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Making a Case for XMP Data

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XMP Data headerHere, E-Spec shares another exclusive article with WhichPLM. In this instalment President, Dan Hudson, makes a case for XMP Data. Dan shares three case studies with us, in an attempt to help visualize how XMP metadata can solve issues and assist users in their daily processes. 

My articles that discuss the use of Adobe’s XMP metadata standard have ignited great conversations, but users have a hard time visualizing how this technology will solve their issues or assist them in their day-to-day processes. This post will cover real life examples of how companies have implemented XMP to work with their existing environments; meaning companies could leverage existing technologies and make small changes that give a big impact in managing data and improving business processes. These examples are composites of companies with the same approach rather than an individual company (no trade secrets will be revealed).

File-based Process Case Study

In the first case, the only business system in place is an ERP system; Illustrator is being used for sketches, images and technical drawings. Excel is used for measurement charts and Word for instructions and various documents. The BOMs are created in the ERP system. E-mail is the main communication method.  There is an internal website being used for marketing and sales presentations as well. The issues the companies were facing include organizing all of these files, keeping the content current and accurate, managing long e-mail chains and change management.

The users were keeping files in a shared network location, organized by folders and sub-folders. While this helped in finding the files, the hierarchy of the folder structure was not kept consistent. Some users created the sub-folders in a different order than others; naming conventions were not always followed. Files wound up in the wrong location causing duplicates to be created in the correct folder.

Users also maintained multiple images in the same Illustrator file. They exported these images manually to the folder hierarchy as required. Sometimes the file was edited and they didn’t remember to re-export each image from the file. This caused image content to be out of date in some locations, which meant the wrong images being used, and caused costly mistakes.

The solution consists of using tools to automate the multiple images being separated in the single AI file, collect validated metadata when saving the AI file, and introducing a file sharing application – in this case Dropbox.  Looking at the existing folder structure as well as the structure contained in the ERP, a metadata schema was identified. The fields and their relationship were defined. In this case Style Number and Season created a unique identifier.  Company, Division, Collection, Product Type and Gender were all fields being used in the folder hierarchy. Other fields of interest include Body Color, Size Range, Wholesale Price, Designer, Tech Designer and Business Manager. We also added a field for Image Type to help in automating the processes.

With this solution in place, when a user saves the AI file to a “target” location, a dialog is presented to collect the XMP metadata. Some of the fields use default values to minimize user keystrokes (if this user always works in the Men’s division, the division field can default to Men’s). Some fields are “validated”; only values from a selection list are allowed. Some of the fields are “required”; the save will not be completed without a value being entered. This provides the data for the tools to correctly place the files created during the save in the correct location.

The AI file is stored in the “target location” but the JPGs and PNGs are saved in alternative locations. The JPGs are used by the ERP system to allow images to be included in reports. The PNGs are accessible to the internal Web Master to provide accurate product images for the marketing/sales internal website. In both cases the folder/sub-folder structure is driven by the XMP metadata, providing consistency for easy user access.  When the user later edits the AI file, all the related files are updated in their locations so all images are kept in sync. The BOM from the ERP is exported to a file that is also saved in the folder hierarchy.

The Excel and Word files are saved as PDFs and tagged with XMP metadata as well. These files can be included in the file structure to provide a complete data set for the vendors. The folder structure is created such that a lower portion of the tree can be “published” to Dropbox and shared with the vendors. The vendor sees in their Dropbox a set of folders categorized by collection/product type, with a “style” folder that contains the images, measurement specs, instructions and BOM all in one location. (Note: Google Docs has also been used for this type of collaboration)

Everyone has access to up-to-date images and files. With access to the most current and up-to-date information, fewer mistakes are made and, therefore, it is less costly to get the products made right.

Digital Asset Management Case Study

In the second case, the company adds the use of a Digital Asset Management (DAM) system. DAM systems “catalog” XMP metadata within its system allowing assets to be searched and organized by the XMP metadata without “moving” the asset. In our case the images and files remain in the folder hierarchy but are now accessible via the DAM system as well as the Mac Finder or Windows Explorer. DAM systems implement “Smart Galleries” or searches; meaning as assets are cataloged, they are added to Smart Galleries based on their XMP metadata. As a user I can define my search or Smart Gallery and any new images with matching metadata will appear in my gallery.

Most DAM systems allow remote access (based on permissions), so while a Dropbox solution is still an option, the DAM system can be used to “push” files and data to the vendors, usually via a website or portal. We have seen companies use a combination of technology to address the needs of its vendor base.

The DAM system is also used for additional images from other departments. As samples are received and photographed, XMP metadata is used to catalog these images as well. Now images for e-commerce and marketing are accessible via the DAM. With common metadata users and systems now have access to the entire set of images and files. It is now possible to leverage the XMP metadata across systems and departments because the metadata creates a common index for access. Data and images can be pulled into linesheets and catalogs based on the XMP values.

Product Lifecycle Management Extension Case Study

In our third and final example the companies also have a “full blown” PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) system. Many of these PLM systems include Adobe integrations; these integrations embed the images within the system and also integrate PLM data into the Adobe files. Our tools have little or no impact on these integrations. Our approach adds the advantages of XMP metadata to the PLM solution. We also generate the alternative file formats (with XMP) for the other systems and users. PLM systems still generate “external” files. Some vendors still require a file to be provided; some contracts want the product specifications included. In most cases these files are PDFs and XMP can be used to manage them.  The “validated” folder hierarchies are still available. Metadata can still be used by “Smart Galleries”. Other departments and images can still be included in the solution.  Dropbox and Google Docs still have a place in the enterprise. Since the XMP metadata identifies unique records within the PLM system, integration, reporting and publishing of “joint dataset” becomes a reality.

This approach actually extends the PLM system’s reach to additional users and departments. Photography, marketing, e-commerce, customer service, in-store graphics; all users can now find not only files and images but the actual PLM data as well. XMP leverages the product data for the entire enterprise.

The audience for this post consists of visual people; if you want to better understand the value of XMP metadata in your particular situation, E-Spec will be running a webinar on the subject. Look out for the announcement soon.

Lydia Mageean Lydia Mageean has been part of the WhichPLM team for over six years now. She has a creative and media background, and is responsible for maintaining and updating our website content, liaising with advertisers, working on special projects like the Annual Review, and more.Joining mid-2013 as our Online Editor, she has since become WhichPLM’s Editor. In addition to taking on writing and interviewing responsibilities, Lydia has also become the primary point of contact for news, events, features and other aspects of our ever-growing online content library and tools.