Technology Overview: Digital Asset Management
By Liz Garone

Regardless of the nature of a business, the chances are good that sitting around on a server somewhere are copious amounts of video, audio, and other digital assets. Knowing what's there, let alone how to take advantage of it, can be a challenge for any business.

The challenge grows exponentially when you're a Big Five car maker such as General Motors. GM's Media Archives Group in Detroit manages more than 3 million still images, 2,000 movies, 10,000 video masters, and more than 250,000 digital files, some of these assets dating back more than 100 years. Every year, GM adds another 10,000 digital assets.

GM manages its archives with Artesia's Teams software, one of a variety of sifting, sorting, searching, and storage tools companies are introducing to help keep businesses from drowning in a digital deluge. Calling their services digital media asset management, rich media management, enterprise digital assets management, or just DAM ("dahm") for short, these companies and products are geared toward storing in easily retrievable formats the growing wealth of multimedia information their clients are amassing, both on- and offline.

DAM differs from traditional database storage in that it encompasses text, animation, still images, documents, Web pages, audio, and video. Content can range from TV commercials to marketing brochures. As the Web expands, the need for ways to manage all the information on it will continue to expand, too, according to Arianna Breitstein-Arazi, an analyst with the Giga Information Group. The numbers back her up. According to research firm Gistics, DAM sales are expected to reach $3.2 billion by the year 2002.

Companies offering DAM services, like Artesia Technologies and the Bulldog Group, bundle audio and video searching, sifting, and sorting tools into their products. They provide a broad range of tools that allow users to manage their images, text, and video.

"Our premise is that as these bricks are turning to clicks, traditional businesses' boxes are turning to bytes," says Sebastian Holst, vice president of marketing for Artesia. "Their literal assets are becoming digitized, and companies need to manage these the way they manage all of their assets."

"The way you manage rich media is fundamentally different from the way you manage any other type of content," Holst continues. "If you were to take streaming video and put it into a traditional content management system, that log would devour the entire system."

Browser-based Solutions

Artesia uses its Teams software, a browser-based application, which runs on Windows NT and Solaris, to differentiate between assets and find the most appropriate solution. In the case of the GM system, some of the users are company employees, but a number are outside the company. They include suppliers, partners, production companies, trademark partners (Matchbox cars, for example), and the press.

Created with Enterprise Java Beans, the Teams architecture is modular and has plug-and-play capabilities for indexes, user interfaces, search techniques, and rights and permissions services. "We use XML internally to model all of our metadata, and we have an open metadata structure," said Holst. "The system comes [to the client] understanding and knowing huge volumes of metadata based on data format." Artesia can support 250 different formats, according to Holst.

Like Artesia, the Bulldog Group has an impressive clientele and partner list; clients include Sony Pictures Entertainment. Its Bulldog Two.Zero application offers a Java client and a recently added HTML client, according to John Windsor, a Bulldog strategic alliances manager. "We have shifted the balance to a more Web-centric one," said Windsor. The HTML interface looks just like a browser and is easy to customize. "We make sure that the interface is intuitive and easy enough for anyone [to use]," Windsor said.

For many companies who utilize Bulldog's system, the in-house job of managing the company's assets falls on an archivist whose responsibilities include "ingesting" and "extracting" the assets. For example, at Sony Pictures, one archivist is responsible for the company's millions of pictures, but another person may be in charge of uploading all the images from a current film.

Cleaning out the files

But even if the software can handle voluminous amounts of data, the volume may be intimidating to human managers--especially when it comes time for the digital equivalent of spring-cleaning. In order to make the chore less onerous, both Bulldog and Artesia have made it part and parcel of their systems. Any archives that have not been accessed for a certain amount of time (six months, for example) are moved to storage accessible by, but not on, the system. After another six months, they are moved offline to a remote location. "This alleviates the burden on the system and on the management of the system," explains Windsor.

PAM, not DAM

As impressive as current technologies might be, DAM systems still have a way to go, according to Jeremy Schwartz, an analyst with Forrester Research. Simply storing the assets isn't enough, he says. "Asset management solutions that focus solely on production issues are not enough in the current business market," Schwartz stated in a recent report on leveraging digital assets. "Companies need a strategy that also creates new revenue streams from digital media assets--proactive asset management (PAM)." Opportunities can include licensing media assets or making them available on the Net through a fee-per-view basis, according to Schwartz. To do this, PAM systems must comprise not just storage and search and retrieval, but also delivery and distribution.

Gold is waiting to be discovered in historical archives, according to Schwartz. Once companies discover how to effectively manage these archives, they may find that what once was a cluttered closet is now a money-making mother lode.<<

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