I recently attended a two-day Digital Asset Management (DAM) conference in London and was pleased with the experience. Many topics were covered including taxonomy, managing non-traditional resources (such as 3D files), workflow, change management, and preservation. In the following blog post, I will summarize some of the key talking points, mostly related to the subject of metadata, and how they figure in current DAM practice.
Metadata and Digital Assets, Inextricably Linked
Because of the David Petraeus case and the Edward Snowden NSA leak, metadata is irrevocably in the public eye. Although the news headlines highlight controversial uses of metadata, or data about other digital data, DAM systems rely on it. Metadata is crucial to users finding digital content. Descriptive metadata underpins search and retrieval of digital objects. Casting about for digital resources without this information would be like finding a needle in a haystack. Not impossible, but definitely an inefficient use of your time. Good metadata also paves the path to credible content. Without trustworthy metadata, your users would probably question the content’s authenticity. Therefore, metadata must be vetted to ensure integrity.
[The Red Bull advertising campaign is a great example of brand identification. Would you want this generic image to show up if DAM users searched for ‘Red Bull’? Creating a successful taxonomy will help avoid this kind of pitfall.]
Incorrect, inconsistent, or absent metadata will hinder asset discovery. One conference attendee bemoaned the habit of DAM users entering a space or period to mandatory metadata fields to speed up the image loading process. Not only is this behavior an annoyance to other colleagues, but effectively renders these assets un-findable.
Which Way to Taxonomy Heaven?
That’s why Madi Weland Solomon (Director of Data Architecture Standards, Pearson plc) increased her company’s number of data specialists from 2 to 40. In pursuit of supporting customer needs, data has become more important than content. Andy Tennant (Technology Director, Studios, ITV) remembered the big bang approach, where data scientists controlled taxonomy creation, that led to overly complicated solutions. Today, the consensus is to record the minimum amount of metadata to drive business benefit and address user needs.
So how are taxonomies built? There are many ways. Romney Whitehead (Digital Content Platforms Manager, Net-A-Porter Group) overseas a taxonomy that allows data curators to add new terms to an existing taxonomy. Her company engaged students from the London Fashion Institute, who added terms to the company’s taxonomy.
Other companies may not have such readily available resources. Andy Tennant noted that he has less control over the workflow than before due to disruptive technology and the high turnover of a mostly freelance workforce. In response to this challenge, the BBC (Robin Boldon, Director of Digital Distribution, BBC Worldwide) is currently seeking ways of automatically extracting metadata. In spite of the advantages promised by automated solutions, Wouter Maagdenberg (Founder SDL Media Manager, SDL) believes in finding a balance between automatic metadata analysis and human involvement.
Once your taxonomy is completed, what’s left? Metadata enforcement (governance) becomes your next task. Collaboration with stakeholders emerged as the leading means of getting this done.
The People Side of Change Management
Romney Whitehead argued that a DAM leader must sell the system to upper management as well as to users. The business driver for DAM must be defined at an early stage of deployment. Whitehead recommended analyzing the different departments that would use the system. Because each department has unique needs, they would likely use the DAM differently. The project leader can increase user adoption and management support by demonstrating how DAM would address these needs.
Jane Clift (Head of IT, British Museum) suggested that a tech person (i.e., IT) be invited to join a DAM steering committee. This increases the likelihood of buy-in from a key stakeholder. In spite of these efforts, some IT departments may resist change. Anticipating such opposition, two case studies sidestepped IT by choosing cloud-based solutions.
According to Romney Whitehead, the main goal of the DAM systems she implemented was to find things. Other benefits become apparent to your stakeholders after the implementation process is complete. Steve Sanderson (Studio Operations Director, Charterhouse) shared this view, arguing for DAM to integrate with and support current workflows. A DAM also supports brand consistency. Brant Long (Global Brand Director, Jones Lang LaSalle) used his enterprise DAM to show other satellite offices how their brand was being used successfully.
The DAM system shouldn’t have a rigid roadmap, but allow for some flexibility. After all, workflows evolve over time. Whitehead recommended asking users how they’re getting along and periodically re-evaluating the DAM system.
The ‘Right’ Way
As digital deliverables evolve from simple to complex objects, rights management tracking has become convoluted. Andy Tennant (Technology Director, Studios, ITV) argued that rights metadata is hugely important in an era of Transmedia. In response, Madi Pearson is researching the implementation of new and simple legal agreements (i.e., worldwide rights, in perpetuity, etc.). Tracking granular use of an asset (how many times a chapter is downloaded) is not worth the effort. As such, rights contracts need to be standardized. Espresso Education has found a novel way of managing asset rights by associating contracts with assets and building a ‘rights calculator’ that allows users to quickly determine whether an asset in their DAM is fit for purpose.
Big Data, Big Deal?
Mark Davey (Managing Director, Business Technologist Ltd, Founder, DAM Foundation) claimed that big data would continue to garner attention from the business community. Davey argued that computers will become faster and better at processing the unstructured data that are being added to organizational repositories. He went on to argue that content will eventually be managed by artificial intelligence, based on the metadata we attribute to it.
In spite of Davey’s views, Helen Lippell (Strategic Metadata Manager, Press Association) was skeptical. She pointedly asked to see the use cases. Angela Murphy (Consultant in Digital Asset Management and IPR, The Image Business) added that there are many myths associated with big data. For example Big Data is not private.
The lifecycle of various physical media is reaching its end. Both analogue and digital videocassettes are becoming obsolete at an alarming rate. Many companies have rooms full of these tapes. Benign neglect is not a feasible digital preservation strategy. Efforts to digitize, catalogue, and manage these assets are necessary to their preservation. However, the case for their long-term access and preservation cannot be made without first defining a common business driver. Steve Sanderson stated that DAM reduced user time spent searching for assets in his company. In this period of recession, we must also find ways of increasing the value of our assets. One such way is through their reuse. Near the beginning of the conference, Theresa Regli argued for a holistic approach; understand the interplay between each facet of digital asset management and strike a balance between the role each one plays. As such, there isn’t one ‘perfect’ way to DAM. We must find the way that best suits our organization. How do you intend to pursue DAM in your company?
Henry Stewart Events puts on an annual conference about Digital Asset Management (DAM) in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and Europe. You can find more information about the events here and read the DAM Europe 2013 conference highlights in tweets at storify.com/DAMusers/dam-europe-2013.