Develop a DAM system that is more than a repository

A successful DAM system is more than just a place to offload rich media. John DeMarco of 3M discusses how to make digital asset management a valuable part of a company's strategy.

As rich media becomes more important in a wider variety of industries, organizations are turning to digital asset management) systems to centralize this content. But a good DAM system needs to be more than a repository.

John DeMarco, manager of content excellence at St. Paul, Minn.-based 3M Company, has witnessed the evolution of digital asset management (DAM) technology over the past two decades. DeMarco started out as a freelancer shooting film photography, but he soon became interested in digital photography and early forms of desktop publishing. In the 1990s, 3M hired him to develop the first fully digital photography studio in the Midwest.

In the early days, 3M stored media on disks and shipped them by mail. Today, the company's approach to digital asset management has evolved to include a DAM system from Celum.

The challenge remains similar -- how to centralize digital assets, while ensuring companywide accessibility -- but the new facet of that challenge is ensuring that digital assets add value to the company's bottom line.

DeMarco recently sat down with SearchContentManagement to discuss these DAM challenges, giving a preview of the themes he'll explore in his keynote address at the DAM Chicago 2014 conference on September 12.

How has 3M's approach to digital asset management changed over the years?

John DeMarco: The first DAM was putting files onto file servers and then creating links to all those high-res files. It got us thinking that we needed a DAM, even though we didn't know to call it a DAM back then.

John DeMarco, 3M CompanyJohn DeMarco, 3M Company

Then I was involved with a group of people who designed and built our first digital media repository. It was Web-based and very much a bespoke system. By the time 2000 came along, we probably had around 10,000 images in there, so we went out and bought a system from one of the many companies that were out there. Then we hit about 500,000 assets and had to migrate those to our latest system, which is Celum Synergy. Today we're at around a million assets in the system, so the growth has been exponential.

The last year or so, we've started to concentrate on capturing video and putting that into the DAM as well. We capture and apply metadata to video in the DAM but we syndicate that information out to Brightcove and YouTube. That allows us to not put a lot of stress on our servers. We can play stuff back on our websites, but it also allows us to turn anything off when we need to, from a central repository, from the DAM.

It seems that the DAM challenge has grown larger and more complex as the volume and formats of digital assets has changed.

DeMarco: It's certainly evolved. We have five big businesses at 3M and they each have divisions. They run very autonomously so you're constantly trying to take the best from those situations and create a framework that works globally. For example, we make something called an N95 respirator mask -- it's ubiquitous, every division under the sun wants to sell them and there's no reason for everybody to take photographs of them. It's the same problem all over again -- how do you efficiently apply metadata and make things searchable so people don't keep reinventing the wheel?

How did you choose your DAM system?

DeMarco: We were in the process of buying a new PIM system for our product information. As part of that, we were going toward an attribute-based system rather than hard hierarchies. For navigational purposes on the Web, attribute navigation is de rigeur -- it's what Amazon has taught everybody to do. In the DAM area, there were a couple that offered similar functionality, where you're doing more tagging than creating hard hierarchies or folders within folders. That was probably the biggest reason that we went with [Celum] at the time. It also had a nice integration with our PIM system, which is Hybris.

How do you encourage the use of tagging to organize digital assets, as opposed to folder structures?

Our DAM allows us to do things that don't necessarily happen in the WCM environment.
John DeMarcoManager Content Excellence, 3M

DeMarco: They will coexist for a while. I am seeing more tagging because as people learn about it they understand the value. But it's also the fact that we control the tag lists. Not just anybody can create a new tag or attribute. We centralize it in each of the businesses.

You also can't ingest into the system unless you tag certain things. We put things into an inbox, if you will, and before it can be ingested into the system, certain tags have to be chosen. Certain metadata has to be placed against the file before we can ingest it and it can be usable.

Have you encountered issues associated with the overlap between WCM and DAM?

DeMarco: Where I have the most heartburn, I would say, is when people don't know where they should put what kind of content -- when documents or photographs or videos are ingested into the WCM instead of going into the DAM. Our DAM allows us to do things that don't necessarily happen in the WCM environment. We keep track of model releases and stock photography licenses within the DAM. We can turn something on or off and we can request re-licensure of something that is expired.

It's one of the things that I want to continue to work on. It should be much more integrated. That line between a WCM and DAM should continue to shrink.

What are the other challenges for companies that are trying to implement or improve a DAM strategy?

DeMarco: First, you can't walk in heavy-handed. There's a lot of change management involved with these systems.

Second, upper management always thinks in terms of how much the system costs and, "How much money are you going to save me?" I try to turn that statement around and say, "I might save you some money, but I'm also going to make you money." I can do that by extending the brand, by putting a global face to this product or division. We can speed up product launches and do them more simultaneously as opposed to trickling them out country-by-country.

So to me those are the two biggest challenges: It's change management and getting the folks at a high level in the company to understand that this is an investment in their business. It isn't just a fad. This is something that we need to do business in today's world.

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