What to consider when shopping for a digital achive system
Special to BookTech by Danny O. Snow
Today's publishers need effective solutions for securely and efficiently storing the digital assets. Of course, there are many important factors to consider when selecting a digital asset management (DAM) system: cost, ease of use, security, scalability, available features and online capabilities. In addition, a DAM solution's ability to enhance cross-media publishing; provide both in-house and vendor access to the digital assets; and interpreting legacy files can play an important role in a publisher's success. Finally, a publisher must weigh in-house asset management against the out-sourcing alternative.
"When considering a DAM solution, the three most important factors to consider are scalability, flexibility and vendor support," says David Rocha, sales manager for publishing solutions at IBM's Digital Media Center, Hartford, Conn. Scalability is critical, he says, because collections grow rapidly. In a very short period of time, user growth can exceed projections. Flexibility is also critical, he notes, because the kind of data saved today and the way it's used may not be the same in a year. "Your system needs to be media-neutral, not tailored to any one workflow but able to adapt to any workflow."
In addition, vendors must provide comprehensive 24x7 support and have an internal infrastructure that supports continued R&D, Rocha adds. "Too many vendors build only to narrow customer requirements, and then lack the ability or resources to look ahead to develop features that will be needed in the future."
IBM's Networked Interactive Content Access (NICA) 4.0 solution is a digital media archiving/ management tool that enables publishers to digitize, store and retrieve text, graphics or images, Rocha reports. Iowa City, Iowa-based MetaCommunications produces other DAM solutions for the graphic arts industry: Virtual Ticket is electronic job ticketing and DAM software; Job Manager is an electronic job tracking, costing and billing system.
Mark Guthart, vice president of sales, says publishers should ask the following questions when considering a DAM system: Is the solution able to organize digital assets in an intuitive and easy-to-use manner? How much metadata is it able to provide about an asset, and how customizable is this information?
Meanwhile, Scott Seebass, CEO, XINET, Berkeley, Calif., a developer of networking software, suggests publishers consider their target audience. Will the DAM system be for Intranet or Internet users? How flexible will the solution be? How much will publishers have to change their workflows to accommodate it, and can they customize the solution?
DAM solutions can get very expensive, says Seebass. He suggests that when publishers look at feature-rich solutions, they should consider if they will use all those bells and whistles: "The more complicated the solution, the longer and more costly the implementation." Xinet's products include FullPress, a server software package, and WebNative, an Internet-based image management/distribution tool.
Looking beyond a immediate concerns for managing production workflows, sources say, a good DAM strategy should address integrating digital assets with other areas of a publisher's business, as well as emerging technologies and markets. That said, following are some questions to ask: How can a good DAM solution enhance other areas of my operation such as cross-media publishing, enterprise-wide access and interpretation of legacy files?
IBM's Rocha says NICA is a multipurpose, scalable, enterprise-wide solution due to it's underlying architecture, relational databases (DB2 and Oracle) and hardware platforms (RS/6000 and Sun). "NICA can deal with data from across the enterprise—from editorial to prepress to advertising to Web publishing," says Rocha. "It supports any file type needed, allowing publishers to centralize data into one system rather than many, so it eliminates a need for complex system integration." He notes that NICA is used as a production system and an archive. "By customer request, we've integrated NICA with various editorial and prepress systems at each installation," says Rocha. "And NICA's TCP/IP-based clients deliver the right amount of features for users of varying levels, both on the intranet and Internet."
Another DAM solution, TEAMS 4.0 from Artesia Technol-ogies, Washington, D.C., enables users to convert archived content from one format to another, according to Brian Hedquist, manager of marketing and communications. Dynamic content linking preserves relationships between content elements. He adds, the combination of TEAMS' Web-based user interface, n-tiered architecture, automatic fail-over and dynamic load balancing makes it an enterprise-class solution. And TEAMS' embrace of the XML family of standards and its professional services capability provides the framework for turning legacy content into digital assets, Hedquist concludes. Meanwhile, MetaCommunications' Virtual Ticket provides solutions insertion order documentation, ad tracking, verification of production specifications and shipping/fulfillment data.
"When is an in-house DAM solution better than an outsourced solution, and vice versa?"
Jonathan Nathan, founder of JNMedia (acquired last year by Lightning Source, LaVergne, Tenn.), suggests publishers use a combination of both: "Outsourcing allows you to take advantage of the experience of others rather than having to reinvent the wheel every time you run up against something new. Ultimately some outsourced services may be integrated into your in-house system. But continually evolving technology often will require new outsourcing,"
MetaCommunications' Guthart favors in-house solutions. "Our product, Virtual Ticket, offers a Web interface to digital assets that allow users outside of the publisher, such as book printers, to search, view, and download digital assets as needed." In-house or outsourced, a good DAM solution should offer publishers substantial flexibility in file management. Most experts agree that today's digital technologies will continue to grow and change rapidly in the years ahead, and a good DAM solution offers an 'upgrade path' for today's and tomorrow's needs.
Experts also encourage publishers to carefully consider the size and complexity of future archives when choosing a DAM system. To revisit an old quip about personal computing: The volume of files stored on any hard drive is directly proportional to the capacity of the drive. While the cost of storage devices has dropped almost as dramatically as file sizes have increased in recent years, the fundamental tendency of both individuals and institutions to accumulate more and more data remains true.
This means most publishers are sure to need software and hardware capable of managing many more files and in a more complex configuration in the years ahead. For more information on DAM solutions, check out the following Web sites:
Digital Asset Directions
IBM Digital Media
North American Graphic Arts Suppliers Association
Presstime: "DAM IT ALL!"
Author/Publisher Danny O. Snow has been quoted by The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Washington Times, Denver Post, National Public Radio and others. He is co-author of a POD book about methods for producing and promoting books, titled U-Publish.com with Dan Poynter, and serves as CEO of Unlimited Publishing LLC.