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The Industrialisation Of DAM

by Ralph Windsor on May 22, 2013

Remko Noteboom, CTO of one of our featured DAM vendors, Southpaw Technology, has contributed a special feature article for DAM News: Configurable Workflow Systems.  The item explores the opportunity in applying some techniques from large-scale manufacturing and industrialisation to the management of digital content, especially with reference to workflow and streamlining production processes:

One of the more common means of managing all of his digital data in enterprise environments is digital asset management (DAM). However, the vast majority of DAM solutions are concerned with either the archiving of finished digital assets or the delivery of finished digital assets to an end user. Very few are concerned with how digital assets move through an enterprise, how they connect to specific departments, people, tasks and deadlines, and where they go when they reach their end of life. In other words, DAM’s ability to manage workflow is limited.  In the early 1900’s, Henry Ford developed techniques that would revolutionize the manufacturing world. It is striking that most digital processes have not migrated to using these proven techniques of mass production well known in the manufacturing world. Digital content is still largely produced using the same methods of the craftsman of old.” [Read More]

The article follows some interesting themes which are consistently appearing in DAM and related technologies.  DAM systems are effectively mechanised devices and have a lineage that goes back to the industrial revolution.  It’s not always favourable for the producers of technology to make that causal connection because of the association with heavy machinery, pollution and other negative consequences of this process, but that has more to do with their branding objectives and marketing than the reality.  It is also closer to what many end users appear to want to do with DAM, which is to use it to enhance productivity, hence why features like batch processing and large-scale manipulation are consistently asked for.

Although I agree with the broad thrust of the article, I do have to note there are some key differences with content workflow automation processes that require a revised strategy to a more traditional manufacturing operation.  Digital assets are not commodities.  The process might be something you can abstract but it is essential to acknowledge that assets are all unique  – this is partly why solutions to manage them are required in the first place.  Henry Ford mass-produced a single product with a few variations, even the source components and raw materials were standardised as far as was feasible so it may not be possible to wholesale apply the assembly line process.

One specific point in the article was this:

Traditional DAM systems require a huge effort of tagging each individual asset. This is a very painstaking and involved process because each asset must be categorized after completion of the asset. With a workflow oriented system, the resulting tags or metadata associated with an asset are a natural byproduct of the creation process and very little time is spent on creating tags – it is a natural extension to the creation process.” [Read More]

It is important to get the context of this statement in perspective.  Southpaw and their product, TACTIC are targeted at production oriented DAM requirements of the type used by content originators like film studios, advertising agencies etc.  That statement makes sense for them since most users will want to find an asset with reference to a given stage in the production process.  With a corporate DAM where the end users are receiving finished assets (only some of which might subsequently get used as composite assets) the workflow becomes less useful in terms of providing metadata to find an asset.  Usually the workflow generated metadata is fairly basic and has limited information that can be used for searching, such as who uploaded a file, when and (sometimes) who approved it.

Under those circumstances, you do need someone to still properly tag and keyword finished assets.  The necessity of this (within the context I have described) is self-evident when you look at stock media libraries and the considerable effort and expense they go to in order to ensure that relevant digital assets can be found as easily as possible by prospective purchasers.  Not all, but a good number of DAM systems are sold to corporations looking to effectively in-source their stock media operations rather than spending money repeat purchasing or re-originating assets again.  They will still need to manually tag as the automated methods for doing that are not well developed currently – nor do they look like they will get better any time soon.

Unless care is taken, some of the more simplistic strategies espoused by scientific management can fail to produce the expected ROI if they are applied without due consideration to the nature of the task.   Those planning to industrialise their digital asset management operations need to keep a clear distinction between the process being automated and the objects (assets) they do it to and always have focus on how their assets will be used.

With that being said, it is still possible to gain a productivity advantage by segmenting assets and using a broadly similar strategy (see our findability feature and the section on separating assets based on their intended usage). As ever with technology strategy, it is a case of maintaining clear objectives but still being flexible and willing to continuously improve and refine the techniques used.

This is a good piece by Remko and it’s the type of well written and neutral material that gives end users some useful guidance they can understand and apply to their own DAM operations.

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