All Over the DAM Place

By Edward Cone Print this article Print

Digital asset management isn't just for media companies.

One of the biggest digital-asset management programs is under way at the world's largest automaker. General Motors' Media Archives Group is digitizing a century's worth of marketing and advertising material that helped build and maintain brands ranging from Cadillac to Chevrolet. The trove includes more than 3 million images, 2,000 films, 10,000 video masters and a quarter-million other files. Employees around the world and across corporate divisions now can access the archive via a Web browser.

Beyond the boost to GM's huge marketing and advertising efforts, digital-asset management software has helped drive licensing income by making it easier to get high-quality images to customers such as toy makers.

While media and publishing companies have been notable early adopters, firms from other industries also are getting their feet wet in using the technology. Other users include large banks, retailers, and health-care companies. "Companies want to manage not just images and video but all kinds of documents and reports that they publish," says Vice President David Lipsey of Artesia (See "Dossier"), the company that supplied GM's asset management software.

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That includes high-tech manufacturer National Semiconductor, which makes things that power other things, such as chipsets for wireless phones. In order to market its wares, the $2.5 billion high-tech manufacturer needs to use images not just of its own products but also of the products into which they can go. Since late 2001, the chipmaker has been using digital-asset management software to handle those images.

"Our salespeople and customers can get an update of what, say, our wireless department is doing," says Andy Aronson, a project manager producer for the Santa Clara, Calif., company. The marketing people for wireless can publish electronic updates to their catalog that incorporate high-quality digital images. "We could include some schematics and block diagrams and lots of beauty shots of the cell phones and PDAs and other products we enable but don't make."

The chipmaker is realizing its first returns on the technology via the same sort of efficiencies enjoyed by media companies, including scanning and distribution cost-savings, and increased worker productivity. So far, savings are counted in tens of thousands of dollars per year, Aronson says, "but the potential is much higher." On the revenue side, better and more timely marketing could someday help drive sales of existing products.

National Semiconductor has been using digital asset management software from Atlanta-based MediaBin to support marketing and public relations since the third quarter of 2001. About 75 people, mostly power users on the sales and marketing staffs, use the system, along with a small number of vendors that can pull up images to see what chipsets fit their products. So far, the vendors aren't using the images for serious design work, but that could change after a planned upgrade this year allows access to high-resolution drawings.

Like General Motors, Coca-Cola has a long history of memorable promotions for its world-famous brand. Coke has converted 116 years of archived material to digits. Some of its iconic ads feature Santa, polar bears and former pro-football player Mean Joe Greene.

"We have advertising, posters, television commercials, and also documents such as press releases, executive memoranda and speeches," says Phil Mooney, director of Coke's archives. Included are more than 9,000 graphical images, more than 7,000 documents and more than 25,000 TV ads and corporate videos.

The need to manage this trove of historical assets made the system, live for about 20 months, an easy sell when Mooney proposed it to management as a way to safeguard Coke's legacy and propagate its brand recognition. "They chose between letting the legacy sit on the shelf and paying to preserve it, or taking a proactive stance."

Rather than buying a commercial digital-asset management product, Coke—which has a strong in-house development team—wrote a lot of its own code to run on an IBM content management platform. (IBM makes Content Manager, which stores and tracks content, but does not make a digital asset management product that allows that content to be reformatted in the system.) "We went with IBM's product because of IBM's global scale—we're a big company, too," says Mooney.

Here, too, the first payoff has been efficiency. "Sometimes ROI is in what you don't spend, and in keeping people from reinventing the wheel," says Mooney.

In Coke's global business, a manager in one country can see how a particular brand was introduced in the U.S. years ago. The team working on an ad campaign for the upcoming Olympics in Athens can view spots from previous Olympic campaigns, along with relevant press kits and presentations. "You can look at ROI by simply considering the value of having this tool out there," says Mooney. "You are giving people instant access to 116 years of information, instead of having them come to Atlanta to sit in a library for two or three days. That gets very expensive if you are working with agencies."

Licensing digital assets to create merchandise to be sold at retail may produce revenue, as well. Already, consumers buy stuff with historical or nostalgic themes—Coca-Cola trays, calendars, ornaments and so on—at stores like Wal-Mart. Giving its partners, including bottlers and licensees, access to the full archive of sentimental favorites could lead to new T-shirts, beach towels and other items that commandeer some hitherto forgotten image.

Says Mooney, "We want to drive the revenue stream from the image library." Converted into digital assets, those iconic Coke bottles held by flappers, GIs and Norman Rockwell kids could launch a thousand products.

This article was originally published on 2003-02-01
Senior Writer and author of the Know It All blog

Ed Cone has worked as a contributing editor at Wired, a staff writer at Forbes, a senior writer for Ziff Davis with Baseline and Interactive Week, and as a freelancer based in Paris and then North Carolina for a wide variety of magazines and papers including the International Herald Tribune, Texas Monthly, and Playboy. He writes an opinion column in his hometown paper, the Greensboro News & Record, and publishes the semi-popular EdCone.com weblog. He lives in North Carolina with his wife, Lisa, two kids, and a dog.
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