Guru Talk: Greg Crowson – RE/MAX

Digital Asset Management Specialist

Having spent the past 7 years in the DAM industry, working with Sports Authority and RE/MAX, Crowson understands that in order to achieve success, you must never stop learning.

What companies/organizations have you worked for as a DAM professional? What was your role at each?

Sports Authority Corporate Headquarters: When I accepted the role of Digital Asset Manager at SA, the system they had in place consisted of a singular asset database that was nothing more than a repository for the still-image assets that were being used in the marketing materials. Over the 7 years I was there in the role of DAM, I expanded the system to consist of an image database, production layouts database, studio database, and swipes database. Each of these served a very different purpose, with access to each being determined by the role of the user.

With each of these databases, I developed and managed the workflows for the users. Image database: all final imagery ready for layout use in all marketing materials. Production Layout database: All live and archived project layout production files lived here. The teams would use a check in/out workflow in this database. Studio database: All pre-production imagery lived here that was shot by the studio. This is where all imagery that was approved for final production would follow a digital edit and mark-up notes process. Also, all imagery here followed a color coding system that would communicate the status of an image visually for multiple users at one time, thus eliminating the need to generate an email requesting a status or update. Custom metadata fields communicated all pertinent information that described any/all production projects each asset was being used in.

RE/MAX World Headquarters: I accepted the role of Digital Asset Manager at RE/MAX World Headquarters in January 2014 after they reached out to me expressing a desire to make the jump from Final Cut Server, which is no longer supported, to a new DAM/MAM system that would allow them to replace FCS as well as incorporate multiple departments within the company and introduce a new digital workflow methodology. This project is still evolving and is in the vendor interview process.

How do you describe digital asset management to others?

I describe DAM to others as a very exciting world that allows you to streamline mundane workflows of the past so that we can work more efficiently and effortlessly from day to day. DAM offers us infinite options when it comes to how we address the needs of the modern workplace. Every company is unique, which is what makes the world of DAM so exciting. I love how organic DAM is and how it can be molded to be whatever it is you need it to be.

How did you learn DAM? Any recommended sources?

I was a self taught DAM guy. My background was in publishing, advertising, 3-d animation, and business management. When the person in the position of the DAM left SA, they were in the process of deciding how to move forward with it. I stepped up and offered a vision and understanding that they were very impressed with. So began my journey into the DAM world. We used a third party resource for our support of the system in place there and I learned so much from them over the 7 years I was there. I actually got so good at supporting it, the only time our third party support personnel would come in is when we were performing a major update on the system.  Recommended sources: I read—a lot! I am always digging thru DAM blogs reading about new trends, etc. I have found the DAM professional community to be one of the most supportive and welcoming communities I have ever worked with. I have met many professionals that have always been so willing to listen to me and give me advice over the years.

What’s the most important thing for someone new to DAM to understand about DAM?

DAM is not something that you just open the box, put in a disc, install and it is all good to go. DAM requires you to be extremely engaged within a company. You have to really form those bonds with the users of the DAM; intimately understand and know their needs and wants. Then do what is needed to find a resolve. It doesn’t matter how amazing you think the DAM is if your users do not adopt it into their everyday workflows. That is what I put first and foremost daily. I remind myself, it is never about what I want; is always about what the users want. I am just there to manage the system in the way that best fits the company needs.

If you weren’t doing DAM as a career, what would you be doing?

Working with non-profit humane education for animals groups. I currently do lots of work with some of these groups on the side in a freelance environment. If the day ever came that I was not doing DAM work. I would probably just pursue that full time and focus on helping animals in need. Yes, I am an animal lover. They are the single unconditional element we can have in our lives today.

What is your ongoing greatest challenge with DAM?

Adoption is the biggest challenge any DAM professional must face on a daily basis. The modern workplace has such a diverse culture that exists. Eventually, the generations of the pure digital world will make DAM very easy to adopt into environments. But right now, it is very much a challenge to get people that come from the era of “I need to print out everything” and “I like my folders on my desktop” scenarios to shift and allow a system to manage and communicate the needs of the modern workplace. Older generations tend to struggle with the shift of letting a system do the work for you. Not sure if it is a relevancy thing or what. We all remain relevant no matter what. In my opinion, a DAM allows us to show just how much more relevant we can be as individuals in a workplace.

What is your vision for DAM? What will it look like in 5 years?

My vision for DAM is to see it move out of the workplace and into the home environment. We all have such large digital footprints now and, with the advent of all the cloud services, why not introduce a scaled down DAM that works with the cloud services for personal use? In 5 years, I think DAM will be a common as Microsoft Word. We are already seeing such a shift so quickly with DAM beginning to encompass video, workflow automation, analytics, etc. Within 5 years, the DAMs that are simply a repository will not exist or be relevant. I am not even sure if the term DAM will be relevant in 5 years. I think it will be more of a MEP system, Marketing Execution Platform.

What was your biggest mistake with regard to DAM?

Not listening; rather pushing what I wanted because it was my vision. That was my biggest mistake many years ago. That is why I say now, “it is never about what I want; but always about what will be work for the users of the system.”

What was your biggest success with regard to DAM?

My biggest success with regard to DAM would be that, in a 7 year period, I went from not knowing anything about DAM to being at a pretty knowledgeable level about DAM, and understanding the function of DAM at such a level that a global company like RE/MAX reached out to the DAM community for guidance and a reference of who they should look at to fulfill this task I have now taken on. And the DAM community gave them my name. From that they tracked me down. I am pretty proud of that. Lets me know I have earned a level of professional respect in the DAM community.

What more would you like to learn about DAM?

I would love to learn more about integrating and automating workflows, distribution, analytics within DAM. One thing I hear more and more is how can we automate workflows, how can we track projects so we can understand where things are stalling in the process. I have always found the UI development of DAM to be so intriguing and would love to see it simplified to a more commonsense approach. DAM systems have a really bad habit of being too techy, we need to get away from that as much as possible, at least on the front end. I think that is where I excel the most, the creation of the process and how it needs to run. That is where I would love to learn more.

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Guru Talk: Marc Andreu Valls – Imagina US

Media Manager DirectorSimilar to a logistics director in a transportation company, Marc Andreu Valls understands the importance of using the least amount of resources to maximize return on an efficiently designed digital asset management system for maximum benefit.

What companies/organizations have you worked for as a DAM professional? What was your role at each?

I have always worked in DAM ever since I started my career, although it was only after TV broadcasts became digital that I became conscious of it. In 1997, I organized the archives of a company known as Mediapark, which at the time was broadcasting 9 TV channels; I was taking my first steps at DAM. We were performing tape-ins and outs, creating workflows for dubbing and post-production, we recycled tapes, etc. Everything was DAM then, except for the fact that the files didn’t occupy gigabytes, but hundreds of meters of shelves instead.

In 2004, during the Forum Barcelona 2004 I worked for the first time in a DAM environment applied to the TV industry. That particular one was maybe one of the most global pieces of DAM software that I have ever known. The Digition Suite platform from Activa Multimedia allowed setting up the assets’ behavior, i.e. the category to which they belonged, their filling process and their purging. So, the storage shelves had transformed into gigabyte-sized file collections, and I had gone from being an archivist to an audiovisual document archivist.

My professional career as an audiovisual librarian went on until 2008, when I arrived at Gol Television to be in charge of the documentation department. At first, we were to be only in charge of archiving and analyzing the media. Nevertheless, our own force of habit, and the boost of a production center—which received up to forty-five sports events a week—made us the actual operations’ center. Thousands of files were sailing through a variety of traffic systems (GREC MAP), ingest (EVS), production (EVS), post-production (AVID), and archive (TEDIAL Tarsys). So without realizing, I had become a Media Manager. Currently I hold the position of Media Services and Media Managing Director at Imagina US—a position in which I try to optimize working processes in a working environment, where a number of data flows, each one of them with a different complexity and duration, coexist.

How do you describe digital asset management to others?

I usually compare my position with a logistics director in a transportation company who must employ the minimum number of trucks to transport the maximum volume of cargo to different distances in the shortest possible time, with the lowest fuel consumption possible and no waste generated. Of course, all the trucks must have a number plate and we must know exactly in which point of the route they are located. The difficult part in my case is the number of trucks, which can easily reach several million. And if each route is not properly marked, it is easy that the trucks get lost, get stuck in a warehouse, and loose the value of their cargo; or simply that it takes too much time for them to reach their destination, which represents an absolute disaster in the television business.

How did you learn DAM? Any recommended sources?

I believe that my social sciences methodology classes taught me precisely that: how to be methodical. The rest I owe to the contributions from more skilled people than me, and to my own experiences in the startup of a number of stations and television productions.

My recent arrival to the United States has revealed the endless DAM possibilities applied at very different fields, a part from the only field that I knew until now.

What’s the most important thing for someone new to DAM to understand about DAM?

I believe that a good balance between the rules and their timely execution must be observed. The most brilliant ideas, when badly performed and added to an environment that does not believe in your DAM and therefore uses it the wrong way, eventually leads you to failure, regardless of how good your DAM is. On the other hand, some other great systems, considered brilliant at a certain time, may that lack the flexibility required to adapt to constant changes, which eventually can make them become a problem instead of a solution.

If you weren’t doing DAM as a career, what would you be doing?

I would be doing any other thing that would keep my mind awake and wasn’t too repetitive. I find it hard to get up every morning if there is no little challenge to take.

What is your ongoing greatest challenge with DAM?

In my field, the most important challenges normally involve the integration of different kinds of software, as it is very difficult to find someone who decides to start a new TV project by acquiring all the licenses and software from the same manufacturer. But even this way, many manufacturers that foster different teams of developers under the same brand, are unable to overcome important deficiencies concerning the integration of their own products.

What is your vision for DAM? What will it look like in 5 years?

Every time we see more possibilities of overcoming old hierarchies concerning data relationships. Maybe future systems will be capable of grouping concepts without the direct command of a human.

In my professional field, I hope to be able to see an important evolution in data and task automation and integration among the different areas of TV production.

What was your biggest mistake with regard to DAM?

Having used obsolete mindsets for modern times, I see the archives as places where we dropped hundreds of pieces of content that may not be useful again. As of now, the only action of storing unnecessary information can lead to terrible results in concerning costs and agility of our system. Today we shouldn’t worry about eternal durability of data, but about the amount of time during which we’ll need to store an asset in order for it to be profitable to us. We may need it forever, but we need to take into account that maybe not.

What was your biggest success with regard to DAM?

What is important is to be effective in the time balance of metadata introduction and in the real need of its later recovery. Some projects favor the belief that the more information an asset can provide, the easier to be recovered it will be. However, once the indexation processes start, one realizes that there is not enough staff to fill in so many fields, and that the future clients of the information are not using even half of such data. Therefore, it is imperative to find the right balance that allows us to use the exact level of data accuracy that will allow us to obtain the maximum performance at the minimum cost.

What more would you like to learn about DAM?

Practically everything. I have opened a window and I have seen many people discussing and arguing about things that I have learnt by myself through my own experience alone. Only seeing how DAM is used in a huge variety of processes from different fields whets my appetite voraciously for knowledge in this particular area.

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Guru Call: USA

Looking for a Guru in NY, USA. Member is a media conservator for a private collection of time-based media art, such as film, analog video, and digital video.

Member is currently working towards implementing a collection management system and DAMS, preferably integrated such that our digital assets and their metadata can be linked and related to corresponding artwork records. They are also interested in eventually implementing a website that is integrated with these systems such that content can be pushed from the DAMS to the web.

Member has been researching DAMS and database systems in depth, but feels that some technical expertise is needed to better guide the final decision.

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Guru Talk: Nick Pozek – Asia Society

Digital Strategy Manager

With a profound respect for the informational dimension of DAM, Pozek has learned that having a mentor is invaluable in connecting technology with culture to find the best solutions.

What companies/organizations have you worked for as a DAM professional? What was your role at each?

I’ve worked primarily in the nonprofit sectors and largely with cultural organizations both as internal staff and as an external consultant. Recently, I’ve joined the team at Asia Society where I manage digital strategy in the museum division.

How do you describe digital asset management to others?

I like to draw parallels between DAM and other types of asset management. Whether it’s financial assets, physical assets, retail inventory, or human resources, the goal is to take what you have and leverage it the most effective and sustainable way.

How did you learn DAM? Any recommended sources?

I had the benefit of finding a knowledgeable and patient mentor in a former supervisor, Will Real, at Carnegie Museum of Art. Will helped me to understand not just the information architecture dimensions of DAM, but also the human factors to consider. I can’t speak highly enough about the value of having a mentor. It’s easy to find whitepapers and technical information on DAM best practices, but understanding how to align the technology with the culture and values of a specific industry requires special insight. Having a mentor to help you understand that alignment in a procedural way makes it not only easier to find the best solution , but also to articulate its value in a way that has traction with your colleagues.

What’s the most important thing for someone new to DAM to understand about DAM?

If you’re implementing a DAMS, conducting discovery and gathering requirements are going to be critical and are worth investing the time to do correctly. The key to this process is a very careful and comprehensive audit of the systems in place. Org charts tell you surprisingly little about how assets are used and shared. Digital assets can be subject to a formal review process for publication with a rigid list of necessary departmental approvals, but they can also have internal uses that aren’t documented. In order to create an effective system, you have to talk to everyone and ask questions until you get a complete picture.

What is your ongoing greatest challenge with DAM?

Adoption of a new system can be rough for everyone involved. It takes a lot of planning to roll out the system and get the users onboard. Generally, there are going to be some users that are change-resistant and skeptical of the new system. But there are going to be others that are eager to finally have a tool to improve their workflow. For the first group, you have to cultivate buy-in without overpromising. For the second group, you have to manage expectations without tampering enthusiasm.

What is your vision for DAM? What will it look like in 5 years?

I think the next big step is going to be a better solution for dealing with the inevitable intermingling of personal and professional assets. With digital property becoming much more portable, our understanding of intellectual property becoming more nuanced, and the firewall between our personal and professional lives becoming all the more tenuous, it’s clear that systems need to evolve to accommodate these changes. Probably the best example of a response to this shift was last year’s trend of dual-identity smartphones. I would expect a number of similar solutions in the DAM space to emerge over the next few years.

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Guru Call: USA

Looking for a Guru in CA, USA. Member is working on updating company’s digital file specs that they require from vendors.

Currently they require photographers to provide the following: 16 bit RGB High res TIFFs, low res JPGs for viewing/comping as well as RAW camera files, and as a result are required to archive thousands of images from shoots, which is causing problems with space and timing from processing. Member uses Xinet.

Member would like to rewrite the specs, and is seeking current best practices for file storage.

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Guru Talk: David Nguyen – Amazon & Zulily

Catalog Specialist II

The perspective that an “asset” is simply the product of any one human thought has helped shape the way in which Nguyen successfully approaches digital asset management for a variety of companies.

What companies/organizations have you worked for as a DAM professional? What was your role at each?

I found a real focus and understanding of DAM as a Photo Studio Supervisor at Academy Sports + Outdoors. My role started by managing, and then to organizing and apply metadata to all images used throughout the creative services department.  It eventually grew to encompass the upgrade and development of their digital asset management system from being a mere image repository to an enterprise encompassing asset handling lifecycle. Recently I completed a short stint working at Amazon for their streaming instant video service. I helped launch their service in Japan, Germany, and the UK. Currently I am working as a Photo Studio Supervisor for zulily.com and hope to take my experience and apply it to a rapidly growing company with similar results.

How do you describe digital asset management to others?

Rather than describe my role, I describe the value created and lost from anything a company creates but does not retain. I describe to others that DAM is not a software or a service, but a living breathing system that provides people access and gives an organization control. There is potential value to all human thought and an “asset” is simply the product of any one of those thoughts.  Whether your goal is to maximize the value of an image created for advertising, or reducing the cost of creating new images, DAM concepts give an organization the tools to execute these goals of efficiency.

What’s the most important thing for someone new to DAM to understand about DAM?

DAM is not just images and metadata but anything that can be created and stored. Images, logos, layouts, copy, code, video or anything else that can be recorded and stored. It is important to develop the scope of what an organization needs or ever will need. It is important to understand how those assets are created, stored, used and expired.  I believe it is important to take a holistic approach in developing rules and processes that should be employed.

What is your ongoing greatest challenge with DAM?

The capturing of accurate data and the marrying of this to assets will always be a time consuming challenge. Learning how to standardize the import and application of metadata reduces work hours and allows for scalability. Importing vendor assets and the accompanying metadata can be messy but developing the right fields and integrated systems continues to be a challenge.

What is your vision for DAM? What will it look like in 5 years?

My vision for DAM is a modular set of systems that can fulfill the needs of different organizations but capture the use of assets and marry that with performance data.  I imagine a future where DAM systems become hubs of information, providing data and project management tools to help creative departments. I hope that one can eventually capture the effort expended to create new assets and marry that with effectiveness data.

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