DAM: Changing the Way We Work: Identifying Your Company's Particular Needs Is the First Step to Developing a Digital Asset Management System of Your Own

Article excerpt

Did you know that the typical creative professional spends one out of every 10 hours on file management? A third of that time is spent on searches, and--as if those wasted manhours aren't frustrating enough --35 percent of the time the person never finds the file that he or she is searching for.

Digital asset management is about to change all that and more. In simple terms, a digital asset management system allows you to store, browse and quickly locate files of text, images or sound. The consequences of swift, consistent, company-wide access to files extend to four areas: finding images and data, systematizing workflow, collaborating on pages and managing rights. And it is these four tasks that are about to be radically transformed by DAM.


DAM systems consist of software (for sorting, searching and retrieving) and hardware (for storing, accessing and distributing). These broad applications put DAM only a small step away from an operating system or the fundamental components of network software. Future operating systems may very well include DAM elements, and network systems may ultimately integrate conventional file sharing with database structures for file management. Until they do, we begin with the database at the heart of DAM.

The database makes use of metadata--data describing the data. It uses keywords for searches, and thumbnails to represent images during browsing, as well as pointers to the location of each file.

In high-level systems, which can cost $100,000 and up, the database is an asset repository, a secure collection of the source files themselves. The other approach, which costs a great deal less ($2,000 to $20,000), is a media catalog that stores proxies alone, indexed to the source files.

In an asset repository, the files enjoy all the advantages of a database: security, replication, backup safeguards, disaster recovery, referential integrity, centralized data management and a hierarchical storage structure. Such a system lends itself to workflows that require access security, including management of rights or permissions and access for suppliers or customers. These systems require a high-performance server, a fast network and significant online storage capacity.

In contrast, in a media catalog structure the source files remain accessible. This means anyone can view, change, move or delete files unless the files are otherwise secured. Therefore, while a media catalog can address rights management and version control by user privileges and check-in/check-out logs, it cannot prevent access to files through other retrieval methods.

When storing files, DAM systems will automatically identify the file based on characteristics evident from the file itself, such as size and type. You can further automate the tagging process by batching files with common properties that you'd like used as keywords for later searches. Finally, you'll want to anticipate future searches by answering some prompts with keywords. For a photograph of a wheat field, for example, the photographer's name, "John Deere," "Iowa" and "heartland" might all describe the same image.

The DAM product landscape is already densely populated. Navigating it is easier once you've identified your core objectives. Is your emphasis on helping individuals search for files and browse thumbnail images, or on creating a collaborative environment? Will the DAM systematize workflow and aid in project management? Is there an e-commerce application? How about managing rights?


Kathy Sandler, manager of training and information services at Hearst, says, "The choice of vendor or software is secondary. The most important aspect of implementing digital asset management is accurately assessing the need for it by including a complete range of end users." Include the whole team in the process of defining needs and developing the scope of the project, she says; that way you create the user buy-in that is essential for the system to succeed. …