A picture is worth a thousand words: Page 2

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All this is causing the market for digital asset management systems to boom. The market is expected to grow to an estimated .3 billion by 2002 from .8 billion this year, says Gistics president Michael Moon. There are more than 100 vendors in the field, he notes. These include IBM Corp., of Armonk, N.Y.; Informix Corp., in Menlo Park, Calif.; Oracle Corp., of Redwood Shores, Calif.; and Silicon Graphics Inc. (SGI), in Mountain View, Calif.; as well as smaller firms.

A monumental task

Dave LeFevre, IT manager in GM's Media Archives group

When GM began digitizing its still images in 1994, it stored them in a database from Image Concepts Inc. In May 1999, GM began replacing that system with TEAMS, a software program from Artesia Technologies Inc., in Rockville, Md. The system runs on an eight-CPU Sun Microsystems Inc. Enterprise 4500 with a Sony Electronics Inc. Petasite data storage system, which can hold up to eight terabytes of data. GM employees access the system through Microsoft Windows 95- or NT-based clients.

Working with the amount of data GM has is a big job. Converting the image database to TEAMS took eight months, says Dave LeFevre, IT manager in GM's Media Archives group. GM wrapped up that project, which involved converting both the images' file formats and the meta data used to index them, in December 1999.

Digitizing the images themselves is a large-scale project, too. So far, GM has digitized and indexed about 270,000 images, and is adding about 2,000 more to the archives each week, says LeFevre. To make the task more manageable, he says, GM doesn't intend to scan all five million still images into the system, since many of them are duplicates or pictures of manuals or other material of little interest. But there's no doubt about it, LeFevre says, "it's a monumental task."

Although GM started out by focusing on still images, one of the advantages of a digital asset management system is that it can handle a variety of different data types, says LeFevre. GM can store a print ad, for example, that has both text and image elements. "The indexing," he says, "allows us to use just the image, or just the text, or treat the whole thing as one."

GM is taking advantage of TEAMS' ability to manage video data to sell footage of its cars to outsiders. Using San Mateo, Calif.-based Virage Inc.'s VideoLogger, GM is digitizing and indexing videotapes of its customer focus groups. The company shoots a thousand or more hours of video each year during these market research efforts, and converting the information into reports for GM's design teams was a painfully labor-intensive process. Now the automaker's product analysts can use the index to search for all references to a particular feature or GM car. They also easily can incorporate video footage of customers talking about what they like and don't like into Microsoft PowerPoint presentations, which can be shown to the company's automotive engineers.

With a digital asset management system already in place, GM is looking to tackle new projects. For example, says LeFevre, the company is beginning to digitize its television commercials. GM produces about 800 commercials each year, including variations created for particular geographic regions. At the moment, the company has no single place to store these spots, so if GM executives want to view a particular ad, they have to track down the ad agency that produced it and have it ship them a video. GM's goal, says LeFevre, is to create a digital library to store all its commercials in one place.

The Web changes everything

Until recently, the topic of digital asset management was not something IT departments were terribly concerned with. That's because IT traditionally has focused more on a company's transaction data--the sort of data that gets stored in databases--than on unstructured data such as still pictures, video tape, Web pages, and sound recordings.

Digital asset management vendors

Artesia Technologies Inc.
Rockville, Md.

The Bulldog Group
Toronto, Canada

Canto Software Inc.
U.S. headquarters in San Francisco

Excalibur Technologies Corp.
Vienna, Va.

Virage Inc.
San Mateo, Calif.

WebWare Corp.
Sausalito, Calif.

The unstructured data in a corporation is likely to belong to such departments as marketing, advertising, training, or creative services. More often than not, these departments are running Apple Computer Inc. Macintosh systems on local area networks (LANs), and are responsible for managing and backing up their own data. Some of this rich data isn't located inside the company at all, but lives at outside advertising or public relations agencies.

Then came the Web. At that point, it often was IT departments that "received the task of putting together a Web site," says Lee Webster, a product manager who deals with digital asset management at R.R. Donnelley & Sons, in Downersgrove, Ill., the country's largest printing firm. This task brings IT face to face with all the unstructured data in an organization. "There's an exploding awareness of all this data that people in the data center had no knowledge of," says Gistics' Moon. "All that data existed before, it's just that now e-commerce has forced IT to deal with this daunting, rich media creation and management process."

Building an e-commerce Web site has made it clear to many companies that, regardless of who creates an image or video file, it has to be accessible to the whole organization. That's because companies need to use the same graphic and text elements--corporate logos, photos of executives, and pictures and written descriptions of merchandise--for their Web sites as they do for print and broadcast media. "Whether it's Web or print or silkscreen, whether it's going up on a billboard or into a catalog, it's still a matter of managing the assets," says Webster. "Somebody creates them, but someone else has to be able to use them for output in whatever medium they're using, whether it's HTML or print or something else."

Companies with both print catalogs and e-commerce operations have been among the first to realize they need to use the same files on the Web that they are using for print, says Webster. What companies have been doing, he says, is creating pages for the print catalog first. "Then they pay somebody to take all the text out so they can put it onto the Web. Everybody knows it's stupid," he says, but without a digital asset management system, there has been no way around it.

And even if it's another department that's pushing for a digital asset management system, IT frequently finds itself involved, says Forrester's Schwartz. "It's the IT folks who are the ones who are going to make the underlying stuff work," he says. That's especially true for digital asset management systems that grow beyond the workgroup level or ones connected to an extranet so a company's outside ad agencies or printers can have access, Schwartz adds.

The Web is driving the move to digital asset management systems in another way as well, says Sebastian Holst, vice president of marketing at Artesia Technologies. Growing numbers of companies are turning to customer relationship management (CRM) software to create a personalized experience for visitors to their Web sites. But research is showing that "after you go to five or six sites that are personalized to you, they all quickly become very forgettable," says Holst.

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