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Managing Digital Assets

Organizing and archiving digital images and other assets.

It’s become increasingly necessary that a print provider be able to keep individual source images as well as completed graphics on file—and that these be easily searchable and findable. For most shops (and individuals), a plethora of icons litter desktops, file folders, servers, and storage drives. Eventually, however, this unmanageable herd of digital images and other assets will overwhelm the user’s ability to remember where a particular file may reside.

In time, only an asset-management system will serve to truly organize the array of files and prevent graphics losses and, ultimately, a customer catastrophe.

The current economic climate has changed the way companies are evaluating asset-management solutions, reports Aberdeen Group, the Boston-based research group. Just one year ago, the top two challenges that companies were seeking to address with asset-management investments were improved return on marketing investments and overall brand consistency. In 2009, however, these two challenges are now identified as secondary pressures. “Today, the number-one reason all companies are turning to digital asset management is operational productivity,” explains Ian Michiels, director of Aberdeen’s Customer Management Technology Group and author of the study, “Justifying Investments in Digital Asset Management.” “Companies are desperately trying to supplement a lack of top-line revenue with increased productivity to
maximize profitability.”

Which is where digital asset management enters the picture. As the Association of Graphic Solutions Providers (IPA) reports, “Brand owners’ increasing number of multi-channel targeted marketing programs has caused an explosion in the number of digital assets to manage. Clients are recognizing the need for a sophisticated DAM system that supports marketing across multiple media and allows for increased collaboration between their communication suppliers.”

What should asset management do?

Digital asset-management (DAM) systems are a solution for appropriately naming, organizing, storing, and, thankfully, finding those much needed digital files. For large clients who want the print provider to keep jobs on file for on-demand service, or small companies who have just one key high-resolution image used on every graphic, it’s the print provider that can ensure an image’s safety and quick recovery that will retain large and small clients alike.

But as you look about the marketplace for what asset-management systems are available to you and which might be best suited for your operation, you should also consider the bigger picture of DAM in your company.

At the Henry Stewart DAM Conference in New York this spring, for example, Henrik
deGyor spoke about his role as digital asset manager at online-learning provider K12 Inc., listing these questions that any company’s management—print provider or other—must answer when considering the implementation of a DAM system: Who is driving the progress of DAM? Who is tracking progress, measuring growth, and addressing risks to report on a weekly/monthly basis? Who will answer questions and support system users? What happens when something goes wrong? Who is in charge of the asset-management system? Who will fix it? Who will be the adviser regarding when to file a trouble ticket with the vendor versus what can be resolved in-house? Who will create the trouble ticket when the time comes? Who will follow up? Who will train users in the asset-management system?

Meanwhile, as you evaluate specific DAM systems, consider: Does the system allow you to use your existing tools? Does the system make sense with your workflow? Is the system integrated strongly with products like Adobe CS without the use of custom APIs or plug-ins? Would a user be able to copy a file from one location to another?

The asset-management market itself hinders the evaluation process a bit by utilizing an array of terms and acronyms. “Confusion can come about due to vendor branding strategies or a plethora of nebulous acronyms used within the industry,” reports CMSWatch, a service that evaluates DAM systems. Be aware that some vendors use a single brand such as “digital media” to cover all content-focused software regardless
of each component’s specific purpose, while some have one brand for image, another for documents, and perhaps another for Web content. And, in some instances points out CMSWatch, product names are synonymous with the firm’s brand. Further, keep in mind that many companies utilize terms such as enterprise content management (ECM), media asset management (MAM), content management systems (CMS), electronic document management systems (EDMS), knowledge management (KM), and many others.

If you’re looking for a helpful list when it comes to evaluating an asset-management system, consider the following points, courtesy of MediaBeacon and part of what that company calls its DAM Bill of Rights:

• Data should not be separated from the files but should be strongly attached to files.
• Exchanging data should be as easy as exchanging files.
• Data should travel with the files.
• Data should understand namespaces and should allow encryption and references.
• Viewing data should not require direct access.
• Data should be in a standard format and work with standard tools.
• “Got the file” means “got the data.”
• Data should be in a database, and it should be flexible.
• Systems should add fields in seconds, not weeks; adoption should take days not years.
• Each asset may have different data.
• Data should apply to all file types.
• Systems should support Unicode.
• You should not be hostage to a vendor; changing vendors should be like changing tires.
• Data should be future proof.
• Separating metadata from the assets doesn’t just lose the data as you work on it.
• DAM should not force a replacement of all systems.
• DAM should be scalable.
• Enterprise should mean enterprise—not “big box.”
• DAM should work with the creative workflow.

Vendor part of the equation
For their part, manufacturers and vendors have been modifying their products to better address current market needs. What were once relatively modest asset-management
packages have evolved into more robust modular suites of products that can handle new functions.

DAM for print providers is no longer just about being able to find the right photo to place in a particular job. Instead, it’s about automating the entire workflow, repurposing data, and building new digital assets on the fly. It”s also about being able to automatically track and move all of your files, pictures, text, pdf, native files, office files, and more—and in such a way that they can be linked together instantly for a variety of purposes.

Many vendors have recently released new versions of their products to better address some of these challenges; here’s just a sampling (see, “Sourcing DAM,” at left, for a more comprehensive list of companies in this space):

• Xinet has released Asset Browser, a plug-in for InDesign in its Xinet WebNative Suite, as well as WebNative ID and Annotator ID for Adobe Creative Suite 4. In addition, the company reports that a major announcement will be coming later this year.
• Meta Communications has released an entry-level version of its DAM product that sells for less than $2000.
• Canto has launched Canto Single User, a personal version of its Cumulus digital asset-management program.
• Extensis’ Server version of Portfolio has undergone a fairly significant upgrade to version 9.
• SeeFile is scheduled to release version 4.7 just before this article appears in print.
• Wave has released MediaBank v3.5.
• North Plains has released a new version of TeleScope Video Manager and its new product, TeleScope Orchestration.
• Chuckwalla has introduced Chuckwalla v6–Standard Edition, Chuckwalla v6–Modular Edition, and a Developer Edition.
• Widen has released Version 5.3, which offers improvements to the Dynamic Media Building tool for brand-controlled ad and brochure creation and document collaboration using Adobe PDF Shared Review as well as a new browser-based user interface and integration direct to the desktop.

It’s probably fair to say that various digital asset-management companies that once focused on the graphic-arts marketplace have turned to generating sales to other markets. They now sometimes view the printing market as a small and not particularly profitable niche. But the positive aspect of this broader market view is an enhancement of the capabilities of systems, and all businesses—including print providers—will stand to benefit from this wider outlook.

Increasing competitive edge
The selection of a vendor for asset management is certainly not a simple task, but it really boils down to determining exactly what you want your system to be able to do for you. These days, systems can do much more than ever before to streamline your business, saving time and money, and increasing your competitive edge.

The first step in the selection process is to decide not to sit still and wait for the solution to come to you. Other folks who will be competing with you are already implementing systems of varying sophistication. The challenge is not what technology you chose, but how well thought out your implementation is and how well it fits your business and your customers.

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