New Age Librarian

By eweek  |  Posted 2001-02-26 Email Print this article Print

Images ... Sound ... Text ... Video. How can your customers manage all of that data? Welcome to the Dewey Decimal System of the future.

Your clients burgeoning digital assets are worthless, unless they can be retrieved and put to use. Retrieving them requires a solid process to store, name and index those assets, much the same as finding a book at the neighborhood library requires a card catalog. While Dewey hasnt evolved into the digital age, digital asset management (DAM) has turned a new page for integrators.

Digital assets are any type of information that can be digitized: user manuals, logos, brochures, MP3 files, advertisements and video clips, for example. Those are assets in the truest sense: They cost money to produce and sometimes are sold for profit, yet they often must be recreated because theyre misplaced or were created in a format that cannot be repurposed.

Thats where DAM comes into play. DAM is the secure management, storage, retrieval and distribution of digital assets. Or, as one vendor says, DAM aims to deliver "the right file in the right format to the right place at the right time."

DAM saves clients money by instituting a process where content can easily be found in relation to other assets—an image associated with a brochure, for example, or all video clips on airline disasters in the last two years. It also opens up new revenue opportunities for your clients by allowing content to be repurposed repeatedly for multiple distribution channels. As Pete Fernandez of e-business integrator Concero says, "The Holy Grail is to create once and publish everywhere." A DAM solution is a key part of that quest.

One DAM vendor says that there are two types of clients that need a DAM solution: The first is one where content is their product, such as a newspaper, advertising agency or movie studio; the second is everyone else. Even if that is an exaggeration, the point is clear: All companies have digital assets, and tracking those assets can save time and money. But DAM is a relatively new market, with little in the way of standards or competition. Nobody offers a complete solution. Its a market rife with integration opportunities.

How bigs the potential payoff? DAM-related software spending will top $2 billion by 2003, up from $800 million today, predicts Rob Perry of The Yankee Group. Integrators are expected to reap $1 of services for every dollar spent on DAM software. Artesia president and COO Scott Bowen paints a rosier picture. He maintains that integrators can expect $2 to $8 of value-added service for every dollar spent on Artesias Teams 4.1 software license.

Also, CAP Ventures Inc. senior consultant Leonor Ciarlone says, B2B collaboration has opened up, especially with channel partners. With DAM, third parties can get access to content quickly, easily and securely. But integrators are expected to make access a reality.

Just One Chapter Digital asset management is only a small part of a giant workflow process that moves digital assets from production to distribution on various devices such as a Web browser, a WAP-enabled phone, a printed brochure or a DVD.

There are various analogies to how a DAM solution works, but the concept of a library seems to fit the best. A library stores paper-based books, magazines and newspapers, and electronic media such as microfiche, CDs and tapes. A DAM solution stores digital versions of images, music, video and text. And just as a library has a card catalogue that can be searched and in some cases even retrieve materials, so does a DAM solution with the digital assets. Some DAM solutions even take it one step further and convert assets from one format to another—prepping the information for multiple distribution channels.

Because a DAM solution is like a library, it must have a database—or somewhere to store the assets themselves and information about the assets, known as metadata. Many of the products mentioned here run on Oracle8i, although IBMs solution also runs on DB2, and Informix spin-off Ascential runs on an Informix database.

While those solution frameworks are tightly knit with their resident databases, they can tie into legacy databases via XML and ODBC connections—very important, considering thats probably where most companies are storing their assets and associated metadata.

Whats in the Stacks? In summary, a DAM solution takes existing content, assigns metadata, converts it or stores it in a format that can be repurposed for distribution to multiple channels, and assigns rights and permissions to control who gains access to that content.

You can envision DAM as one part in the assembly line of a content factory.

The creators of content, such as a graphic designer, a technical writer or a videographer, design digital content or convert it from another source, such as video. Once the assets have been created, the creators will enter descriptive information about the content into the DAM solution. This metadata is similar to the metatags on a Web page.

Part of that metadata describes rights and permissions of the asset. The DAM solution will control who has what type of access to the content—that is especially important in B2B scenarios so third parties can have access to specific content without jeopardizing the entire database.

Check the Bibliography Entering the content into the DAM solution can be done either manually or automatically. Many of the solutions tie into video-logging programs such as Virage, so that video can be parsed and the placeholders can be indexed. The resulting metadata is entered into the DAM interface via XML, as well as manually. DAM solutions can handle most any type of rich media content. Storage-intensive files, such as video, generally are stored in an external database or a videotape library with an XML interface to the solution, which represents another integration opportunity. Other, smaller-sized files are stored directly within the DAM database.

But DAM solutions also work well with more conventional types of media, integrating with workflow management products such as Documentum and FileNet. Text documents and rich media can be referenced from a common interface, which is the DAM solution.

The next step in the assembly line is an optional one—assigning (and enforcing) digital rights management (DRM) with products from InterTrust and Digimarc. DRM handles the rights and permissions to the content after it has been transferred from the DAM repository, but the access control defined in the DAM component governs the DRM system. Not all content has to have DRM, but its important to protect copyrights for material that is for sale or has a high value—a brochure for a car probably wouldnt need DRM and, in fact, the company would want it to be distributed as far and wide as possible.

Also, as an alternative to DRM, Alchemedias Clever Content platform is a digital image to which a variety of attributes have been attached and related to the content—a high-resolution image, for example—and then the content owner can track the image to minimize pirating.

Once the asset has been created, and metadata has been assigned and converted to the proper format, it is ready for integration with almost any application that can distribute it to another entity. The asset can be distributed in the form of broadcast or cable television videotape, radio, PDAs, Web browsers or print.

Its now distribution time, and this is where the opportunities are for you, your client and the recipient of the digital assets are endless. A primary feature of DAM solutions is interfacing with content-management tools such as Interwoven, Openpages and Vignette. Such interfacing allows one to easily assemble assets into a finished product for distribution.

Acquiring Your Library Card Well warn you, however, entry into the digital asset management market is not easy for integrators. Theres a big learning curve, and the practice requires the command of a wide range of skill sets.

The primary requirement for success, and this may sound like a given, is experience managing digital content. DAM products only automate the tasks of managing the content; its the integrator/project leader who will play a key role in deciding the standards, the nomenclature, and the process to get creators and consumers of content to talk to each other. Just as with the proverbial library card catalog, the metadata that describes the digital assets has to mean the same thing to the creator of the content as to the distributor. Having someone on staff with a degree in library science would be a good idea.

While many of the DAM solutions require different skills, having a staff with expertise in databases, Java and XML will go a long way, as will knowledge of Solaris, AIX and Windows NT/2000, depending on the application.

The best client will be any company that has many types of digital assets, or analog assets that can be digitized. The real value-add for a DAM solution is the management of nontext, or rich, media. While these solutions can manage text and documents, there are other products (such as Documentum) that are better suited for that task.

You must know the culture of the clients organization intimately to pull off a successful DAM integration, as well as the business case for justifying the integration.

Dont Get Fined A subtle but important issue is the task of converting all of a clients existing analog assets to digital format. Dont kid yourself; it can be a monumental undertaking, but once its done, the maintenance of the digital content will fall into place, provided the process for creating, naming and indexing the assets from this point forward is a good one. Half of the effort is in laying the groundwork.

While doing the conversion and planning the standards, its important to pick the right file formats. One large media corporation executive with whom we spoke says its better to pick a format that will last, rather than the most efficient one. As an example, just look at what happened to Sonys Betamax videotape and media. Beta tapes are still around, but do you know where a machine can be found to play a Beta tape? A file that can be read 20 years into the future sure beats one that cant be read at all.

The clients network needs to be able to handle a digital asset management solution. Going all digital requires a significant bandwidth increase, especially when transferring video files. Anticipate the same opportunity for storage capacity.

At the Checkout Desk The success in integrating DAM with other parts of the digital-content infrastructure will make or break the entire contract.

As long as you have competent XML and Java programmers and database experts, the mechanics of the integration should go reasonably well. Whats key, though, is knowing what type of content should integrate with what type of technology, and that all depends on the needs of your customer.

To integrate DAM, your staff must have adequate training. Artesia even requires that its resellers go through its training program to learn both its API and how to deploy a DAM solution. And, to be sure, all of these solutions require integration.

It may be difficult to convince your client of the need for a digital asset management solution; however, more and more content is being created digitally every day. Getting a leg up now will put you at the front desk with the right book, while everyone else is still searching through the stacks.


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