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Lisa McIntyre said her company used to manage its digital assets with a clipboard and paper.

"I kid you not," she recalled, noting how people would write down the file they were borrowing and sign their name. "Who knows if anyone was even looking at that? Who knows if the files ever came back?"

That was about a decade ago, around the time the advertising agency, GSD&M in Austin, Texas, implemented its first Digital Asset Management (DAM) system. The new system was better, but even that didn't last, said McIntyre, now the company's digital asset librarian.

She explained the company's challenges during a CMSWire webinar yesterday entitled "New Use Cases for DAM in the Enterprise." The session, sponsored by Nuxeo, also featured Nuxeo CMO Bob Canaway. You can watch the webinar here.

Quick Honeymoon

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"Everything was rainbows and unicorns for a while," McIntyre said. "Then we started noticing some issues."

As soon as the team finished making updates, "it was almost time for more updates," especially on the Macs used by most of the agency's creative team.

About 18 months ago, the company "just couldn't take it any more" and turned to a new solution, she said.

McIntyre's experience resonated with some members of the audience. An instant poll found 10 percent, like McIntyre, had been through multiple DAM vendor relationships. About 30 percent of the respondents noted they were looking for their first DAM system. Another 10 percent were looking for a replacement system and 26 percent were keeping the ones they have.

You Need It

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DAM is a necessity in the digital age, said Canaway. He offered five reasons why that's true:

  • We're moving from a physical world to the software world. "There's so many interesting things we can do when we think of assets as software rather than treating them as physical assets."
  • Assets model the business assets they represent. "We want to be able to in the new digital asset world to have those assets contain the business rules themselves."
  • The ROI of assets need to be obvious. "We want to be able to look at our digital assets and intrinsically understand the return on investment that we're getting."
  • The need for easier handling large media assets. "Maybe the same picture has to be represented a lot of different ways for all the distributions channels we want it to go through."
  • Trying to meet demands in the future. "We know there's going to be all sorts of new ways of using this information, even beyond the use cases we're talking about here."

McIntyre said GSD&M wanted a system that was more responsive. Before selecting the new system, she worked with clients and company employees to develop use cases for the project. Many people wanted a system as simple as Box or Dropbox, she recalled. "We understood, but we also understood the need for security," she added.

Citizen Developers

Ultimately, the company went with Nuxeo. McIntyre configured it with the help of another member of her team. Neither woman had much experience in development, but McIntyre said the project required minimal expertise. She saved her development budget for other purposes.

The system uses a flat architecture — a challenge for some clients who were used to browsing through the assets.

"It was too confusing to have things flat. They needed to be able to sort things a little more," McIntyre said. To address the issue, McIntyre built virtual navigation around the metadata, giving the users an illusion of what they expected to see.

"It's all smoke and mirrors because, technically, the file resides somewhere else," she said. "But they don't know that. They get to work exactly as they worked before, which is very refreshing."

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Although her DAM system is pretty basic, she said it can also handle much more complex tasks. That includes setting permissions and processing video, which she noted can be unwieldy in its native form.

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"We need a way for our users to be able to view the [video] files and work with the files without having to deal with 600 megs," she said. "We can't email 600 megs [to clients], but we can email 10 meg files."

The system can also automate the input of metadata, eliminating a task that is a boon to future users but tedious for those who have to add the data. McIntyre shared several tips from the lessons she's learned:

  • Know your business and its needs
  • Include stakeholders from the start
  • Build the system around how you work
  • Automate metadata when you can
  • Get the best tool for your job
  • Go for small wins
  • Recognize that your system will need to change
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by familymwr.