Digital image management: the cost-benefit approach

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1 A White Paper by IT consultant Eddy D. Hawkins November 2003 Any business that uses images in its operations is experiencing a growing demand for content offerings to ever more demanding and value conscious users, both in-house and in the marketplace. Everyone recognizes the need to make the most of their media. There are numerous approaches, with scores of interfaces and hierarchical storage managers, but up to now there have been no solutions that satisfied the real-world demands. If you are creating images or using them in your business processes, you are investing in images. If that investment is not showing a positive return, it is being mismanaged. Business models continue to change. For any company considering a move to digital image management, one of the key benefits is the capability for wider multi-format distribution and the opportunity for more efficient work practices. Archiving is the media operation that the research institutes and standards committees seem to have forgotten. It is still an ugly duckling that could become the beautiful swan. Archiving images has long been a thankless task. It is perceived as costly, complicated and time-consuming, and is often shrugged off as too much trouble. Or else it has been done with proprietary schemes that create digital islands within companies. By limiting free and open use, these schemes have impeded opportunities or required bridge building. The bridges are almost always too narrow and obstructed by toll booths new interfaces to translate from one application or system pool to another. Such systems defeat the entire premise of an integrated IT infrastructure and raise barriers to increased efficiencies and smooth workflows. An archive cannot become truly valuable unless it is integrated with other production processes. Pictures can be enormously valuable. A small amount of archiving gives a great return on investment. Business sense Photographs are moments that will never return. They can also mean publicity, prospects and profits. Compared with this, the cost of a properly managed collection is tiny. Using time wisely Writing a picture s description might take a couple of minutes. But then finding it again later takes only seconds, no matter how large your collection. Other methods don't save any time at all.

2 There is a lot of confusion in the corporate world, even in the media sector, over the concept of content management. Some organizations, for example, believe that it simply means a database set up to track everything residing in their archives. It is much more. With digital imaging the media object or essence is the encoded image itself. Without the right information to identify it, it is just a string of zeros and ones. Without metadata, placing material into an archive becomes just a very expensive way of waving it goodbye. By adding the technical ability to process, bundle, store, access and share this content, you are well on the path to creating a true asset for your organization. Identifying and validating the rights to use the image is the final step before packaging and sending it on its way. IPR-aware When a corporate client imports an image, the file should also contain everything significant about the picture who, what, when and where. The embedded metadata can also contain copyright and contact information, so picture authors have an equal interest in cataloging. page 2 of 6

3 Knowing what is in an archive is one thing. But only an integrated solution such as ViewMinder provides the ability to use archive contents quickly and cost-effectively. These are advantages that no one dealing with images can afford to ignore. ORPHANS AND WIDOWS Without an open and flexible content management system, any IT-based image storage solution is just a search engine for a database. Whoever said a picture is worth a thousand words was never faced with a tight deadline and a stack of photos lacking a listing of who they show, where and when they were taken, and who should get paid what if one or more is used. Organizations creating digital image archives often get off on the wrong foot with hierarchies and categories. If only we create enough categories, they reason, we will be able to store and retrieve everything. As the task proceeds, they change their view - if only we can create the right categories, then everything will work perfectly. Think again. The key element in cataloguing assets is the ability to find them again. Consider the file hierarchy on your own PC. Do you always know exactly where everything is? Or do you repeatedly turn to that little Search icon to help you hunt down your files? Now, think about looking for files on someone else s computer, or on a computer used by a group of people or a system linking a whole department. What good are these assets if they can t be found? And how useful are they if you know where they are but don t know what, when and where they show, and who owns them? Some of the world s biggest and most prestigious news operations have painted themselves into this tight and expensive corner. Dealing with thousands of images a day, the volume of their media assets is staggering. Yet it is often so hard for them to find an existing picture that it is faster and cheaper to send out a photographer to reshoot. Integrated image management is a tool for protecting investments. It should also keep track of picture use, to help avoid repetition, and monitor copyright Location Too many corporate archives still depend on the memory of a few staff members or photographers. A picture misfiled is as bad as a picture destroyed. With a digital management system, the location is always clear. page 3 of 6

4 Even one of the best-funded and technology-savvy organizations in the history of man, NASA, recently stumbled across over 100,000 images, worth tens of millions of dollars, that it didn t know it had. Employees had retired or taken new positions elsewhere. Basic information about operating and storage methods had been lost. This is an example of a widowed system. Its orphans sit inaccessible and untouched in their digital prisons. USE AND USE AGAIN Image management is not only about being able to find the picture and information about it. It is also about providing access that will allow re-use in a variety of ways. There are endless possibilities to re-purpose pictures. When the cost and difficulty of obtaining the images is considered, reuse and re-versioning becomes an extremely attractive option. If you already have a herd of reindeer under the northern lights, there is no reason to outfit an arctic expedition to get a new one. And some images cannot be re-shot at any cost: unique human and natural disasters, political and historical events and figures, etc. page 4 of 6

5 Once any organization embraces the concept of media reuse, a new challenge arises. You must maintain a media database, and someone (or preferably many people) must be able to catalogue its contents so that others will be able to find what they want, on a deadline. To complicate matters, searchers do not know always exactly what they want. Sometimes the characteristics that matter to them are not the characteristic that the cataloguer focused upon. This is not to say that these organizations and their professionals are incompetent. A critical problem is that until recently, media librarians have had to rely on homegrown cataloguing schemes for photo libraries. Now the key issues in managing an image archive are evident. How do you promote reuse and re-purposing, while minimizing the cost of maintaining the archive? How do you help creative users find the most appropriate files, improve them, and archive the improved version? How do you ensure that the latest pictures and designs are used for publicity and branding? The key is the metadata. Creating metadata contains an element of high criticality it should be done right and done only once. And it should be as inexpensive as possible to create. That means it should be automatically generated or via flexible templates. And it should be designed to last, based on open and interoperable standards to support eventual new users and new uses. THE ROI ARGUMENT Good content management provides a creative advantage and the potential to communicate better and to earn more revenue through better use of material and more attractive output. It also saves money with flexible, automated systems that lower staff overheads. Sophisticated tools and criteria for evaluating ROI for media assets are just emerging. However, there are really only two basic benchmarks: can you do the same as you do now but with fewer people; or do more with the same number of people? Another place that the return on investment can immediately be identified is in sharing media assets across media outlets. The capability to manage assets for re-use and reversioning on multi-platforms produces a substantial ROI increase. A corporate image management system should conform to transparent, open standards. It should allow metadata about the image s origin and contents in as much detail as the user wishes. It should allow individual elements to be described separately, in any written language and even in multiple languages if necessary. And it should have a non-proprietary format for this exporting metadata to other applications. page 5 of 6

6 There are also concrete benefits from the elimination of physical processing, storage, retrieval and delivery of images. Simple, standard tools can reduce the need for highly skilled specialists and slash training costs. And, whether the end product is for corporate communications or the retail market, image costs will come down. There are other proven benefits from digital image management that are harder to pin down. Direct returns from improved quality are never easy to gauge, but are nevertheless a genuine factor. How much is it worth to get your information or your product out to clients faster? If speed is a criterion for sales or for attracting funding, it is a crucial ROI consideration. Flexibility and responsiveness being fast on your feet - can define success for any organization. And, no wise manager doubts the significance of employee satisfaction. The ability to react quickly to new opportunities is a key requirement of any business. A large part of that is the adoption of the right tools and workflows. page 6 of 6

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