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Managing digital assets
In the information age, where is all the information being kept? Digital asset management systems are helping companies manage the massive amounts of data typical in any modern company.

Enterprises such as print or video production houses have always archived their original material for retrieval later, perhaps for reuse or resale. Today, more and more companies that once wouldn't have considered themselves media producers are acquiring large amounts of digital and non-digital material through their use of the Internet and digital technologies. Almost anyone can make use of sound files, video, and computer-generated graphics, or create their own, and this material is finding its way into promotion, internal business training, and all manner of communication methods and purposes.

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The need to store this data in a place that is easy to access and maintain has spurred the growth of digital assets management (DAM), which can be compared with keeping books in a central library. With a web-based DAM, files for any digital media can be stored, accessed, updated, shared, and added to from anywhere. These files, which are considered assets in the sense that they have monetary value, are kept protected as well. If necessary, strict security measures can be put in place, restricting access to the data.

The way DAM works is simple, and in many ways like a data warehouse. First, all the company's assets to be stored must of course be digitized. This can be a lengthy and even daunting process, but, once the initial work is done, it needn't be repeated. Material could include articles, logos, designs, taped audio, and photographs. Often, the individual pieces of content are part of a larger project that brought together text, captions, and many different kinds of media in different formats that are no longer connected. The DAM solution allows them to be brought together again if desired.

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This is possible through the use of metadata, similar to metatags used in web sites. The prefix meta pertains to an underlying definition or description, which is just what metadata is. It describes the stored data and uses XML to make finding and accessing material easier. Existing content has metadata assigned to it, then the content is converted if necessary, so that everything is in one usable format. This makes the distribution of the content to multiple users for a variety of purposes much easier. When new content is being created and a DAM solution is already in place, the creators of the content simply enter the descriptive metadata for it directly into the DAM system.

Both the content and metadata can be entered into the DAM solution either automatically as it is created or manually. The files go to different places for storage, however. In most cases, it's more convenient to store files such as video, which take up a lot of memory space, in an external database. An XML interface connects that database with the DAM solution itself, within which the smaller files and corresponding metadata are kept.

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Managing digital assets

Security is a concern in the case of valuable or copyrighted data and the DAM allows the enforcement of security measures through digital rights management (DRM). This is an application actually managed by DAM, as the parameters are entered here first. DRM then handles rights and permissions to the content so that strict control over who has access to it can be maintained.

Once the content has been digitized, converted to a single format, linked by metadata, and placed under DRM if desired, it's ready to be distributed. The company can safely and efficiently share or sell this material in pieces or completely reassemble projects, either internally or with other companies. The DAM solution is capable of interfacing with a variety of content-management tools for distribution over cable television, videotape, radio, cell phone, PDA, the Internet, or in print.

The success of any DAM solution depends on the manager of the system, who chooses standards and formats, nomenclature, and processes. The data identified in a DAM system must be understood by the people who want to use it, so they are able to access the material as the creator of the data intended it to be seen or heard. In other words, a system that can be understood and used by all parties concerned is necessary if the data is to have any real value in a DAM solution. The manager of the system also has to know what type of content can integrate with what type of technology to suit the needs of the customer.

Though a DAM solution is considered part of a company's workflow process in moving its digital assets from production to distribution, the solution has typically been separate from the process. A principal target of vendors today is the integration of the two. This is more difficult than it may seem at first glance, because every enterprise has its own unique workflow processes and production systems. The challenge will be to produce a DAM product that can customize itself according to the client's individual workflow conditions.

The vendors feel up to the challenge, it seems. According to the Yankee Group, DAM-related software spending will exceed $2 billion by 2003, up from $800 million today, and the number of vendors entering the market is increasing. The DAM needs of businesses will continue to increase as more digital media possibilities arise with the advent of technologies such as broadband. With so many players in the field, a common solution is bound to be developed.

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