Distributing Digital Asset Management in your Enterprise

An editor selects a frame the old fashioned way.

Most organizations have traditionally had a very serial workflow for analog assets, and unfortunately some continue with the same workflow with digital objects, instead of taking advantage of the transition. We’ll use a photo as an example, although the scenarios apply to pretty much any data object.

An editor calls a research department with a request to find a picture of XXX. The request isn’t clear (did you want a portrait of Bob, or him with a group, or him at his company?), and it takes a day or two to communicate and clarify, then the object is searched for and delivered. The requesting editor sees the choice, decides that isn’t the one he was thinking of, and the cycle starts again. More time gets wasted.

Or, like in the old days of film, there used to be a big, centrally located light table where people would come to edit film. If the table was in use, you waited your turn.

Both these situations center around a bottleneck in workflow, or “ownership” of objects by a gatekeeper. In the past with physical (analog) objects this may have been necessary, because otherwise anyone could see anything if they had the right to look in the file cabinets (even the “super secret” stuff!). But the cost was inefficient, slow workflow.

When digital cameras replaced film cameras there was the opportunity to remove some bottlenecks: instead of one person at a time looking through a loupe at a roll of film on a light table, you could have a folder of images, and several people at once could browse them over a network and select what they needed while each sat at their own desks. You could even restrict access by logins, so the “super secret” objects would only be seen by approved people. Bottleneck solved, secrecy preserved, and access to assets democratized and distributed.

One dramatic real-world example of this took place at The New York Times on 9/11, arguably the largest story ever covered by The Times, and one for which they received the Pulitzer Prize. They had converted from film cameras to digital cameras, and had recently put in place a digital image workflow due in large part to the vision of photo editors Roger Strong and Dave Frank and staffer Dan Neville. This allowed distributed editing of folders of digital images seconds after they arrived in the building. Late that night Strong wrote:

“Well, we stressed the system today a bit and I think it all worked well. We dumped something 0ver 2700 frames into (the digital asset management system) and (our assignment management system) lists 131 assignments for today alone…. today it was up to the task and then some. We were never swamped and editors were able to edit at their desks without having to clog up the lab and the light tables. I cannot even imagine trying to edit all those disks without (the digital asset management system).”

The take-away is, if you build a workflow where more of the right people can access your assets simultaneously, you eliminate bottlenecks, and you can handle huge, unexpected workflows smoothly and efficiently. Digital objects, and digital asset management systems can take a lot of the friction and time-wasting steps out of workflows!

Posted by David Tenenbaum

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