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Digital Asset Management--Lessons in Asset Architecture

September 1998

Asset management is a field which, in a few years time, the industry might refer to as one that virtually exploded onto the scene and introduced a surplus of young technology providers and tools to a marketplace that was, in many ways, still figuring out exactly what it wanted to do with its digital assets.

There are easily more than 75 asset managers currently positioned firmly in the graphic arts. Some cater specifically to digital assets in a variety of commercial prepress departments, some focus strictly on catalog production, some on manipulation of content in large-scale newspapers and others offer data traffic patterns for editorial management in textbook printing environments, highly automated Web site design and management, and the storage and retrieval of video and still images.

Despite all of the technological nuances of each individual member of the growing field of digital asset managers, a common thread binds all asset managers into one collective mass: Each must function in an overwhelmingly more digital printing environment, each must deliver efficient manipulation of media assets, and each must govern over the repurposing potential of all digital assets in question.

With such a comprehensive and seemingly overwhelming duty, it is no wonder the digital asset management market is about to burst with new players, enhanced tools and interesting collaborations between various companies. Graph Expo 98 next month should prove to be a clear indication of digital content management initiatives to come.

What to Do Now?
Steven A. Mines, president at Mines Press, struggled with that same question. In a typical year, Mines Press processes more than 90,000 orders for approximately 30,000 clients. Most of the company's work is two-color offset printing, although Mines does a tremendous amount of foil stamping and letterpress work as well.

"The work we do is typically of a higher quality and requires more custom design," Mines explains. "Because we do so much custom design and have a high rate of reorders, we prefer to save the images we've created rather than go to the trouble of recreating them each time a client reorders."

It is important to note that Mines Press generates all of its orders—primarily for the independent insurance industry—through direct mail and catalogs. Mines Press has no outside sales force and almost never sees a client face-to-face. Its product line includes stationery; accounting forms; insurance forms; marketing materials such as folders and brochures; calendars; and laminated wallet cards.

Currently Mines Press houses an image library of over 400,000 images, with most of the files in Macromedia Freehand and a healthy share in Quark and Photoshop. When Mines first ventured into digital storage, it used an Appleshare server and filed the jobs by client number.

"We used nested folders to keep everything in order and, for a while, this system seemed to work fairly well," Mines explains. "As the library grew, we began to exceed the capabilities of Appleshare, specifically the 32,000 files/volume limitation. We began to suffer disk problems and poor performance accessing the server."

At that point, Mines Press did all the things that most printers do in a similar digital asset crisis; it looked to ethernet, larger disks, faster servers, and so on. "We ended up with an NT server, scads of RAM and some very big disks," Mines reports.

Only then did Mines realize that his printing firm's problems were not limited to hardware. Mines Press had a workflow problem. "Even if we knew where a job was, it was tedious to drill down through three or four layers of folders to get it," Mines recalls.

Shopping for Software
So the shopping began. Within a few months, Mines Press began to test the asset management waters, making the decision to try out Canto Software's Cumulus on one of its product lines.

The company's first experience with the program was unsuccessful because version 2.5 for Macintosh did not support Freehand as well as Mines would have liked. Version 3.0, on the other hand, had very robust support for Freehand 7 and 8, and it had some nifty Applescript tools.

"The introduction of Canto as a tool to manage our workflow completely changed the way we work. Rather than drilling down through nested folders, we find image files almost instantly by searching for part of the client ID number," Mines reports.

"Even lost files are easier to find because the query capabilities are so outstanding. We also make tremendous use of the program's ability to assign key words, which allows us to group items together during later stages of production without having to call up each file independently."

Dealing With the Cards
For example, Mines Press runs baseball cards 42-up on the same sheet. During the proofreading stage each card is assigned a lot number. When it comes time to plate the 42 jobs together, Canto allows Mines Press to query for any images with the same key word, a lot number in this case.

A different view of digital asset management can be seen from the prepress department at Toronto-based Quebecor Litho Plus (QLP), which organizes its assets with a tag-team approach using technologies from Bitstream and DataVation.

As one of the largest prepress facilities in Canada, Quebecor Litho Plus provides a full range of graphic arts services, ranging from creative services to scanning to page assembly and output. With 120 employees, the operation provides plate-ready film and digital files to printing plants across North America.

File management has always been a necessary part of Quebecor Litho Plus' prepress environment. The company acts as a repository site for the archiving of client files. Two years ago, company management began researching and developing applications in digital asset management.

"With the increase in volume of our CTP work, the need to store the resultant large digital files became an issue," reports David Ballantyne, manager of electronic applications at Quebecor Litho Plus.

Costly RAID
At the shop, a single page for a flyer, brochure or catalog could easily take up an additional 60MB of digital material for CTP files. Multiply that by 96 pages and the additional storage requirement for a single job can get a little intimidating.

"Because of the enormous capacities involved, RAID quickly became too costly and access to off-line storage, we feel, is too cumbersome, so we had to stage another platform for maintaining our massive digital files," Ballantyne explains.

In order to beef up its data storage resources and provide for these burgeoning archival and retrieval needs, the company installed a DataVast storage server from DataVation, configured with 500GB storage capacity.

DataVast is a self-contained solution incorporating an online disk cache and tape array controlled by a dedicated operating system and its own hardware. DataVast attaches directly to an ethernet network and delivers from 100GB to 1,600GB of scalable, non-compressed storage capacity.

From the new storage server, the prepress enterprise added MediaBank from Bitstream. Born in the days of Archetype, MediaBank is a collection of databases that gathers and maintains extra information about files on a network, keeping track of the physical location of any job or element. MediaBank now includes an optional module known as FullSearch—an embedded, professional-level search engine available in both the Workgroup and Enterprise editions.

Internet Enthusiasts
Most Quebecor Litho Plus customers prefer to use the Internet as a means of access to their data-bases, so the firm provides each digital asset management client with a customized procedure that provides assistance in keeping the database logical and organized so searches become simple tasks.

Quebecor Litho Plus personalizes the Web interface to match clients' corporate identity. The customized Web interface runs on top of MediaBank's Web interface. Users can browse, create lightboxes and baskets, download high- and low-res images, order files and upload files.

"At the end of each month, QLP accesses the MediaBank log files to generate reports. These reports are tailored for each client and provide information on monthly usage," explains Victor Imbrogno, digital asset administrator at Quebecor Litho Plus.

Get ready to see—or, like Quebecor Litho Plus, experience—more takes on the digital asset management craze, as the tools evolve to more complex levels.

Who's Managing What—And How?

New from Bitstream is MediaBank version 2.3.2, including an optional module known as FullSearch, an embedded, professional-level search engine available in both the Workgroup and Enterprise editions. FullSearch allows MediaBank users to perform full text searches on virtually any textual content stored in the key words database or in the cataloged files. MediaBank offers automatic generation of PDF, full text preview, check-in/check-out security, recording of multiple, concurrent edits and support for Windows.

Canto Software's latest offering of Cumulus, version 4.0, which began shipping in July, features multi-platform capabilities, remote administration of the server from any client workstation, cross-platform royalty-free browsing, new file formats and scripts, as well as QuickTime 3 support.

Cascade has recently been demonstrating workflow and asset management solutions for media-independent publishing. With products that span traditional print, CD and Web-based publishing, Cascade supports the retail, corporate and commercial markets.

Cascade's MediaSphere is a multimedia archive system for digital assets that is at the heart of an integrated print, Web and e-commerce publishing solution.

DALiM's GALERiE 3.0 has added virtual folders that allow users to keep the familiar file and folder organization, even when files have been moved to off-line storage. Virtual folders can be set up just like OS folders or directories, but can also have fields and can be searched for in the database. Text is automatically extracted from media and knowledge assets, and can be searched using a conceptual search engine.

Imation Publishing Software's Media Manager 1.0 for Apple Mac OS and Microsoft Windows NT is a scalable digital asset management tool that organizes text, image, sound, video, layout and other digitized media files. Media Manager catalogs and locates files from Mac OS and Windows workstations, while running on any ODBC-compliant database from the server platform.

Marcus Technology recently announced the development of iStore StorageLink, a solution for creating a seamless workflow from the tracking of online jobs to the migration to near-line tape or optical jukebox storage devices. The software migrates and retrieves files from tape and optical storage without causing any interruptions in the workflow structure.

iStore StorageLink software easily interfaces with North Plains' TeleScope and Imation's Media Manager, as well as Marcus Technology's WebDLMS product. The ability to submit a request for archive or restoring is done through the TeleScope or Media Manager client on Macintosh, or using Marcus Technology's WebDLMS product, which is a Web browser-based interface to TeleScope and Media Manager.

TeleScope 1.3, the latest offering from North Plains Systems, organizes, manages and archives images, graphics, sounds, movies, page layouts and Web files. TeleScope 1.3 has four major components: TeleScope Director, TeleScope Engine, TeleScope Quick- Drop and TeleScope Viewer.

North Plains also offers TeleScope.web, a seamless Web front end for TeleScope based on Marcus Technology's WebDLMS. TeleScope.web allows for file uploading and downloading from the Web.


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