Future Proofing Your Digital Assets

    When it comes to supporting the current needs of digital content management, many organizations are considering whether it makes sense to substitute a one-size-fits-all enterprise solution for the various disconnected “best of breed” tools currently in use.

    In recent years, nearly everything has become a digital asset. Audio and video assets that used to be recorded, produced and archived on tape now need to be immediately available in a fluid digital form, searchable and with clear metadata describing origin, rights, versions and usage. Paper documents and files have been replaced by digital formats, including everything from payroll to publishing. Branded assets, artwork, print or online layout designs and photographic materials are all digital.

    While the lines are blurring between pure digital asset management (DAM), media asset management (MAM), library asset management (LAM), enterprise content management (ECM), web content management systems (WCMS) and other content management functions (round up the usual acronyms!), these distinctions are less important than the overall need for digital content owners to share, publish, repurpose and control their digital content.

    These systems have a number of specialized functions. They accomplish storage and archiving of assets, as well as findability of those assets. They also manage workflow, sharing of assets across departments and with partners, distribution to audience platforms, rights management, version management, localization support (for global organizations) and user permissions.

    Over the past decade, we have also seen the maturing and consolidation of number of enterprise content systems, which incorporate much needed functionality previously found only in specialized systems into single platform solutions. I have worked with several clients who wrestled with the apparent chaos of supporting numerous disparate systems, while at the same time needing a unified view of assets, data, workflows and resources.

    Can One Size Fit All?

    For both IT and content managers, the monolithic unified system can be quite attractive — the very idea that everything could be on one enterprise platform, providing transparency and sharability for organizational assets, is almost irresistible. However, the pain of disconnected systems is in many cases matched by the pain (and risk!) of migrating data and business-critical workflows to a new monolithic system.

    Famously, earlier this year it was announced that the BBC was forced to pull the plug on a monolithic content management system after nearly ten years work and £100m expenses — but there are plenty of other examples of expensive, over-budget and under-delivered (or undelivered) failures of the “grand systems project.”

    At the same time, there has been a parallel movement in the area of marketing and strategic communications for brands to consolidate their efforts and to tell a more coherent story across their initiatives. As audiences and customers have been empowered by social media and Web 2.0/3.0 platforms to easily access and share information from many different sources, brands find that they are losing control of their story. Previous approaches to brand storytelling, which were often short and single-dimensional, are no longer sufficient. A more sophisticated audience and customer base is now able to muster rich content across an increasingly flat and accessible information-scape.

    In order to support the need for more coherent and complex messaging, while also controlling costs, organizations are increasingly looking to integrated technology systems that can support collaboration and cross-platform content creation, and distribution. This need goes beyond merely repurposing content, because success depends upon the quality of the products and the user experience. Creating quality content and truly sharable assets often requires that creative teams have the right tools, as well as integrated platforms, in order to produce a quality product that can engage the more sophisticated and information-savvy consumer.

    According to Caitlin Burns of Starlight Runner Entertainment, a transmedia producer, the overall success and effectiveness of any organization’s digital storytelling initiative depends on the credibility of that story and how it’s presented. “Successful communication and campaign approaches need to take a more arts and crafts approach, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.”

    So we see that the interests of content owners, IT managers and the specialists who create and use the assets all share the need for a unified platform. But if the monolithic one-size-fits-all system is not the panacea, what’s the alternative?

    An API Solution from NPR

    Prior to his current position as VP of Digital Media at NPR, Zach Brand experienced the challenges of various monolithic systems projects. They seemed to take longer and be more expensive than they should have been, while often being a disappointment to the users of those systems. Perhaps, more importantly, they did not make the content and data they contained re-usable.

    At NPR, he took the approach of using the application interface (API) of existing systems, modifying where necessary, to allow existing systems to “talk to” one another, sharing content and data. While this has been an on-going process, addressing one or two systems at a time, the benefits have been quicker wins, lower risk and tangible results that keep the end users happy because they don’t have to compromise on content or workflow features, or change systems in most cases (occasionally a system that is not API accessible must be replaced with a compatible best-of-breed or open source solution).

    The result at NPR has been the gradual build-out of systems that support cross platform distribution, content sharing and reuse, and effective digital asset management. The API approach has also resulted in serendipitous opportunities for content reuse and distribution, including new opportunities for apps and content use among NPR’s content and station partners. As Zach points out,

    I think it is about future proofing your digital assets/content/data. Look at the devices and platforms that have emerged over the last decade, and then think about how the system you build will adapt to the needs of the next 5-10 years.”

    Of course, rolling your own APIs does not solve all interoperability challenges, especially when assets live in large enterprise repositories that require very specialized technical skills. Fortunately, there are other ways to allow legacy systems to talk to each other. For example, a previous client, a large global pharmaceutical company, took the approach of using a powerful search engine to connect to a number of legacy systems. Users could find and access assets through an intranet presentation layer. No need to migrate the data; and users are blissfully unaware of the actual content repository system!

    However, there are certainly times when it becomes apparent that an integration of existing systems would require as much effort as implementing a new system and migrating the data. I have even been involved with projects where a decision was made not to fully migrate legacy content, but to start fresh with the most recent content and migrate older assets incrementally, as needed. In fact, this option should be considered more often than it usually is. Not all assets are evergreen, or reusable. Usually the decision to go with a new system is driven by the inability of old systems to support reusable assets.

    In all cases, one should insure against future needs by considering both the flexibility of the solution and the impact on quality outputs. Assets themselves can be better future-proofed by consistent usage of metadata and controlled vocabularies — indeed, the metadata is often the hinge that interoperability and asset accessibility relies upon.

    But the future is here; and future success depends on ensuring that systems users have the tools they need to work collaboratively in a rapidly evolving communications environment. In this environment we don’t know what tomorrow will bring, so systems need to be flexible and content owners need to keep an athletic posture.

    Originally published by in October 2013 by CMSWire.com:

    About the Author

    Alex Struminger is principle at Struminger & Company, where he consults with clients and startups on Storytelling 3.0. He has been Senior Advisor on Strategic Internet Projects at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). His article on technology platform adoption “Socializing DAM” appeared in vol. 1,2 of the Journal of Digital Media Management. Follow Alex on Twitter: @AlexStruminger.

      Posted in digital media management, knowledge management, Storytelling 3.0

      Brands and Story: Essential DAM in Transmedia & Cross Platform Content Creation

        I’ll be moderating a panel in New York on October 7th about “Brands and Story” at the Createasphere Conference… I’m very excited about the topic and the terrific panelists we’ve got lined up!

        Here’s the description from the conference schedule:

        More than ever before, companies need solid DAM management in order to support the exciting, new creative opportunities that transmedia and cross platform storytelling and content creation provides. Hear the latest insights from top innovative creators and DAM specialists on how they’re engaging audiences and customers from both the creative and technical perspective. As DAM industry professionals, you’ll want to learn about how you can inspire your colleagues to think in new ways about media and asset usage in the marketing, media and entertainment industries.

        Abigail Marks, Director, Strategy & Operation, OgilvyEntertainment
        Caitlin Burns, Transmedia Producer, Writer, Starlight Runner Entertainment
        Harold Moss, Founder and Creative Director, FlickerLab
        Matt Doherty, Associate Director, Global Digital Creative & Strategy, Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide
        Moderator: Alex Struminger, Senior Advisor on Internet Strategy, UNICEF, and Principal, Struminger & Company

        More to come on this, as I am sure there will be some terrific ideas, lessons and anecdotes from the panel and the conference. I will be doing a short podcast interview with Another DAM blog’s Henrik de Gyor. We will be talking about Storytelling 3.0 and the role of media asset management technology in transmedia storytelling, as well as a support platform for co-creation networks. Stay tuned… I will post a link to the podcast here when it is released.

          Posted in digital media management, digital storytelling, Storytelling 3.0

          Socializing technology platforms

            The idea of socializing technology innovations within the organization is not a new one. Although most project managers these days are trained in the modern version of the ‘clipboard and stopwatch’ kind of methods — often these days supported by Microsoft Project or Visio — experienced project managers have learned that managing the stakeholder politics and identifying the key factors affecting user adoption have tremendous influence on the timeline, resources and eventual success of (what appears to be) a technology project. So the introduction of innovative technology is a social process, as well as a technical matter.

            There are two kinds of socializing that have to happen for a new technology implementation project to be successful: (1) socialization on the front end (end-user adoption); (2) socialization on the back end (workflow/work process integration and compliance). Both sides of the system and their constituent users must be taken into consideration during the planning and design phase of the project.

            The front end: User adoption

            Let’s start with the front end – user adoption – as this is the part most visibly impacted by social network effects. Collaborative systems are social systems and therefore subject to the same issues and rules that affect social technology systems. For example, Digital asset management (DAM) systems, content management systems (CMS), and shared work spaces like MS SharePoint are collaborative systems, so are subject to these same issues, rules and organizing principles. Social network economics drive the perceived value of these systems. For example, if few of one’s peers or colleagues adopt the system, it will have relatively little value to return for the time invested in learning the system or curating the content (digital assets in the case of DAM) in the system. This kind of personal valuation can be seen in social networking systems from e-mail to enterprise content management systems like SharePoint, in social media platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook, as well as in DAM adoption.

            Often, ‘user acceptance’ plays an afterthought role in the integration of a new technology platform in the organization. Information architecture, usability, training and compliance mechanisms are important parts of the design process and roll-out — and not to be left out. However, the organization’s adoption of the system really boils down to the perceived personal value for the individual users. If adoption is merely an afterthought or assumed to be sufficiently addressed in the system design and roll-out phases, the battle to win may have already been lost over the stakeholders and end users who are needed to invest and drive adoption of the new system. In order to properly ‘socialize’ a new technology platform and ensure both user adoption and investment, it is necessary to begin the socialization process early.

            Management may have already decided to fund the procurement and implementation of a particular platform; however, management needs to be thinking about the adoption goals as a key metric in the success of the project. As early as the procurement phase, stakeholders and motivated end users should be brought on board to feed into the system requirements and vendor selection process. This kind of process will ensure the investment and feeling of ownership needed to create a core adoption base that will support socialization of the new system within the organization and, most importantly, will help drive further adoption of this system by embedding it in the social fabric of the organization. These are the key socialization influencers in the project.

            The back end: Integrating with work processes and influencing compliance

            Integrating the new system into current work processes, or changing work processes to support the new system, has a high impact on the individuals in the organization who are most vital to supporting and sustaining this system into the future. Any gains achieved on the front end by successfully starting user adoption will eventually fall away if these back-end users do not take pride of ownership and steward the system forward.

            In order to accomplish this, a sufficient discovery process must be included during the planning phase to uncover the potential areas where the system will impact on daily workflow. The importance of good information architecture (IA) and workflow design cannot be overemphasized here. This can be best achieved by discovering and mapping the upstream/downstream relationships between the people affecting the content, approval and metadata input processes, and their co-workers, and eventually ensuring that the system is providing value for the ultimate customer: the end users who are expected to adopt this new system over their previous work practices.

            Following the upstream/downstream metaphor, asset owners are viewed as both system customers (cataloguing, archiving assets) and vendors/distributors (providing findable assets to downstream end-users). Understanding this relationship and explaining the upstream/downstream connection to content or asset producers, uploaders and archivists helps to motivate better compliance by exposing the effects of poor compliance on downstream customers. It is important to note that the upstream producers of product are often widely separated from their downstream consumers. In order to bridge that gap, management needs to support internal team leadership roles to educate asset owners continually and evangelize the upstream/downstream relationships.

            Value to the back-end stakeholders can also be shown by leveraging the system to distribute work to the appropriate subject matter experts and asset producers. Value on the back end should be shown by using the system to reduce redundant tasks, as well as by using it to improve the archiving and knowledge management benefits. Additionally, the content producers, uploaders and administrators should be continually involved in process improvement (thereby supporting their stake in the outcomes). Remember to explain the value they are providing to end users and regularly report back any increases in user adoption and content consumed. Always report positive feedback about either the content or the system.

            This is partially excerpted from my article “Socialising DAM” published in the current issue of the Journal of Digital Media Management, vol. 1,2 by Henry Stewart Publications, London.


              Posted in client engagement, digital media management, information architecture, knowledge management
              Socializing DAM
              Sharing innovation in the organization
              The success of a digital asset management (DAM) or other collaborative technology platform depends upon system adoption within the organization. This article addresses the social aspect of system user adoption and maintains that ‘socializing’ a new technology is a key component to the long-term success of the project.

              The Journal of Digital Media Management, vol. 1,2 published by Henry Stewart Publications, London.
              Welcome to musings on digital storytelling, information architecture, the narrative of design, content and knowledge management, and the power of networks. If you are interested in getting in touch about any of the articles or ideas published here, please contact me through the "Contact" link in the menu at top of this page.

              My article "Socializing DAM" published in the Journal of Digital Media Management addresses the impact of social networks within the organization on technology projects. Please click on the "download the PDF" button to get a free copy.