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DAM: Go with the flow

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The limitations of workflow in digital asset management (DAM) systems for work in progress are well recognized and have posed ongoing problems for people in the creative industry. DAM systems were initially designed to be repositories for rich media assets, but lacked support for the process of developing those assets.

"Vendors are addressing this issue in one of two ways," says Theresa Regli, analyst for the Real Story Group. "Those that have DAM systems focused on completed, ready-to-deploy assets are acquiring technology to add workflow, while other vendors have developed digital asset management products that focus specifically on work in progress."

KSC Kreate was established over a decade ago as a digital photography studio, and evolved over the years into a full service production agency. The company develops platforms that are used by retailers to provide an engaging and interactive experience for consumers. Its software performs such actions as rotating products in 3-D space and creating digital catalogs that complement other collateral such as paper catalogs. It also pioneered use of HTML5 to play videos on mobile devices.

The nature of its business makes the management of rich media assets a core requirement, but no project management software products on the market met the needs of KSC Kreate. They lacked workflow geared toward work in progress and had interfaces that were not well suited to the creatives who were developing and facilitating the assets. As a result, the company developed a software product called RealTime to address those needs. RealTime, a cloud-based solution, is now used in house and by KSC Kreate's clients, but was also spun off under a new corporation, Kreate Technology.

KSC Kreate continues to use RealTime as its primary environment for developing digital assets. "The creative production industry is starved for end-to-end process management, and this tool provides that service," says Sharon Joseph, director of client services at KSC Kreate. "Our staff and our clients can use the software to view merchandise checked in to our studios, remotely tap into live sets where their merchandise is being photographed, mark up feedback and ultimately share final produced assets globally through one login." The strong collaborative capabilities of RealTime provide a better client experience and expedite production.

Creative is key

RealTime focuses on the creative workflow around photography, video and other rich media, and is designed to be process-centric rather than media-centric. "No one starts with a photograph," says Eric Fulmer, director of business development for Kreate Technology. "You start with a project such as a corporate annual report or an ad campaign. Assets are one of many components that support the project, and there is an organic creative process for developing those assets that needs to be supported."

Software designed for generic project management is not effective for the creative environment, according to Fulmer. "The software may have calendars, task lists and other features, but if one of the tasks is to approve the image, then the users want to see the image," he explains. "They want the markup tools for the image and relevant data on how it will be used, on the same screen. RealTime shows them all the information needed for approval, and then the asset goes into the DAM repository automatically."

At that point, the cycle may begin again, with the finished asset for one project becoming the starting point for the next one. Or, it might be pushed to a staging site for the Web or for a social channel. "Part of the value of RealTime is that it takes the project from inception to completion and then can launch the asset into its next phase," Fulmer says.

Product cycles are getting shorter because of greater use of the Web for e-commerce. The use of spreadsheets to track the status of creative activity can be painful and inefficient. "Clients often approach us believing they have an asset management problem," Fulmer explains, "but they really have a creative workflow problem that is more significant. We routinely reset the conversation to focus on workflow with asset management as part of the overall dialog."

RealTime has received a positive response from a range of companies, including large manufacturers and retailers that need to manage their brands. "Our approach is to provide a highly customized solution. We want to match it to the specific needs of every client," he says. "Especially for creatives, if they have to change the way they work, they will not embrace the software."

The many different environments in which DAM systems are used have widely differing requirements. "A library, a government institution, a museum and an advertising agency do not have the same needs," emphasizes Fulmer. "Many products attempt to cover too broad a range of applications. The future of DAM is that it will take a specialized, vertical approach."

Interoperable options

North Plains has provided digital and media asset management solutions for almost 20 years, and acquired Xinet in April 2012 to extend the company's offerings into the media production environment to serve advertising agencies, studios and other creatives. Its Telescope platform is a well established enterprise DAM solution that is primarily a digital asset repository. North Plains also acquired On Brand and Unify, which specialize in brand asset management and Web-based marketing application development.

With its newly expended portfolio, North Plains has solutions for three major areas: production, curation/storage and delivery. "Monolithic DAM applications that try to do everything are often not the best solution." says Andrew Salop, senior product manager for Xinet. "They are most effective when optimized for specific use cases but also interoperable, such that they integrate well with complementary tools and services across the creative marketing life cycle."

Xinet is integrated with Telescope via ConnectR, which provides interoperability between the two applications so that assets developed in Xinet can easily be stored in Telescope without the user needing to leave the Xinet environment. In addition, Telescope and Xinet also interoperate with North Plains' On Brand, thereby allowing customers to manage digital assets throughout their life cycle. "Each of these products has a specific focus," Salop says, "and most importantly, they enable assets and related metadata to move from one to another, optimizing the potential to leverage assets across the organization."

Mcgarrybowen, a Dentsu company, provides advertising services to leading companies such as Marriott and Disney. Its graphic services department wanted a more efficient method of producing, editing and distributing files, given the company's rapid growth and substantial workload. It selected Xinet to improve its workflow for developing assets. In addition, Mcgarrybowen developed a custom workflow for television spots and a video library. The video library has greatly reduced the redundancy that had existed previously, because clips could be reused rather than reshot.

As a media production solution, Xinet also provides support for automated workflows, approval and version tracking. "Asset visualization is very important in the creative process-users benefit from the ability to comment directly on the visual asset with in-context markup as the asset nears approval," says Salop. Xinet is also tightly integrated with Adobe's Creative Suite, which is used by many creatives for graphic design and editing.

Supporting the digital supply chain

Although production, storage and publication of digital assets each evolved separately, the ideal scenario is for the three activities to be unified, even if different systems are used for each stage. "Digital assets are part of a digital supply chain that is analogous to a physical supply chain," ex-plains Guy Hellier, digital media solutions expert at OpenText. "Assets go through many touch points from the time they are created to the time they are distributed across channels and eventually retired." This process requires advanced systems for management and to provide visibility for organizations that create customer experiences.

Hasbro is using OpenText Media Management to revise its digital asset management strategy to ensure consistent branding across its different lines of businesses, which now encompass toys, games and films, among others. The new system allows more efficient collaboration among different lines of business, and will let different groups edit, reuse and distribute assets more efficiently. In addition, it will allow Hasbro to more easily scale into new geographical markets. The company is in the process of building out its infrastructure to support the new initiatives and developing a formal governance structure.

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