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Viva la DAM Revolution!

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Eric Fulmer, VP Operations & Strategic Growth at Capture Integration, shares his fourth and final exclusive article in this series with WhichPLM. Eric first explored the challenges for visual content production in a multi-channel world, then closing the data “black hole” of visual content production, and the need for modern production and approval workstreams. Now he looks at the future of Digital Asset Management for fashion brands.

Digital Asset Management has been an industry term for two decades. As the digital revolution grew and generated huge numbers of digital files to manage, the number of DAM providers and products has grown exponentially. But in many ways, DAM solutions have failed to mature with the rapidly changing world around them.

DAM architecture has been based on the core assumption of relatively static final assets that are preserved in a repository for leveraging by various stakeholders in the organization over an extended period. The desire to manage hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of “dumb assets” (relatively devoid of metadata at ingest point) required an extremely top heavy approach that focused on taxonomy, structure, establishing standards and appointing rigorous “gatekeepers” who protect the DAM repository from becoming corrupted by non-compliant assets. The DAM was designed like a “net,” with the goal to “trap” assets in the repository to be locked down and controlled. Unfortunately, all this bureaucracy around the DAM also serves to impede a production process that is challenged to accelerate like never before.

In the last decade, the fashion world has become all about asset velocity. Many assets have a value lifespan of six months or less to an organization. In this environment, a giant “vault” of static assets is really the wrong conceptual model.

Rather, think of fashion assets as always in motion and in transition. They are on a journey, not standing still. And when you visualize the lifespan of assets this way, it becomes quite clear that the static repository concept is often a poor fit for the “fast content” world of fashion.

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This brings us back to the concept of “smart assets” as a means to turn the traditional DAM paradigm on its head. Instead of building bigger, heavier walls around dumb assets, we build a racetrack for smart assets to travel on.

The “smart assets” concept is actually a direct parallel to smart cars. In the past, cars required a human operator to do everything manually – steer, accelerate, brake, signal, navigate. A smart car can be programmed to a destination and it will go there on its own. Likewise, a dumb asset requires a human operator to do everything manually – load, save, move, name, and apply knowledge of the asset (metadata). A smart asset can navigate its own path, with the help of smart applications and some very simple “triggering” utilities between them.

The rise of interoperability standards across web applications such as REST APIs have given birth to an explosion of innovative ways to link together applications that were traditionally siloed. Anyone that has played with tools such as IFTTT (If This Then That) has seen an inkling of where fashion’s approach to digital asset management must go. 

The days of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a DAM that represents a series of compromises for each stakeholder group, ultimately becoming a “jack of all trades, master of none,” are waning. The future is a conveyor belt of low cost, nimble applications that work in conjunction with smart assets to automate and accelerate end-to-end asset production and delivery.

What does this future look like? Here’s a sneak peek at some capabilities for visual content production that exist today, but have not been fully leveraged due to a lack of integration between siloed corporate systems as well as smart assets to drive the “back half” of the workflow:

  1. The asset lifecycle begins with merchants identifying the products that are planned for the upcoming season(s) within a PIM/PLM.
  2. Merchant line/assortment data flows to the creative production team via data feed.
  3. Digital creative briefs flow in from various stakeholders that want content for their projects, and are managed via a collaborative project/task management system that keeps all stakeholders updated on the status of production workstreams.
  4. The creative team develops their visual asset production plan based on visibility to both line/assortment data and creative brief requests.
  5. As assets are created, they are automatically tagged with extensive product, season/timing, usage rights, creative and channel data, while the capture team works in their chosen tool (e.g. Phase One Capture One), on a local machine.
  6. Selects are made by Art Directors, sending a smaller subset of smart assets into the collaborative review/approval phase (retaining the rest as potential alternates for a fixed period of time before auto-deletion or archiving).
  7. Collaborative review/approval phase automatically presents each asset to the correct stakeholders, in the correct process order, based on the channel(s) of usage defined within each smart asset. Comments and mark-ups are made from any device, and stay with the asset as new layers.
  8. Assets that complete the review/approval phase are automatically delivered to post-production based on the type of asset (e.g. video assets go to a different team than photo assets), and are automatically prioritized for post-production work based on season/timing metadata in the asset. The post production team can see all the information they need to do their work in their chosen tool (e.g. Adobe Creative Cloud) without referring to other tools.
  9. After post production, the asset is automatically routed to a final review/approval process, or directly to the channels of delivery, based on the business rules established for the channel metadata in the asset.
  10. As with traditional DAM, accessibility to the final asset is determined by the usage rights metadata in the asset, and users with proper permissions can access and locate the asset based on any combination of product, season/timing, usage rights, creative and channel data in the asset metadata. However, this intelligence is now provided by the asset at ingest point, not via a convoluted process of coordinating manual tagging and organization by a group of overburdened users.

I hope this series of articles has inspired some of you to look at your creative production process in a new light, and see the exciting potential of a more modern approach to the digital asset lifecycle.

*For readers wishing to follow Eric’s work, more will be posted to the ShotFlow content page in due course. 

Eric Fulmer Eric Fulmer has been a pioneer in digital photography and digital asset workflow since the early 1990s when he joined Fuji’s Digital Imaging Division, where he worked with major corporations and cultural institutions including The Smithsonian Institution and The Metropolitan Museum of Art as they adopted digital workflows. Later, Eric worked with leading photography studios at both Leaf and Phase One, pioneers in digital capture systems and image processing workflows. He has led DAM integrations at major government institutions and played multiple roles in a startup SaaS platform vendor providing end-to-end creative production solutions for the world’s largest fashion and retail brands. He now leads the software team at Capture Integration, developing the ShotFlow One visual content production platform.