Integration with workflow processes, flexible options for implementation and increasing cross-media capability have marked the evolution of digital asset management, making it the backbone of print media production.
There was a humble beginning for digital asset management back in the early 1990s when the concept first surfaced as a simple multimedia database. “Year One for DAM was 1993,” Michael Moon of DAM experts, Gistics, told PMM in June 2004. That year, Aldus produced a system called Fetch, allowing graphic designers and Photoshop users to organise their images in logical collections using keywords.
Things move on. Aldus, the software publisher of Pagemaker and Freehand, was soon snapped up by Adobe. Those keywords linking collections of images are now known as metadata.
Digital asset management is now at the very centre of print media workflows, with requirements dependent on usage across entire global enterprises or within small standalone implementations. There are libraries of mostly static or infrequently changing assets, production asset management systems where frequently changing assets are stored and organised. Other systems are designed to handle brand assets, ensuring consistency across large organisations. The phrase “digital asset management” has spawned a wide range of related, focused terms: brand asset management, marketing resource management, enterprise marketing management are just three.
We are now in the fifth and final wave of digital asset management, according to Michael Moon, who is also Chairman Emeritus of Henry Stewart’s prestigious Digital Asset Management and Marketing Operations Symposium and is the editor in chief of the Journal of Digital Asset Management. The first wave was the creation of simple multimedia databases. The second wave, with the explosion of the Internet, was the creative workgroup DAM. Then came enterprise DAM – heavy duty, industrial scale asset repositories capable of serving thousands of users worldwide, which was eventually picked up and used by brand marketers. The fourth wave was the transformation of repositories into media service platforms, incorporating extensive levels of media transformation, project management and workflow automation.
“Now underway for two years, the fifth and likely final wave of DAM will drive the emergence of integrated marketing-content supply chains, adding strategic sourcing and performance metrics to media service platforms,” says Moon. “In some cases, suppliers of clients will add marketing applications such as budgeting and planning, campaign design and management, marketing analytics, automated ad generation and placement and executive dashboards. These developments will induce a few marketing services and global print management firms to become pan-regional marketing operations centres, doing most of the work traditionally performed by marcomms staff.”
This fifth wave of DAM also marks the near complete diffusion of DAM into the industrial infrastructure of North America and Northern Europe, with Southern Europe and the rest of the world catching up in fits and starts, says Moon.
Factors affecting the wider business market have had an impact on the uptake of digital asset management, says Picdar’s Lesley Steinitz, looking back to the advent of PMM five years ago. “2002 was not long after 9/11. Markets were crashing, the dotcom bubble was bursting and strategic investments like DAM often did not show a tangible or immediate return,” says Steinitz.
The recovery in confidence is illustrated by the fact that now cross-media needs are driving customers’ agendas. Steinitz continues, “What we have seen in the last three years has been a growing tendency for businesses to look at end to end creative and publishing processes and have solutions that cut across the entire lifecycle and much more towards the web as well as print.
“It is a very big thing now to be able to direct content in both directions, and there’s a growing realisation that you can separate the management of content from the publication of it. If you start with a print point of view, you have to pull it apart for the web. It means the systems we are putting in are no longer just digital asset management, but DAM with a workflow system.”
Pieter Casneuf of ADAM, another digital asset management software vendor, agrees. “A DAM does not stand alone; it has to co-act with a lot of different systems. The workflow is controlling what happens between point A and point B. Instead of drawing on a white board, you’re doing it on a computer, and it will automatically ask the right questions so you end up with a very intuitive white boarding functionality integrated by a DAM.”
Such a trend is starting to link, or at least is able to start linking, the IT islands that have for many years characterised technology and processes within print media. It goes further than this also, because the software can now be offered to users in their own “comfort zone”, says Casneuf, which used to be the browser but is now more likely to be the application software they use for most of the working day – Adobe Creative Suite or Quark Xpress usually.
“It means for us as a software provider that we have to offer our customers the DAM into their comfort zone. I’m not saying the browser is not important; it’s the unifying interface between all platforms. But DAM providers should be aware that Creative Suite is there and it’s not going to disappear. It’s the obvious comfort zone for publishers but for business users it might be MS Office, so we integrate to that too. The DAM should be capable of integrating with a number of interfaces,” says Casneuf.
XML has been vital for the relatively pain-free cross-media publishing of digital assets and for the transfer of associated metadata with the assets. Today’s digital asset management systems can interface with web content management software and deliver images automatically cropped to the right aspect ratio for the web.
There has also been a steep increase in the sheer volume of digital assets that print media organisations are now dealing with. “Five years ago,” says Sean Briggs, NetMags’ group publishing systems manager, “we were still asking editorial to resist digital images as the quality was at best unpredictable and at worst unusable. These days, the quality has greatly improved and photographers are optimising images for print to such an extent we now prefer to use digital over analogue.
“However, the deluge of digital photography has presented a whole range of new problems, not least of which is storage and management of many gigabytes of images per week.”
In that sense, the role of digital asset management has not greatly changed since its inception. It is still, to an extent, about making order out of chaos. However, continues Casneuf, users have processes that need to be made more efficient. “It’s still a key requirement to get order out of chaos, but you have to bring efficiency, more control in the workflow, more effectiveness, less cost, reduction of time cycles, all of these things,” he says.
DAM systems have become increasingly modular in recent years as well – somewhere between haute couture and off-the-peg, observes Lesley Steinitz. She adds, “Five years ago we were delivering the whole package and if the customer wanted anything specific, we would have to work on it.”
Some installations of DAM are now effectively “headless”, she says. Users are accessing the content through the DAM programmatically through another system, without even realising that a system such as Picdar’s Media Mogul sits behind as a powerful back end.
Have we reached a stage where users just expect a DAM to be in place behind their other systems” “We are a way off that,” says Steinitz, “but the content ought to be there without the company even thinking about it; something that’s easily accessible to various channels. It is complex and it takes time for businesses to evolve into that. In a short time, though, we’ll see a broadening out of DAM to include wrapping the entire factory into one streamlined process. Integration with other systems is obviously very important and SML is vital. It’s so much more than DAM.”
Despite all the talk of integration, functionality remains an important issue for users, according to both Lesley Steinitz and Pieter Casneuf. “We are constantly being asked for productivity, productivity, productivity. The mantra of these times is: nobody has time, says Steinitz.
“Functionality and scaleable functionality is still a big battlefield,” confirms Casneuf. “If you see a DAM only doing 2D, I the next two years, people will say, what kind of DAM is that?”
Additionally, the methods of deploying DAM have been undergoing change. Large organisations, for whom publishing is a core function, want control so will invest in a strategic solution. For other organisations, where publishing is non-core, the trend is more towards the ASP model or Software as a Service (SaaS), thereby limiting the capital investment required.
Looking ahead, Pieter Casneuf sees further integration of the three basics: content management, e-commerce and DAM. He says, “I have my doubts that they will merge because they are so huge and at the moment they are different worlds. The first challenge is to integrate them better, but not merge them. It will be the next big debate in the market.”