outstanding players leading the pack: Artesia, Ascential, and Bulldog. Their Web sites are well worth exploring to learn more about DAM.

Bulldog describes its Two.Seven product as "an enterprise platform to ingest, store, browse, manage, and distribute any type of digital asset–including video, audio, text, and images–through multiple channels of delivery, including broadcast, the Internet, and Interactive TV." This pretty much sums up the purpose of a DAM solution and the Two.Seven is certainly DAM fine in that regard.

Like other players' products, Bulldog's Two.Seven integrates with a variety of tools for the digital content/presentation content industry. They include Virage's Video Logger, QuarkXPress, and even Convera's RetrievalWare for including text content as well. Finally, it natively supports Sony broadcast components and products, including NewsBase and PetaSite via Sony's Value Added Interface.

Ascential offers their Media360 end-to-end DAM solution for collecting, organizing, delivering, and protecting, as they say, "any type of media asset." Continuing Media360's intended comprehensive program, the solution is tightly integrated with video and audio catalogers, news-gathering systems, programming and broadcast management solutions, video and audio editing systems, Web publishing, ecommerce, digital content distribution, and analytic systems. We particularly like their modular approach to accomplishing this, such as with desktop publishing and other varieties of content preparation applications.

Artesia is likely the keenest promoter of Digital Asset Management. Their product, TEAMS 4.1, uses a delightful cutting-edge browser-based client tool for accessing media. TEAMS also includes a simplified set of Java APIs for ease of integration and customization into a client site. As might be expected from the browser support, TEAMS readily handles streaming media as well. Their Clip Identifier lets users identify a segment of a streaming presentation for incorporation into new content just as well as stills.

These DAM solutions aren't $1.95 tools. But with the cost of video production running into the thousands per second, being able to repurpose and/or resell valuable content that's run its initial commercial course could go a long way to recouping a $150,000-$250,000 investment in a full-throttle DAM system.

DAMatis Personae: A Glossary of Terms

Content Management: The strategy and technology for storing and indexing information from and about analog or digital media.

Data Mining: The strategy and technology for retroactively locating, retrieving, and processing information from a company's records or digital storage.

Digital Asset Management: The technologies used to locate and retrieve specific digital content objects for possible resale or repurposing.

Knowledge Management: An overall strategy to index and retrieve information proactively from whatever medium a company has. This differs from data mining, which is a reactive strategy.

Media Asset Management: The technologies used to locate and retrieve specific content objects from analog or digital media.

Companies Mentioned in This Article

Artesia Software
700 King Farm Boulevard, Suite 400, Rockville, MD 20850; 866/278-3742; 301/548-4000; Fax: 301/548-4015; http://www.artesia.com

Ascential Software, Inc.
50 Washington Street, Westboro, MA 01581; 800/966-9875, 508/366-3888; Fax 508/366-3669; http://www.ascentialsoftware.com

Bulldog USA
10202 West Washington Boulevard, Kelly Building, Suite 20, Culver City, CA 90232-3119; 310/244-2855; Fax 310/244-0955; http://www.bulldog.com

David Doering (dave@techvoice.com), an EMedia Magazine contributing editor, is also the Network Observer columnist and a senior analyst with TechVoice, Inc., an Orem, Utah-based consultancy.

Comments? Email us at letters@onlineinc.com.

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