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Digital asset management: improving the revenue stream

This article appears in the issue May 2005 [Volume 14, Issue 5]


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Digital asset management as an industry may have its ups and downs, but users of the products consistently say they could not accomplish their work without them. The ability to locate, retrieve, modify and distribute images is critical for many companies. Whether transitioning from a legacy base of hard-copy photographs or going digital from the beginning, companies that use digital asset management systems will reap efficiency benefits and discover previously unavailable options.

GE Energy provides equipment for energy generation in oil and gas, nuclear, solar, hydropower and wind energy markets. It also offers energy-related services such as consulting, materials testing and equipment rental. The company was founded in 1901 when it installed its first steam turbine, and has grown steadily so that its operations now extend to 120 countries. A work force in the tens of thousands includes engineers, managers and researchers located throughout the world.

As an integral part of its technical and marketing operations, GE Energy uses images of its products, customer facilities, manufacturing processes and other aspects of its business. With about one million photographs in a collection that was produced and managed by the company's Creative Services Group, GE Energy faced a significant challenge in organizing and retrieving its images. A log with a systematic numbering scheme was maintained, but a searchable database was not in place.

Global distribution

During the 1990s, GE Energy began transitioning to digital images. At about the same time, the company began to explore options for setting up a digital asset management system to organize those assets. A better distribution system was also needed, because once digital images were available, they were used by employees outside the Creative Services Group. People developing proposals and marketing materials, for example, were incorporating them directly into documents, briefings and brochures.

"We went from a centralized model to a decentralized model where the work was done by a much wider group of people," says John Nelson, digital imaging leader in the Creative Services Group. "We needed a system where we could upload new pictures and have them available on the other side of the world right away." So GE Energy identified the need for a Web-based system to distribute its images efficiently to employees worldwide as one of its key requirements.

After investigating a number of solutions, GE Energy settled on Portfolio from Extensis. The product had the asset management capabilities that were needed, and was one of a few at the time that published material dynamically to the Web. The existing digital images were quickly imported into the system, which used a keyword list to standardize search terminology. Dropdown lists show products, company divisions and other major categories. There is also an open description box to bring up images through other terms. Users can pinpoint a particular item or pull up all items listed under "solar cells" for example and browse through them. The legacy collection of photographs was not all scanned, but pictures are converted to digital format on an as-needed basis and then become part of the digital repository.

The combination of moving to digital format, organizing the assets into a searchable repository and switching to a self-service model have produced impressive returns. "We were able to dramatically reduce our staff," Nelson observes. "We are doing many things more efficiently, and are also doing some things we couldn't do at all before we had Portfolio."

Time to be creative<.B>

The Creative Services Group is still responsible for creating and collecting images but has much less administrative work to contend with. Users throughout the company have a shorter turnaround time for developing their materials because they can access the library at any time, anywhere. Meanwhile, the Creative Services Group can focus on its core competency, which is creative work.

Portfolio is geared toward workgroups ranging in size from 10 to 25 individuals, but some applications support groups of up to 100. "Typically, we might start with an application for the creative team," says Derek Fine, senior product manager at Portfolio, "and then roll it out to a marketing group that wants to share digital assets among members of its team. Each group an be independent, which can be simpler and cheaper than trying to roll out to the whole enterprise at once." Portfolio comes with its own database, but can be connected to an Oracle or MS SQL backend for a more powerful option.

Once in place for internal use, a digital asset management system can be used to push those same efficiencies outward to Web sites or external users. NetPublish, an add-on module to Portfolio, can push assets to a Web site automatically, updating online catalogs, for example. Sometimes the savings can accrue from cost-avoidance as well as from efficiencies. "Portfolio users can save thousands of dollars by avoiding having to redo graphics that they can't locate," Fine points out.

What's the deal?

Companies that were founded within the last five years have something of an advantage when it comes to managing digital assets. Most launch their businesses already knowing whether or not they are going to be using rich media assets, and can build a digital asset management system into their IT infrastructure from the beginning. Such was the case for diversified media company The Deal, which provides news on the "deal economy." The Deal presents the latest information on mergers and acquisitions, bankruptcies, and the legal and financial aspects of dealmaking through its Web site and publications such as The Daily Deal.

The Deal selected FatWire's Content Server, a content management system originally developed to support the sophisticated needs of publishers and now used across many industries. The Deal's products incorporate graphics of many kinds; for example, company logos, photographs and other images are used in printed and online materials. Rather than having to generate or obtain logos multiple times for stories covering the same company, The Deal stores them in Content Server and reuses them. The company also relies on a large contingent of outside artists to do creative work for its articles, and stores those assets in Content Server.

Content Server allows The Deal to be consistent in its presentation of images across its numerous channels by providing a standard version of the image. Images can also be modified in terms of their resolution, layering and color for print vs. online publishing. Content Server also allows users to drag and drop images from the desktop to The Deal's Web site, so that if someone gets an e-mail with an image attached and stores it on their hard drive, it can easily be published online.

The ability to publish to the Web quickly is a major advantage to an organization like The Deal, which often covers breaking news in its industry. "We want to empower our users, who are editors and producers, to respond to a rapidly changing environment," says Evelyn Tavarez, director of Internet applications at The Deal. "It is important to take the IT department out of daily production." Because The Deal's research shows that more than 80% of its readers say the company has news and information they can't find anywhere else, timely reporting is critical.

FatWire focuses mainly on content-centric applications in which companies are delivering informative and persuasive experiences for customers or prospects, according to Jeff Ernst, VP of marketing at FatWire. "For example, when companies are trying to reach consumers and encourage them to buy a certain product, a rich media experience can be more effective at engaging visitors on the site and converting them to buyers," he says.

Marketing appeal<.B>

Allowing the business users such as marketers to create and control the customer experience provides much greater agility than a more technically focused approach. Marketers can use wizard-based interfaces in FatWire to set the business rules, a process that might take weeks or months if coding were required. "A promotion can be launched in minutes, which is what every marketer wants," Ernst says. A seasonal campaign could be launched following a widespread snowstorm, with an article about winter sports accompanied by relevant product images, descriptions and special sale prices.

Digital asset management systems generally have access controls that can restrict usage; both Extensis and FatWire have multiple access levels. Limits can also be placed on what can be done to an image; for example, for a logo, the size, shape and color could be kept constant. However, for digital rights management that operate after the asset leaves the repository, digital asset management vendors partner with specialists in that area.

Managing rights for digital assets

The eRights Suite from eMeta offers several solutions that support the sales and management of digital products and services. Those solutions provide a complex understanding of customers, licensing and products in order to incorporate such sophisticated controls as time limits on usage.

  • RightAccess--controls access through advanced authentication and authorization capabilities;

  • RightCommerce--manages billings and subscriptions, as well as special offers such as free trials and discounts; and

  • eRightsWEB--a hosted solution for access control and e-commerce.

eMeta's products can be used for any type of digital asset, including images, electronic documents and software. In addition to supporting e-commerce functionality, eMeta allows greater granularity in offerings to purchasers. For example, customers can purchase just the portions of a database that are of high value to them, rather than subscribing to the entire content.

Although eMeta's primary focus is in publishing, the same personalization is available to users of eMeta's hosted software solutions. "Different features can get selected or omitted, depending on the type of subscription the customer has," says Jonathan Lewin, CEO of eMeta. "The software manufacturer also can learn a lot about usage patterns that help with product management and development."

Among eMeta's customers are Celera Genomics, which offers subscriptions to its genomic and biologic data. eMeta provides access control and tracking of digital rights. The Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) uses eMeta solutions to integrate its backend system of publications and articles into a single e-commerce interface. eMeta's system provides access control, flexibility in offerings and a consistent user experience, as well as real-time reports on product usage.


Judith Lamont is a research analyst with Zentek Corp., e-mail jlamont@sprintmail.com.


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