A picture is worth a thousand words

Digital asset management systems help companies realize the benefits of their multimedia holdings.


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Executives at General Motors Corp. didn't set out to go into the media business. They just wanted to gain some control over their massive archives, which contain images of every car the company ever has produced--going back practically to the turn of the 20th century. Stored away somewhere, the world's largest automaker has about 2,000 films, 10,000 videos, and as many as five million still pictures.

At a Glance

General Motors

The company: Flint, Mich.-based General Motors Corp. is the world's largest corporation, with 388,000 employees and 1999 revenue of more than billion.

The problem: GM wanted to gain control over its enormous archives, which hold five million still images, as well as 2,000 films and 10,000 videos.

The solution: A digital asset management system based on software from Artesia Technologies Inc. and Virage Inc.

The IT infrastructure: GM's digital asset management system runs on an eight-processor Sun Microsystems' Enterprise 4500 running Sun Solaris. Attached to the server is a Sony Petasite robotic storage system, which can hold eight terabytes of data.

With that many images to take care of, it's not surprising GM didn't know what it had, or where they were located. To track all its media assets--whether in digital format, sitting on shelves, or laying in drawers--in December 1999 GM finished implementing a digital asset management system. The process began about six years ago, when the company gradually started going through its still images and digitizing the more important ones.

With its new-found control, GM has discovered that it is able to make its media assets available to others outside the company--and that there are plenty of people willing to pay for this privilege. The company now sells stock footage of GM cars to networks including A&E, Discovery, and the History Channel. So far, GM has sold footage from its archive more than 150 times, with average revenue of ,000 per sale, according to the Flint, Mich.-based automaker.

"Turning these [media] assets into something that can make revenue for the company is not something you would have expected from a car manufacturer," says Jeremy Schwartz, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., in Cambridge, Mass. "It makes you wonder what other companies could do with assets that are languishing on shelves somewhere."

Spinning wheels

GM isn't the only company struggling to gain control over its stores of rich media assets. Many firms, says Schwartz, are discovering that they "can't find assets they know they have," which forces them to re-create assets they already own. "There's a lot of wheel-spinning around creating content," Schwartz says, "because these assets are not organized or managed effectively."

To get an idea of just how much wheel-spinning is going on, a study conducted in 1999 by Gistics Inc., a research firm in Larkspur, Calif., found the typical media professional spends an average of 2.9 minutes in each file lookup activity. Even more telling, 39% of the time they fail to find the file. Duplicate file names, inaccurately versioned files, and the primitive file management capabilities of many operating systems all contribute to file lookup time, according to Gistics.

And the problem only is likely to worsen as the number of rich media files that content producers have to deal with explodes. Gistics found that the average number of rich media files found on the desktops of employees involved in authoring Web pages jumped 323% between 1995 and 1999. Digital video files on individual desktops skyrocketed 519% during that same period, the researcher found.

Amount of media assets zooms
(4-year proliferation rate on individual desktops 1995-1999)

Source: Gistics Inc.

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