DAM Survival Guide 08/12/12
This week’s Tools Spotlight interview is with David Diamond, author of DAM Survival Guide – a digital asset management book that details DAM initiative planning. He also directs global marketing for DAM software vendor Picturepark. DAM Survival Guide can be purchased from Amazon. Visit DAMSurvivalGuide.com to learn more.
For those who are not familiar with DAM (Digital Asset Management), what is it and what are the potential benefits?
Digital asset management is the practice of organizing and adding metadata to files that are valuable in some way to a business process. The goal is to make that content easier to find and use, and to ensure that usage remains compliant with legal and other restrictions.
If a video editing house has hundreds of hours of stock or customer footage, how does it manage it all? While applications like Final Cut, Premiere and AVID Media Composer provide some means for adding tags and such to footage, they don’t make it easy for those outside the edit bay to browse or preview that footage, or even increase its usefulness to the editor by being able to add metadata that adds missing facts, or just provides some context.
For example, how many times have you been editing footage, and not really been sure who was in a particular scene? What’s your workflow for finding out? My guess is that it’s pretty cumbersome. Wouldn’t it be easier to be able to define a range on the timeline, choose a “share” option, assign that to an intern or colleague and attach a note that said, “Can you figure out who this guy in the middle is?” The next day, that metadata is magically right where you need it.
Or, say a company’s marketing department decides they want to create new video to promote an event. How do they determine which footage is available to them? Do you want them coming to ask you while you’re eyeball deep in an edit? Further, if your video archive contains footage that features your former CEO, how would an intern or freelancer know not to use that footage in the video that promotes the appointment of your new CEO?
Digital asset management enables organizations to add details to their content that might or might not be specifically about the content, and it enables the owners/custodians of that content to make it available to others inside and outside the organization, without having to send files via DVD or internet.
How did you get started doing DAM?
I was initially hired as a freelancer by an old DAM vendor to rewrite its user documentation. This was more than 12 years ago. One thing led to another, and before I knew it, I was a full-time employee of the company. The concept of DAM made so much sense to me that I found myself becoming more evangelist than just writer. In time, I ended up directing marketing for the company. Today, I direct global marketing for Swiss DAM vendor Picturepark.
Early in your extensive book on the subject, you are very candid about the challenges facing companies trying to rollout and maintain DAM initiatives. Often it’s hard to motivate employees who don’t see an immediate benefit from what is a lot of inconvenient and tedious work. Talk more about that…
I often call upon the similarities between DAM and the medical profession because I find them to be plentiful and relevant. To provide some context for your question, I would bring up the concept of a physician trying to teach kids that smoking was bad. To make her case, she would likely call upon the long-term consequences of not smoking. But this isn’t a message that motivates kids who feel strong and invincible.
Conversely, she might try to focus on the benefits of not smoking, but those aren’t terribly powerful motivators to kids either. The fact is, most younger bodies can withstand the negative effects of smoking for many years, so the long-term benefits of not smoking aren’t compelling. The bottom line is that it’s tough to explain to kids why smoking is bad, which is evidenced by the fact that kids the world over start smoking every day.
To put this into an extremely harsh light, the problem with smoking is not that it kills, but that it doesn’t kill fast enough. If people started dropping dead after only a month or two of smoking, this would resonate with all potential smokers, even the 17-year-old ones. But smoker newbies don’t draw a connection between their healthy, young bodies and the weak, frail elderly bodies that have been decimated by smoking throughout the decades.
So how does this relate to DAM? The negative effects of not using DAM aren’t immediately apparent, while the benefits can be negligible for years. In fact, at first, DAM is nothing more to a new user than yet another thing to deal with. Instead of just completing a project, they now have to put files into a DAM and deal with metadata entry—who has time? So for many organizations, it can be nearly impossible to get users actively engaged.
But after years of neglecting its digital asset collections, an organization starts to realize that it can no longer find anything. The only employees familiar with the assets are long gone, and with them went all that institutional knowledge. Though DAM offers a great way to preserve institutional knowledge after an employee leaves (or forgets!), most employees see this as their company’s problem, not theirs.
Worse, productions end up being hindered while people waste time trying to find things. My personal “worst situation” is when I’ve had to settle for using content that I knew wasn’t ideal simply because I couldn’t find the content that would have been perfect. When the artist in you knows what’s needed, but technology prevents you from finding it, it can be extremely frustrating.
It’s even worse for video, because browsing archive footage is a real time suck. When you need b-roll shot at the Golden Gate Bridge at night, you want to see all possibilities instantly, and you need to know whether you have the rights and permission to use that footage. If there’s any doubt, you need to know whom to contact for clarification. How many times have we all settled for less-than-perfect content just because we ran out of time while searching for perfection?
People dying from COPD know the dangers of smoking. Unfortunately, by the time they can fully appreciate the benefits of not smoking, that opportunity is long gone. Likewise, I’ve never seen an organization pursue DAM because they thought things might get bad. They usually start seeking help only after things have become ridiculous.
I often hear people speak in terms of how to get solid ROI from their DAM systems, and I like to point out that if they’d started their search only a year sooner, the time and money they’d wasted in their last year without DAM would have more than likely paid for the system, putting them into an ROI situation from Day One with their new DAM.
You also talk about the differences between OS-based DAM and a dedicated DAM system and why you would need one over the other. Talk more about that…
Before organizations look to a serious, professional DAM, they try to mimic DAM functionality using the operating system. For example, it’s common for an organization to set up “In Progress,” “For Approval” and “Final” folders on a file server. Files get moved between the folders throughout their development cycles. Does it work? Sure, assuming fairly low-volume productions that don’t involve anyone outside the organization who might not have access to those folders. Still, you might think, no problem—if someone outside needs a file, I’ll send it to them. But then what do you do with the file that’s left on the operating system? How do others know it’s been sent for approval? What if the file’s creator comes up with a brilliant new idea and he opens the file to make a change? All of a sudden, your external editor is approving the wrong version of the file and no one has any idea.
To avoid situations like this, most organizations defer to policy. They make up rules like, “Once something has gone into the Approvals folder, don’t make any further changes.” Do you remember all the rules at your organization? I sure don’t. Further, when new employees come on board, they have no idea what’s going on. When those policies are built into a DAM’s workflow control, the “policing” can be done automatically, and notifications can be sent to make sure everyone knows what’s going on.
Where OS-based DAM excels is when a workflow is very simple, slow-paced, and there are very few people involved. In these situations, personal communication can be a more efficient use of time than putting together a DAM system that’s based on policy.
What are some well-known companies that have benefited from your book? How have they implemented the principles behind it?
The book has been out only a few months, so it’s tough so say which companies have benefited from it. But I can give you some real-world examples of organizations that I know to have benefited from DAM in general.
Museums, for example, have physical collections they manage, but they also usually have digital versions of those collections too—photographs, video, etc. One case study that comes to mind is from LIECHTENSTEIN. The Princely Collections. In this case, curators are able to manage their physical and digital collections as one entity, thanks to an integration between Museum Plus, which they use for their physical collections, and Picturepark, which they use for their digital collections.
Another example is Belden, the digital components maker I’m sure your readers know well. Belden uses DAM to make sure photos and metadata of its vast array of products are available to global retailers 24/7. Without a single portal to access those assets, imagine what a logistical nightmare it would be for Belden to get images into the hands of retailers who need them.
Video houses also benefit from DAM. And when you think about it, video production is one place where DAM can provide unbelievable benefits. Just think about all the digital files associated with a given project. There’s the raw and completed footage—sure—but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. You’ve got contracts, edit logs, approvals, images, logos, model release forms, permits, etc. A DAM enables you to lasso all those files into a single manageable unit. If you can’t figure out where a model release is because you have no idea what the model’s name was, but you know some footage in which she appeared, find the footage and the DAM will lead you to the model release file. Or, quickly find all footage you shot in New York without a permit, and deal with it, before someone uses it and you get hit with a fine. Associative digital asset relationships like these are commonplace in video production, but without a DAM, my guess is that finding a single model release form would be a paper-chase nightmare for most edit houses.
What kind of feedback have you gotten about your book from users, vendors, IT personnel or archivists?
People have been very kind. Users I’ve known for years have told me this was the book they’d wished they’d had before purchasing the DAM they did, and people who are new in their DAM research have said that the book is helping them put things into perspective. As one reviewer put it, “Read this book first and then read all the other stuff that’s out there.”
Perhaps most unexpected and, in a way, appreciated have been the kind words I’ve heard from DAM vendors I’ve competed with all these years. I wrote the book to be totally neutral with regard to DAM systems and vendors, so it’s nice to see different vendors confirm that I managed to pull that off to their satisfaction.
The fact is, all DAM systems have weaknesses, but not all DAM systems offer advantages. I wrote DAM Survival Guide with the hope that it would enable readers to cut through all the vendor BS and be able to quickly recognize when a given DAM had, for example, fallen behind the times to the point where it had become a dinosaur.
So, given that I was particularly harsh toward DAM vendors and the industry as a whole, I was very happy to hear so many people tell me that what I said needed to be said.
Generally speaking, what role do video editors currently play in the DAM process? How would you like to see that role evolve over time?
There’s a growing movement in DAM to have metadata introduced into the digital asset as far “upstream” as possible. With regard to video, this would actually mean that the cameraperson would be taking notes, assuming the video camera doesn’t permit metadata entry. So, I would love to see that happen.
I would also like to see the editors take that initiative, too. When you think about it, metadata is a non-real-time discussion that happens between a piece of content’s creators, editors, approvers, distributors and consumers. When each contributes his or her own wisdom to the conversation, the conversation becomes richer and more meaningful to downstream parties.
Editors might think they have nothing to say to the consumer, but what about tips to other editors? Imagine the benefit of receiving footage that forewarns you that between 01:12:31:25 and 01:12:33:12, the footage of the guitar player is mirrored so he, all of a sudden, becomes left-handed. Is this acceptable to you? If it’s not, better you know about that up front rather than having to discover it for yourself after you’ve sent a proof to a client who will see that as you lacking attention to detail.
Everyone should contribute to the metadata conversation.
What questions do you have for video editors?
I would like to know where they see their role in the metadata conversation and DAM in general. I would also like to know what services DAM vendors could provide to make their lives easier. Do they want to stay in Final Cut or Premiere all day? Or would they rather be able to sift through and select footage via another interface that works over their mobile devices? Would they rather see more advanced DAM functionality added to their edit apps, or would they rather see a fully functional DAM integrated right into the edit bay?
How do you see the DAM industry evolving over the next several years?
The world’s more innovative DAM vendors will learn to make their offerings more invisible, and move those offerings closer to the point of creation and consumption. Right now, DAM is an extra place users must go to put and find things. But much like how we can now save and open files from within any application, I see DAM becoming just as ubiquitous and unobtrusive. In fact, if someone told me they’d visited the future and seen that file systems had been completely replaced by DAM functionality, I wouldn’t be at all surprised. After all, you decide whose applications will be on your computer, and you decide whose fonts, desktop patterns and extensions—why not be able to choose who provides your file services? Linux has the right idea by making everything an interchangeable component.
I also think the smarter DAM vendors will realize that the walls that exist between DAM systems are doing no one any good. Google has proven the value of a single portal through which the world’s information can be found. But when it comes to DAM, we still need to query each system independently. I just wrote an article on DAM News that speaks to digital rights management, and it mentions this concept.
DAM “walls” make some sense when the only thing inside the DAM is related to the organization that owns it. But when a DAM contains works that are of value to many individuals outside the DAM, that info should be more readily available. Medical databases are one example, and museum collections are another. If you’re looking for images of a particular work of art, why should you first have to research which DAMs contain images of that piece and then have to visit each individually? This isn’t how Google would do it, and it isn’t how DAM vendors should do it either.
The concept behind VIT, the company that owns Picturepark DAM, is that information holds no value until it’s exchanged—the transaction between the knower and the learner. In other words, you might know how to cure disease, but unless you share that knowledge with others, it does no one any good. Therefore, as a society, we should be more focused on the exchange of information rather than the hoarding of it.
I love this concept.