Guru Talk: Spencer Harris – Men’s Wearhouse

Spencer Harris - Photo Systems Admin

According to Spencer, the ability to view a digital asset management system at both the macro and micro levels are key to a company’s long-term success with any DAM implementation.

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

I have been involved in the art of digital asset management since 2007 with my own photography company, which today focuses on high-end, luxury wedding clients. I also currently work as the Photo System Administrator for Men’s Wearhouse, which I have been involved with digital asset management since 2012.

With my own company I am responsible for ingesting, rating, adjusting, distributing, and displaying of assets. My imagery is not only displayed to my clients, but also to their wedding guests on the wedding day, on my website, and at trade shows. Annually I generate an average of 15,000 assets.

At Men’s Wearhouse I started working at the store level in management in 2007 while going through school studying Business Management and Photography. At the beginning of 2012 I was able to move from the store level up into the corporate office and work in their photo studio. In the beginning I was responsible for working with a local developer to custom build an automated database for tracking the photography processes for the company. The project has involved the development of storage and retention policies on the companies local server. Today, not only do I provide support for the database, but am in the process of creating Scope of Work documents outlining features for our 2.0 version.

At the begging of 2014 we started working with Industrial Color’s GlobalEdit, which is a web based rating, approval, and soft proofing website to allow for our marketing department to view, rate, approve/reject, and make retouching markup notes on assets and to communicate those decisions throughout the creative team. Part of using GlobalEdit has evolved to using the site, for the time being, as a final resting place for our FRA (Final Retouched Assets) files and to share them with other departments within the organization that need to leverage the assets for different purposes.

Some of the features of GlobalEdit we have begun to use more of through the use of our automated database is their metadata panel, which we have custom made to align with the data we want to see/use. We have also used their various permissions features to limit visibility of assets depending on user types and roles. In addition to the permissions we are able to set the level of access users have to un-retouched versions of assets to only allow for a download of a low-res version that has a watermark on the asset. This is done to ensure that un-retouched versions done accidentally get sent out into live production.

In 2014 we generated approximately 80,000 digital photographs, which had to be run through our database along with proof quality previews generated for use on the web with GlobalEdit.

How do you describe digital asset management to others?

When I explain this work to others I tell them that I am responsible and oversee the process of organizing, distributing, and storing of the companies digital assets, which commonly is photography and creative designs. Depending on their response I might provide a little bit more information about my responsibilities such as metadata, key wording, and working with our contracted developer to maintain the system and develop new features or processes to make our workflow easier and more efficient.

How did you learn DAM? Any recommended sources?

I learned the most about DAM by simply learning by doing. My knowledge expanded as I would come across situations where our processes or systems were not working efficiently or effectively. As time has gone on I have also spent time reading and learning from others. I recommend the following sources in addition to the DAM Guru:

DAM Foundation
Digital Asset Management: Content Architectures, Project Management, and Creating Order out of Media Chaos by Elizabeth Keathley
DAM Survival Guide: Digital Asset Management Initiative Planning by David Diamond
The DAM Book: Digital Asset Management for Photographers by Peter Krogh
The Accidental Taxonomist by Heather Hedden.

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

When looking at and understanding DAM you have to have the ability to look at the system(s) and solution(s) at both a Macro and Micro level. You need to step back and understand the big picture of how the hardware and software will work together, who and how the users will use/access the solution, and what are the various security and redundancy measures that need to be put in place. The more micro level is to understand how different user groups use different features and aspects of the solution. What will be their pain points and is there a way, either through system customization or user training to make the system easier and more intuitive to use.

It also becomes important to have patience and good communication skills to share your thoughts and ideas about processes to all users. The patience part comes in great when trying to train new users on how to maximize their time using the solution. There can and will be a lot of redundancy in the training.

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


What is your ongoing greatest challenge with DAM?

Getting the decision makers of the organization to see the true needs of additional support staff to effectively manage the system and the number of assets we are generating annually.

What more would you like to learn about DAM?

I would like to have a better understanding other software solutions. What features/bells & whistles do the different vendors offer. What are the processes and solutions that other companies are using. This insight would help me to understand what things are possible with regards to customization and setup that I can use to make my system more efficient and intuitive.

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Guru Talk: Dustin Guest – Golf Channel

Dustin Guest - Senior Digital Asset Manager

What once took days, now takes hours because of the digital asset management implementation Dustin has incorporated at the Golf Channel.

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

Asset management has been a primary component of my role here at Golf Channel for about 8 years now. I worked as an offsite coordinator for the Library, and that experience combined with my knowledge of Avid editing systems got me my first Asset Management job within the company as the Media Content Administrator.

From there I was promoted to the Post Supervisor role where I was responsible for both managing the Post processes as well as the media on the Digital Asset systems. From there I was promoted and started a brand new department that was tasked with operating and maintaining the DAM system that we implemented here. I oversee 15 people in the department and we operate 24/7 moving media into and out of archive for our production departments.

How do you describe digital asset management to others?

It’s kind of a combination of Computer Science, Library Science, and in my environment, Assistant Editing. We have to understand how all of these components fit together, so that the media that we are archiving is both usable and retrievable when a client eventually wants to find it.

How did you learn DAM? Any recommended sources?

I’m primarily self-taught based on the unique situation that we found ourselves in. We actually started fairly early in creating an end-to-end digital workflow, so in many cases we had to learn as we went. This meant breaking a lot of things along the way, but it also meant that I had a much better understanding of the pitfalls that you can get into when you make these kinds of migrations.

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

Your database and metadata are almost more important than the media itself. You can have the best media in the world, but it means absolutely nothing if you can’t find it. Computers allow you to do a lot of powerful things, but they can’t make up for good solid data.

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

Probably video editing or cinematography in some capacity. I still enjoy doing those tasks, even if I don’t get to very often.

What is your ongoing greatest challenge with DAM?

Search. We tend to find that users find search in these databases to be confusing, and there’s a lot of frustration on their part. Federated search, fuzzy logic, and boolean all help, but there seems like there is still some way to go in terms of getting solid usable results for the user.

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

My guess is that a lot of this is going to end up cloud based and device agnostic. It’s also likely that a lot of new features like OCR, natural language interpretation, and digital voice recognition for logging are going to become more common. I see a high likelihood that, especially for media businesses, DAM is going to become central to the overall business process, with other functions tied into and feeding information to the central DAM repository. I can see functions like programming, closed captioning, scheduling, and commercial traffic all being connected.

What was your biggest mistake with regard to DAM?

We should have made a clean break from the past and leveraged our DAM system based on how it was designed. We implemented a number of processes to emulate old workflows to help try and make the transition easier for the users, but it ends up hamstringing the ability to use the system more fluidly. It wasn’t system breaking, but it means that you have to think very carefully about how you implement new workflows to make sure you aren’t going to break one of your older processes.

What was your biggest success with regard to DAM?

Our end-to-end digital workflow has been a massive success. We can now do in a few hours what used to take a day or more when retrieving material. Users can preview footage before retrieving it, saving them from headaches in edit. It was a difficult transition, but at this point I don’t think that anyone can argue in favor of the past.

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Guru Talk: Scott Smith – Invisible Fist (contract)

Scott Smith - Digital Asset Management Consultant

When a summer is at stake, Scott knows how to troubleshoot a real problem in DAM – fast.

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

In the early 1990’s I was a production manager  with a real estate publisher. There were some attempts to manage digital assets with some internally developed solutions, though there weren’t very effective, due to resource constraints.

I later worked for large ad agencies in Chicago, first as a creative tech services specialist and later as an art studio manager. At the first job, I used Aldus Fetch (ancestor of the Extensis line) and thought the ability to preview and tag files was way cooler than sliced bread.

During the era, I worked as a DAM consultant for an IT company. It was during this time, I worked with my first web content management tool—Interwoven—and thus began pondering  how WCM/DAM systems should be integrated.

That was followed by a lengthy stint as a tech services administrator for a global DAM system. That was was my first time with a global implementation.

How do you describe digital asset management to others?

I think everybody understands that Microsoft and Adobe desktop suites are for creating content and that there are tools to manage the files they create;  however, “digital asset management” is a rather esoteric term to most. Thus, I try to explain things in terms of “content management”  within the context of what a person, or organization, is trying to do.

But in the spirit of answering the question, here’s an attempt:

  • A digital asset is digital content that provides value in an organizational context
  • All digital assets are content, but not all content can be classified as assets
  • Digital asset management is the practice of creating, and improving organizational value of content

How did you learn DAM? Any recommended sources?

In my job in publishing we didn’t have a DAM system per say, at least not one that was in usable. However, I learned a lot about the importance of file management. I started to read about what would later become known as DAM in magazines (remember those?).

Later, I learned about DAM from the Seybold Publishing conferences, and sites like EcontentMag, The Real Story Group, and CMSWire. Now, I learn a lot from my professional learning network I’ve built through connections on Linkedin, Twitter and other social platforms.

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

In addition to some of the learning resources I’ve mentioned, I would advise people to go in and get dirty. If your company has a DAM system learn as much as you can about it. If not, see if you can get up with a demo edition of some DAM system. You might even want to try downloading and installing one of the open source systems and exploring that.

What is your ongoing greatest challenge with DAM?

Staying current is a challenge. I got back into the DAM world after a panicked phone call from a friend who was suffering from “DAMlessnes” I had been working as a SharePoint administrator in the previous few years, so when landed back in the DAM world, there was a lot of new stuff I didn’t know, and lot of old stuff I’d forgotten.

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

I am hoping that DAM systems become better integrated with component content management systems. I’d like to see a true single-source model where rich media are stored in a DAM-like system and expressed in the appropriate color model and resolution, in conjunction with dynamically-assembled text files.

What was your biggest mistake with regard to DAM?

I regret that I didn’t maintain my lobbying energy with my ad agency employers when I tried to enact DAM initiatives. In both organizations I saw that there was some understanding of the need for DAM, but since the decision-makers were far removed from the pain points experienced by production artists, illustrators, etc., it was a long, hard, slog to build a business case compelling enough to get an initiative approved. However, it wasn’t impossible, I wish that I had made more of an effort since my departments wasted so much time looking for files and often recreating them.

What was your biggest success with regard to DAM?

Several years ago, I was able to provide an alternative solution to a client request that saved thousands of hours of labor and saved my Summer.

While my manager didn’t seem to have a problem with ruining the Summer of: the DAM manager, the clients, DBAs, system administrators, etc. I had a problem with the fact that I was required to give up my own Summer. Thus I came up with something equivalent to a Hail Mary pass in football.

Long story, somewhat shorter: the request would have required the re-ordering of zillions of files on the file system. This would have be done by hand and would require metadata to be reentered. My first thought was “Oh, NO! MY SUMMER!!!!!!!”

I questioned the root of the problem, it was not the taxonomy (OK, taxonomy was bad) it was the search interface. Our DAM solutions partner had recently gone out of business so we had to source code which gave a little flexibility. I had the biggest “Aha” moment of life and voiced my plan to tackle the search interface rather than the taxonomy.

I got approval from the client and the total effort for creating requirements, Java development, site configuration, testing and deployment was less than 40 hours. My subsequent happy dance was probably a little over twice that long.

What more would you like to learn about DAM?

I’ve worked under the hood a bit as a systems admin, but rather recently I’ve actually endeavored to learn more about software development. I have a long way to go on that front, but very interested in exploring how and old dog like me can learn some new tricks in the area of DAM/CMS systems.

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DAM Guru Members React to What’s Holding DAM Back

In a 3-part series entitled, “What’s Holding DAM Back,” DAM News contributors discuss why they think the Digital Asset Management industry has fallen into an innovation standstill in the past few years. We took the question to DAM Guru Program members, whose responses are below.


Doug Mullin:

“I think the challenges of moving from a departmental application to being an Enterprise application is holding us up, because we haven’t quite figured out how to make that leap from an organizational point of view. Who does own DAM? Shouldn’t be IT, in my opinion, although they need to be deeply involved. Marketing is a better bet, but Sales is also touched, as are other departments.”

Doug Mullin is the Digital Assets Manager for Oakley. He has been a DAM Guru Program member since 2014.


Lisa Grimm:

These are two excerpts from a longer response by Ms. Grimm. Read Lisa Grimm’s full response here.

“Jeff Lawrence’s article – customers aren’t demanding clarity, much less innovation. It’s almost depressingly common in our field to discover that the only person in an organization who truly understands how DAM works (or, perhaps, how it should work) wasn’t involved in the purchasing decision; they’ve often inherited something that wasn’t truly fit for purpose, and they don’t have the budget to do much about it. But if the customer does not budget for enhancements or new systems, vendors can’t be expected to pay particular attention; understandably, they’ve moved on to selling their existing solution to a new client. Yes, new features may roll out if a bigger client demands more attention during the implementation phase, but after that, the feedback loop goes quiet.”

“Ralph Windsor’s piece on the role of the media; his points about the truly alarming lack of metadata knowledge give one pause, and the difficulty in measuring ROI certainly takes time away from crafting the perfect taxonomy model. Some DAM vendors have clearly given careful thought to the role of taxonomy and metadata, and considered how users, both administrative and end-user, might interact with that metadata (even if they don’t know they are doing it). But that’s not true across the board, and if DAM enhancements have fallen to someone who lacks experience in that space, it’s difficult to move forward true functionality improvements, since all real DAM functionality flows from useful, well-managed, metadata.”

Lisa Grimm is the Content Librarian for GlaxoSmithKline. She has been a DAM Guru Program member since 2013.


Julie Shean:

Why do I need to invest in one of these plus so many other things?
“It takes more than a year to choose one, more than a year to implement one… Enter enterprise IT software fatigue. We have web content management systems, in the museum world we also have collections management systems, library catalog systems, constituent relationship management systems, and on and on. Oh, and then there’s Sharepoint, so how many of these are we planning on connecting the DAMS to? I’m sure you’ve noticed that many of these other systems are encroaching on your turf.”

What is it?
“I agree with David and Ralph when they point out that vendor sales teams are stretched thin trying to appeal to possible every use-case in every possible sector. Meanwhile, you might be losing touch with your core customer bases. DAMS resist being classified as online media archives or media libraries (too boring, not dynamic enough)… Too bad, personally I think digital media library sounds a lot better than “DAMS”. And if you’re honest with yourselves, the online library catalog is functionally a close analogue. It’s a back-end business system with a public access web interface– and yet many DAMS lack an easy-to-customize public portal.”

Please don’t blame your customers
“Having just put some vendors through a very long RFP process, I can sympathize with a lot of what Jeff says in his “customers” piece, but some of us have been here since the beginning (I’m on my fourth DAM software). I have to say, the constant re-positioning and Digital Marketing management suite-speak is incredibly off-putting to those of us not in that (evidently lucrative) sector. We don’t need to hire the librarians, you do. It’s all so DIY. Can I make a suggestion? Why not come up with a best practices example taxonomy and metadata fieldset for each of the market sectors you cater to? And implement it. Too much work?”

Julie Shean is the Technical Architect at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. She has been a DAM Guru Program member since 2013.


David Nguyen:

“Digital Asset Management has made few improvements in the last few years in how well it actually manages digital assets. DAM solutions all seem to suffer from a lack of vision in how digital assets will be used and how to make that process better. Businesses are hungry for systems that provide processes that solve real problems. Often features and new user interfaces only seek to solve individual problems instead of providing intuitive solutions.”

“The lack of innovation in digital asset management is due to many factors. DAM know that they had a problem but don’t know that they need a solution. DAM vendors know how to solve problems but rarely ask about what solutions are needed. The creation of digital assets themselves does not make it easy to attach the right metadata to make any solution work. Finally, education of best practices and handling assets and consistency in metadata is not provided until well after there is a problem.”

“Industry does not need more bells and whistles but instead needs to focus on producing results. In all honesty DAM software should really only be about 10% of a solution and the other 90% should be about integrating business processes that improves results.”

David Nguyen is the Digital Asset Manager (contract) at The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company. He has been a DAM Guru Program member since 2013.


Tracy Wolfe:

“In order for DAM to move forward, it must provide an imperceptible level of service, not feel like a roadblock. Simplicity, streamlining and standardization are far more important than flashy and sometimes useless features that superficially address the latest trends.”

“Every DAM needs an evangelist to get users excited about and keep them informed of the features and future possibilities of whatever DAM product they are employing and of digital asset management in general.”

“Vendors should stop grandstanding and making up silly buzzwords and devote that energy and fervor to really investigating user needs and ideas, becoming true partners.”

“I agree with something in each article of What’s Holding DAM Back – from the fact that there is no Steve Jobs of DAM, that there are people in the industry that can be trusted, and that ultimately “ the more substantial opportunity for DAM is when digital assets can be integrated with concepts like Linked Data and the Semantic Web.”

“Most importantly, DAM administrators and users should continue to take advantage of every opportunity to learn what others are doing. There are informative and high-quality conferences, blogs, discussion groups and educational opportunities available. Knowledge is power. There is strength in numbers. Choose your battles wisely.”

Tracy Wolfe is the Search Editor at Getty Images. She has been a DAM Guru Program member since 2013.

Have you read the DAM News 3-part series entitled, “What’s Holding DAM Back?” What’s your take? Share with us your thoughts in the comments.

Guru Talk: Ayda Pourasad – NPR

Ayda Pourasad - Research Librarian / Audio Archivist

Ayda has worked with video and audio assets, and understands the process is always evolving.

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

I have worked at both CNN and NPR. I have assigned metadata to raw video and audio stories. I also have made decisions on what video asset to include in the archive and what to let go. I have taken care QC of audio assets. I made sure that the audio stories and their transcripts matched, and the audio was playing correctly. I am responsible to make sure each of the story records in our database were linking to the correct audio on website.

How did you learn DAM? Any recommended sources?

I mostly learned digital asset management from my managers and also by simply trying out different DAM systems. There are no resources or university courses that I am aware of that would work better than training at your work place. I do however think that having an Archives degree definitely benefits a Digital Asset Manager.

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

I think DAM is all about learning and understanding the needs of the organization that the system is supposed to serve. The DAM first should learn about how the organization is using those assets. So usability of the assets is the most important concept the DAM needs to keep in mind.

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

I would be doing research and reference services, as I am doing now. I would also consider doing production in the media field.

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Guru Call: USA

USA FlagLooking for a Guru in Washington D.C. area. Member is currently considering employing semantic web technology as part of the new digital asset management roll out.

They are looking for resources about the bridge between the two technologies. For example, use cases, other DAM professionals with experience in their own organizations, or even books and papers that address explicitly the connection between DAM and semantic web.

Member is mainly looking for more information to assist with ROI and implementation.

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