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Building the (Data) Base

June 1999
Moving to new levels of digital asset management? Be sure to network and organize effectively to lay the foundation for an astute database.


Content manager. This is the latest descriptive to find its way onto your ever-clever corporate promotional materials. You are a general commercial printer, an innovative digital prepress provider—a digital content manager. Needless to say, your database capacity has, well, grown-up during this maturation from pure print provider to overall digital asset controller.

REALITY: You have only begun to investigate ways to bolster your database power to make the move from print provider to all-in-one print provider and digital asset manager. You are exploring digital asset management solutions and calculating the most effective networking, server and asset management software tools.

When thinking about establishing or bolstering a database in a prepress environment—think of not just finding the data, but also retrieving it and processing it to produce pages.

A strong digital infra-structure is mandatory, before making the move from printer to content manipulator. In all instances, networking holds the key to building the kind of effective database that enables a commercial printer to evolve from a traditional print provider to a true digital asset management specialist.

One example: gigabit ethernet. Gigabit ethernet is fast becoming an industry standard—providing commercial printers with a backbone technology that provides significantly higher bandwidth capabilities, allowing the latest RIP workstations and workgroup servers to function faster.

Gigabit ethernet is a networking technology that, quite simply, allows a commercial printing operation to transfer digital data around its organization fast—at 1,000 mbps, in other words, 1,000 megabits or 1 million bits of data per second.

"Gigabit ethernet is going to be the great enabler of database technology," Heidelberg's Danny Kita, reports. At Heidelberg, Kita manages the Operations Analysis Group, which is the consulting arm of Heidelberg USA, where he is active in Wide Area and Local Area Network projects. "Because of the extra stress client/server operations put on the network, we have typically tried to avoid their use in prepress data networks—until recently."

The introduction of a database, which inherently works in client/server mode, however, necessitates increased bandwidth in order to avoid having a serious impact on production data flow, Kita contends. "Gigabit ethernet is arriving at just the right time to complement database technology developments—it will be an accelerant to the mainstream use of database technologies."

An alternative method, which Heidelberg's Kita believes the graphic arts will see in prepress networks in the near future, is to by-pass the main server completely. This is the thinking behind Storage Area Networks (SANs), based on fibre channel networking technology—a major boost to RAID storage. (See RAID report in this issue.)

"Productivity is a double-edged sword—computers help people produce more work faster, especially as hardware and software continually improve. But the flipside of productivity is managing the never-ending trail of digital files produced—an ocean of images, photographs, sound and movie files and more," notes Sioux Fleming, senior product marketing manager at Extensis.

"The time required to effectively organize files for quick retrieval at a later date unavoidably impacts the productivity gained by using faster tools," she says.

This dynamic is especially true of creative departments. A single creative project can include several executions saved in multiple formats. Everything must be saved "just in case" any of the assets need to be reused for future projects, and the entire creative workgroup must adhere to the same organizational scheme for it to work.

The complications of sharing and distributing digital files are not limited to the number of files and amount of employees needing access to the shared content. Technical issues involving sharing files over disparate computing systems —such as Windows and Macintosh platforms, the Inter/intra/extranet or WAN and LAN—further exacerbate the complexity.

A large majority of companies lose, misplace or simply cannot find these corporate assets. Industry reports from GISTICS have shown that up to 30 percent of artwork created could have been repurposed from earlier projects.

The result: Poor management of a company's assets greatly affects the company's bottom line.

The solution: centralized media asset management. As a result, a new software category has emerged to solve this expensive problem.

Digital media asset management is the process of thoroughly tracking and managing an organization's burgeoning catalog of images, text, sound, movies and other files, as well as efficiently distributing these digital assets to all necessary parties. In this scenario, each user can access the same set of files through a centralized catalog. Users can view thumbnails of each asset in the catalog and quickly drag-and-drop them to copy the file to the local hard drive. This eliminates the need for groups to continually ask one group for any specific file.

At Extensis, the market strength of Extensis Portfolio lies in its ability to integrate with a company's existing workflow and knowledge system. For example, Portfolio 4.0 allows for complete workflow integration with unlimited, customizable database fields and the ability to execute AppleScript and VB Script commands on Portfolio catalogs.

"Today, media asset management enforces a consistent workflow," says Fleming. "This means that organizations spend less time reinventing and hunting for files and more time focusing on productive tasks."

Getting Organized . . .

For good measure, prior to instituting any digital asset management system or investing in a system-bolstering networking technology, do some housekeeping.

Looking to bolster that database? Again, do some housekeeping. Preparation is the key to a successful start to building a database.

Catalog all Compacts
If a large collection of commercial stock photography is on CD, make a master catalog of all of it. Almost every commercial stock CD contains some sort of program to index it, but if the user has to insert each CD to see what it contains, that doesn't help much. If the CD already has a catalog on it, the user can copy records to a master catalog without the need to recatalog. This process will preserve the key wording and other content vendor data. If the CDs have no index, the user should catalog the images folders into the master catalog.

Organize the Past
If there is a large volume of legacy digital assets that are either not currently digitized—or are digitized, but the data associated with them is not—don't get bogged down with the sheer volume of the past. The best asset management strategy may be to organize everything from today forward. If it will take weeks or months to scan and enter the relevant data from the last 10 years, either don't catalog it, or plan a way to add older assets in reverse order, from present to past, as time and resources permit.

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