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Rich media flood pushes digital asset management strategy to forefront

Without an effective plan for managing digital assets, the increasing digital content collected by organizations could end up being a real headache.

Trying to locate a specific video or image from among more than 100,000 digital assets spread across 17,000 electronic folders can easily become an exercise in frustration. That was a common occurrence at Messer Construction Co. before it implemented a digital asset management strategy in 2010.

Although digital content such as photographs, drawings and videos were playing an increasingly key role in Messer's marketing efforts, the Cincinnati company retained a very basic approach to storing that material: Divide it up into folders stored on a single network drive.

Marketers and designers uploaded content to that shared drive, and other users could then dig around to find what they wanted and download it to their own computers. But as rich media files proliferated on the drive, it became difficult to find the right content. As a result, users often grabbed old versions of content by mistake or ended up reusing items they had earlier copied to their hard drives.  

"Using a search function to look within 100,000 files for text on a network drive takes a long, long time," said Sean Davis, a marketing specialist at Messer. "Searching only the file name might be more efficient, but that means you're relying on 100,000 assets being named as you would have named them."

Also, the available network bandwidth didn't support rapid access to large video files. And after a while, the network drive could no longer accommodate all the files being created by users.

But when Messer decided to buy a digital asset management (DAM) system for its marketing collateral materials, it faced a further decision: whether to store all of its digital assets on that system or also retain an existing document management application that was part of a construction management software suite being used by other parts of the company. In the end, officials elected to keep the marketing content separated from the other information.

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Messer's situation is an example of how a DAM strategy can become necessary for companies with rich media assets, but gets complicated when it involves enterprise-wide assets and the needs of multiple departments. 

"Think of all the ways you can use a single photo," said Seth Earley, CEO of Earley & Associates, a content management consulting firm in Carlisle, Mass. "In marketing, for store signage, on the e-commerce site, publishing in a catalog, as a product label -- each may require different functionality."

Some organizations might find they don't need a full-fledged DAM product. If the digital assets reside mainly within a specific department, such as project management or marketing, it might be better to deploy an application tailored for that department's requirements. Project management or product information management applications often include some DAM features, Earley said; the same goes for marketing resource management, Web content management and enterprise content management software. But those features might not have the same depth as the ones in a DAM system.

Know your DAM use cases

The first step in developing a digital asset management strategy is to identify the main use cases for DAM within the organization, advised Dan Taylor, director of delivery services at Earley & Associates. "With those use cases, you can flesh out the requirements for the DAM implementation," he said.

For example, semiconductor manufacturer Intersil Corp., in Milpitas, Calif., needed a product that would provide a range of capabilities for managing digital assets, Web content, documents, marketing materials and mobile content delivery. Intersil selected Adobe Systems Inc.'s CQ Web content management suite because it offered all of that and was integrated with the Adobe Creative Suite, Intersil's main authoring and Web design tool.

"That integration with Creative Suite, plus the digital asset management capabilities, makes it a more seamless experience for us," said Robert Reneau, senior Web business manager at Intersil.

On the other hand, a content management system (CMS) often lacks advanced DAM features and isn't suited to every organization's needs. "Content suites may not have some of the specialized areas of a pure digital asset management system, like watermarking of images or video support," Taylor said.

Mark Gilbert, an analyst at Gartner Inc., in Stamford, Conn., also cited a lack of video editing and processing features in Web content management systems and other CMS products. "Most of those platforms don't have an advanced environment for video, such as rendering to multiple platforms or tiling," he said. (Tiling refers to breaking video graphics into tiles, or sections, so only those that change are refreshed, thus improving performance.)

Messer Construction ultimately decided against creating a companywide CMS and instead selected Widen Enterprises Inc.'s cloud-based DAM software for managing its marketing assets only. The reason: The digital media used in marketing has different characteristics and requirements than the content used by project management and other departments. Those operations generate project information, drawings, specifications and other lightweight content that are kept in a construction management system from Computer Methods International Corp.

In marketing, Davis said, the version control and content-tagging capabilities of Widen's DAM tools make files easier to locate. "Before, time was spent on looking for assets," he said. "Now it's spent on properly tagging and categorizing them so they can be more easily found."

Sue Hildreth is an enterprise technology writer in Waltham, Mass. She can be reached at

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Good points. Like all software investments, DAM solutions have additional upfront expenses including costs for storage servers, staff training, and IT support. But for large organizations that create, manage, deliver, and archive many thousands of digital assets every year, the ROI of a DAM solution can be significant.
Than Nguyen