by Sari Kalin

What is Digital Asset Management Software?

Jul 15, 20029 mins
Enterprise Applications

Coca-Cola is using it to bottle up 116 years of brand history, including its hippie-era ad classic, “I’d like to buy the world a Coke.”

DaimlerChrysler is using it as a virtual parking lot for vehicle images.

The National Football League is using it to hand off game photos and head shots of some 3,000 players and coaches.

Those companies are among a growing number of organizations deploying digital asset management systems?software that stores and organizes images, audio, video and other digital objects, making them easier to find, transform and reuse. Digital asset management (DAM) found an early niche in the media, entertainment and advertising industries, with pioneers such as CNN and Discovery Communications using it to get a high-tech handle on their vast video libraries. But the market is poised for rapid growth during the coming years, analysts say, as mainstream companies realize that they too are awash in rich and varied forms of content?PowerPoint presentations, product photographs, training videos?and that they desperately need a centralized, speedy way for employees and partners to locate such content and manipulate it.

“Most CIOs find themselves in the unhappy circumstance of having all of these islands of stuff that are not federated in any way,” says Michael Moon, president and CEO of Gistics, a Larkspur, Calif.-based research company. “So they can’t say, How many reusable objects do I have in my enterprise?”

Not being able to ask or answer that question can prove costly. DaimlerChrysler, for example, works with multiple ad agencies in the United States. Car images and other marketing-related media have typically been stored in separate databases, some at agencies, some in-house, says Bill Whedon, director of e-commerce and dealership technologies in Auburn Hills, Mich. “We would end up with redundant [photo] shoots, but oftentimes we didn’t realize [it],” Whedon says. And each photo shoot could cost tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Now, with DAM software from Artesia, Whedon says, the automaker will be able to centrally store and manage data, graphics and images used in the company’s websites, electronic kiosks and traditional print-marketing pieces; it’ll be able to store video for use in a variety of mediums. Whedon hopes that the DAM system, scheduled to roll out by July, will help eliminate wasteful duplication and encourage designers to transform and reuse existing materials. Say a promotional piece needs to show a yellow 2002 Jeep Wrangler Sport in a rugged landscape, and the DAM system already holds an image of a white Wrangler Sport thundering across the Mojave. “It’s much easier to repurpose the image?to change the color?rather than going out and reshooting it because you need the car in a different color,” Whedon says.

The DAM Difference

General-purpose relational databases have long been able to store and retrieve unstructured information as “blobs,” or binary large objects. Yet there’s a difference between simply storing and retrieving digital riches, and doing something useful with them. Companies want to be able to attach descriptive information, or meta-data, to their images, audio and video to make them easier to find. They want to keep track of versions and set up workflows, control access and manage digital rights. They also want to be able to convert or “transcode” their media into different formats, depending on its use.

Five years ago, Coca-Cola couldn’t find any suitable commercially available software to digitize and organize images from its archives. So Coke’s IS department built an image repository that had a strong search capability and made it available on the company’s intranet, with reasonable success, says Phil Mooney, director of Coke’s archives department in Atlanta. But two years ago, Coke began looking at setting up parallel systems for archiving textual information (press releases, executive memos, articles written about the company) and moving images (TV commercials, company-sponsored films, videos of executive presentations). “We were creating these silos of information,” Mooney says. “We said, We’ve got to find a digital asset management system that will be a one-stop shopping place.”

Coke found what it needed from another global giant, IBM, in a product called Content Manager (formerly called Digital Library). Mooney says he was drawn to IBM by more than just system features and scalability. “We were convinced that IBM was going to be here in five years, whereas a lot of those other folks, we just didn’t know about,” he notes.

New DAM vendors will no doubt enter the market, says Framingham, Mass.-based IDC (a sister company to CIO’s publisher), even as consolidation continues. IDC forecasts that spending on software for “rich media asset management” will grow from $117 million in 2000 to $1.8 billion in 2005. Adding to the confusion: Vendors that offer Web content management, enterprise content management, document management and brand resource management are adding features that overlap with those offered by DAM vendors.

But for now, a dearth of off-the-shelf systems remains, and DAM prices are all over the map. Canto, for example, sells a single-user version of Cumulus, its DAM product, aimed at individual photographers and graphic designers, for $99.95, but it also offers enterprise packages that start at $35,000 for 20 licenses. Artesia says most of its deployments start at $100,000. Meanwhile, IBM DAM projects call for software and services that typically range from $250,000 to $5 million. “It’s a highly fractured market,” says Joshua Duhl, a contributing analyst at IDC.

Digitizing the World

For some companies, a digital asset management effort begins with analog assets that need to be converted into digital form: movies, photographic negatives, printed reports, audio tapes. The conversion task can be time-consuming and expensive, forcing most companies to be selective about what they digitize. Coca-Cola has more than a million items in its archives, for instance. Mooney first moved to digitize those items that were likely to get the most use, such as Coke’s first-ever newspaper ad that ran in 1886, its Norman Rockwell calendar art from the 1930s or that 1971 TV commercial that showed all those hippies singing on a hill.

Once a company picks what to put online, it has to decide how to describe its assets. “The hardest part is finding out what you have, identifying it and describing it properly in the system so it can be found later,” says Andy Shenkler, director of the digital services group for EMI Recorded Music in Woodland Hills, Calif., which is using DAM software from Bulldog (a company acquired late last year by Documentum). The recording giant has populated a DAM system with its entire current audio catalog?some 10,000 recordings, ranging from Beethoven’s 5th to the Beatles’ Abbey Road. Shenkler’s group can enter basic meta-data elements?album name, artist, release date. But “there’s no way for my group to know who was the fourth artist on a particular track,” Shenkler says; that information has to come from the individual record label overseers. “Then there’s the rights info?it changes track by track, and that has to be cleared by business affairs and legal.”

Another major decision companies must make is who will access the digital assets and how. Given the current economic climate, some companies decide to start out with a fairly small, department-level project. Other companies vary DAM access based on their comfort with the user audience. The NFL, for example, makes game photographs and player head shots available to registered press members via a website, maintained by WebWare. WebWare is also building a B2B system for NFL licensees, who will be able to search for and download high-resolution images. The software generates a usage report, and then the NFL sends out a usage contract and a bill. Another NFL site being built for consumers, however, won’t allow access to high-resolution photos; consumers will be able to search for images and then order photographic prints by mail.

IT resource constraints can also shape DAM deployment decisions. At Coca-Cola, Mooney wanted to offer high-resolution images and video for downloading, but the IS department balked, saying it would bog down the corporate network. Instead, the DAM system serves as more of a catalog. “We use the system to identify what we want and then use a third-party supplier to provide it on a Zip drive or CD,” Mooney says. “Then we send it via a more traditional way to our offices around the world.” That may sound a bit Sneakernet-ish, but Mooney says it’s an improvement. Anyone who needed access to the archives used to have to fly to Atlanta every time they wanted to scope out some vintage calendar art for a new T-shirt?or rely on Mooney to pick something suitable for them.

During the coming years, the IT infrastructure needed to support access to these digital assets will improve, IDC’s Duhl says. When that happens, look for DAM systems to deliver natural language and other nifty forms of searching, such as matching an image or a few bars of a song (most systems today rely on keyword searches, he says, which have their limits). Digital rights management will also be an increasingly important feature for DAM customers, as they look to share content across the firewall. “There really aren’t any standards there yet,” says Garth Landers, a research analyst at Gartner in Stamford, Conn.

Analysts see new markets for DAM in everything from corporate training to public safety (how else will law enforcement agencies manage and analyze the thousands of hours of surveillance videos collected as part of the post-9/11 homeland security drive? Landers asks). “Rich media is the last bastion of unmanaged information,” Duhl says. It’s also a fast-growing bastion of unmanaged information?all the more reason for CIOs to start paying attention to the DAM market.