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DAM: agile and effective

This article appears in the issue November/December 2006, [Vol 15, Issue 10]
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Digital asset management (DAM) systems are heavily used in industries where creative content is the primary output—advertising, broadcasting and entertainment. Use of DAM products by organizations in other businesses is also growing. As the media types have multiplied (witness the boom in podcasts), companies are realizing that they must manage their digital assets more consistently.

Gartner predicts that publishing companies lacking a DAM system are likely to lose market share within just a few years. The DAM software serves a vital role by keeping track of master image files and various renderings derived from them, managing workflow and supporting records management functions such as digital rights. In addition, they facilitate delivery of images to multiple distribution channels.

Managing artwork

TracyLocke defines itself as a "brand experience marketing agency," focusing on building brands by motivating people to become involved with the brand in a variety of ways. The company's client list includes such well-known brands as Pepsi, Pizza Hut, Harrah's, 7-Eleven, Hershey's and DelMonte. As an integral part of its work in brand, retail and field marketing, TracyLocke uses thousands of digital images. An important facet of maintaining brand consistency is effective use and management of those images.

Over the years, TracyLocke's administration of its artwork followed an evolutionary path. Before the digital age, TracyLocke kept its artwork offsite in a storage facility, and projects were tracked by handwritten entries in a loose-leaf binder. After artwork began to be created digitally, discs containing the images were placed in a storage room and were managed by an individual who kept track of them. A basic digital asset management system was deployed in the mid-nineties, but it could only handle thumbnail versions; an employee still had to locate the original.

Speed and cost concerns

"We concluded that the only solution that could position us for the future was to formalize our system by using a robust digital asset management solution," says Nancy Ross, partner at TracyLocke. "This was the only way we could ensure that we could access our images efficiently."

The mandate for quick access stemmed from clients' requirements for quick turnarounds on critical projects and from downward pressures on costs. Being able to access and re-purpose existing assets would go a long way to meeting both objectives. In addition, TracyLocke wanted to provide its clients with a broader range of brand experience marketing services. The company made its name in national, large-scale projects, but for smaller projects, its clients often selected local vendors who could do the work at a lower cost.

TracyLocke explored several alternatives, and settled on ActiveMedia from ClearStory Systems as the option that best met its functional requirements. The ability of the system to handle all types of files, from Adobe to Microsoft, as well as music and video met the requirements of the broad range of work the agency does for their clients. In addition, a sophisticated digital rights management capability allowed the firm to protect the legal liabilities surrounding the use of original art. The firm conducted its research in-house and made its own choice, having become disenchanted with consultants who purported to be independent but typically recommended only products that they sold.

Examining the workflow

During the implementation process, TracyLocke set up a steering committee with a core team of eight people who represented each functional group in the company.

"We thought a lot about the taxonomy and metadata," Ross says. "Because we spent the time to build a strong foundation, we have not had to make any modifications in the years since the system was first launched."

The examination of TracyLocke's workflow that took place when ActiveMedia was deployed had benefits beyond those that were expected.

"We knew we would be able to find our digital assets more efficiently," notes Ross, "but we were surprised by how many facets of our business the implementation engaged. When you want to use a system like this correctly, you expose many other elements that can be improved, from basics like file naming to more sophisticated aspects such as workflow."

That thorough review got everyone on the same page, because business and technical issues were discussed that had evolved over the years without having been driven by explicit decisions.

"The result," says Ross, "was that we became smarter and more efficient overall, beyond the impact of ClearStory."

Meanwhile, the new market that TracyLocke had targeted did in fact materialize. Over the past several years, roughly 1,000

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