The Road to Digital Asset Management
Organizations start down the path of evaluating digital asset management solutions in response to the challenges they face managing growing collections of digital assets, files and documents. Often it's a missed deadline or the loss of a critical file that drives home the need for a more systematic approach.
But finding the right digital asset management solution for your needs, as well as implementing it, is not as hard as you might think. A little planning is all it takes; your main areas of concern are: users, workflows, IT needs, asset form and profiling.
Who Will Use the System
Before you start looking at systems, it's a good idea to identify all the users of digital assets, and how digital assets are used. The success or failure of a digital asset management implementation will ultimately hinge on meeting the needs of all its major users. In some organizations, digital assets are only heavily used by small technical workgroups. In other organizations, digital assets are "touched" by users across the organization. Increasingly, users of digital asset management systems aren't just designers, but copywriters, marketing managers, media buyers, Web designers and lawyers. This makes it critical to understand the technical proficiency of all the users, in addition to their computer platforms and locations.
Mapping Processes and Workflows
Your next step should be to gain a good understanding of how digital assets are used, and what workflows they're part of. Ultimately, you should end up with maps of workflows that identify who does what, when and what file formats they need.
The process of mapping workflows can be extremely valuable, revealing inefficiencies and identifying opportunities for the digital asset management system to generate ROI. By mapping workflows you'll begin to develop a set of goals for the system that can be translated into a list of requirements. This requirement list can help you identify the digital asset management systems with the features you need.
The IT Department: Friend or Foe
If you're considering a digital asset management system, you should get IT involved early, so they're on board and part of the process.
Depending upon the scale of the project and the availability of existing equipment, your digital asset management system may need a dedicated server where the digital asset repository can reside (for more on repositories, see the sidebar on page 18). The vendor should be able to give you the answers you need.
IT will want to give careful thought to the impact of the digital asset management solution on other systems and staff. They'll also want to think about how it fits into your organization's overall management information system strategy.
Implementation: What to Expect
Implementing digital asset management can be simple, as in the case of the single user, or complex, if there are hundreds of users in dozens of locations. It can take from 10 minutes to 10 months and beyond, depending upon the scope of the project and the system you choose.
Simple digital asset management systems require no more installation and set-up than other typical PC or Mac
applications. Other systems require a significant amount of IT support and customization. Be sure to ask the vendors for their assessment of the effort required to get the system up and running and configured to meet your needs.
Migrating "Non-digital Assets"
If your assets aren't in digital form, you might need to purchase devices to convert them. These devices also will need to be connected to your network. You may need scanners, digital cameras or both. Prices range widely
depending upon the quality, resolution and speed of the device.
A common questionand concernis that the digital asset management system is going to require a huge amount of disk storage. There is good news here: disk storage prices have been decreasing at an incredible rate. Today, top-of-the-line disk storage for servers costs approximately $12 per gigabyte.
Digital assets tend to be large25MB files are common. In fact, many users find that digital asset management systems result in less disk storage being needed. Digital asset management systems significantly reduce the number of copies of each asset that are stored on your network. Think about it: Most people route assets for approval by e-mail. If you route a 2MB PDF file to five people via e-mail for their review, you need 10MB of disk storage; 2MB for each of the five copies of the asset. Routing the same asset in a digital asset management system would typically require just 2MB, since the system maintains a single copy of the asset and creates a link for each user. Many digital asset management systems include features to compress assets before they're stored in the repository, resulting in storage space savings of up to 90 percent, depending on the format of the asset.
Bye-bye Filing: Hello Profiling
Simple digital asset management systems usually provide a fixed set of fields you can use to describe or profile assets. More complex systems give you considerable flexibility to create your own categories. The challenge is to
include enough attributes to make the system useful without making it too time-consuming to file each asset in the system.
Many digital asset management systems implement folder structures or directories to enable you to store and find assets more intuitively. The combination of attributes and folders make up the taxonomy or rules of classification for assets. Think of your taxonomy as a digital replacement for your filing system.
Typical attributes include categories such as the asset description, owner, asset type, size, users, creation date and format. Some of the attributes will consist of categories, such as file type (Word, Excel, Quark, Photoshop, GIF, TIFF, etc.). Other attributes, like the description, will consist of free-form text.
Digitizing Pictures, Images and Video
What should you do with your vast collections of photos, pictures and video? Digitization is time-consuming and costly. You may be better off retaining your non-digital assets in their current format and filing system, and only digitizing assets as you use them. Alternatively, you could profile your existing collection without actually
digitizing the assets. This approach saves time, yet provides a single reference point for all assets, digital or not. This approach would result in a complete and accurate catalog of all your assets, even if they aren't all in digital form.
What's Out There
Digital asset management systems can be divided into two categories that are based upon their underlying architecture. What used to be a fairly straightforward decision in selecting a system has become more complex. Choosing the right underlying architecture is the most important decision you'll make about digital asset management.
There are three basic architectures used by digital asset management systems: media catalogs, asset repositories and hybrid systems.
Media Catalogs: Media catalog-based systems use thumbnails to represent digital assets. Media catalogs also store links to the files in a database, indexed for fast access and searching. The digital assets themselves are left under the control of the file system where they're stored. Easy to install and administer, media catalogs are ideal for single users.
Media catalogs don't actually manage the digital assets themselves. Privileges such as reading the assets, modifying them, moving them or deleting them are determined by the operating system in which they're stored. If the assets are stored in a personal folder, the owner of the folder can grant privileges to them. If they are in a network or server folder, they must be administered by a network or system administrator following an IT model.
Usually, media catalogs don't support check-in/check-out (stopping users from editing documents that are currently being edited) or versioning (associating versions of assets with each other). Because users and administrators can manipulate the files directly, catalogs can get out of sync. Assets can get deleted accidentally.
Asset Repositories: These systems store the assets in a secure database. Access to the database can be strictly controlled by the database management software. Because users and administrators can't manipulate the files directly, asset catalogs can't get out of sync. Asset repositories make features like check-in/check-out and versioning possible. They typically are designed to enable end users to manage asset access and privileges themselves. Assets benefit from the higher level of data integrity that database management systems afford, such as file locking, replication, transaction logging and referential integrity.
Since most marketing data is already stored in database management systems, asset repositories enable the creation of powerful marketing applications that combine digital assets with campaign or other marketing information. Such applications can enable users to, say, see the direct mail pieces (digital assets) that were used in the campaign.
Asset repositories used to be complicated, expensive and required higher performance hardware. No more. Database management systems now are able to store and retrieve assets without a huge performance burden. While asset repository-based systems are more costly than media catalogs, they are also more powerful and offer greater efficiency.
Hybrid Systems: The Internet has made things a lot more complicated. Before the widespread use of the Internet, most digital assets remained inside the confines of the organization that created them. At most, files were sent from agency to printer via FTP or Federal Express (on a zip cartridge or a floppy disk).
Today, many digital assets never get to ink on paper. Instead they become GIF or PDF files, and live in a purely digital world. Digital asset managementinitially a tool for creatives, designers and copywritershas broader application across the marketing landscape. Today's digital asset management system users increasingly want to be able to manage not just the assets their organization has created, but assets created by others found on the Internet. Today's product manager not only wants to be able to manage assets created internally, but to provide links to colleagues for competitors' Web sites, other Web pages, customer sites and more. So what used to be an either/or decision in selecting a digital asset management system is now a "both."
Depending on your needs, implementing digital asset management may take a few hours or a few months. Either way, it's likely that you'll see a significant ROI and considerable time savings. You may find yourself integrating hardware and software from several vendors.
You won't be alone or entering uncharted territory: Digital asset management is a mature technology that is in widespread use. You'll find it easy to get expert help from a variety of sources.
Ken Kornbluth is CEO of MarketingPilot Software, a vendor of marketing information systems in Evanston, IL. Kornbluth can be reached at (847) 864-4777. Or, for more information on digital asset management, visit www.marketingpilot.com to download free white papers on this subject.