Part 1 of Mr. Krishna's feature focuses on how digital asset management has evolved within the last 10-plus years. The conclusion of the first part illustrates how Widen Enterprises successfully integrated the "new DAM" as Software-as-a-Service 2.0.
Digital Asset Management (DAM) has evolved tremendously over this decade and has spawned the emerging model of DAM as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). DAM as SaaS has not only capitalized on the value proposition of the overall DAM market but also brought to the table some very compelling benefits that are unique to the SaaS model.
The value proposition of DAM is based upon eliminating the cost of lost or misplaced work, cycle-time acceleration, workflow integration, collaboration and maintaining brand integrity. Using the SaaS model for DAM, customers not only get the above mentioned benefits and, in some cases, faster than through an installed deployment, but they are also able to free up valuable internal IT resources to do other productive tasks. Extensive Service Level Agreements and negotiated contracts also ensure continued stability of the business process with guaranteed up-time and the ability to bring the solution in-house, if needed. Software updates are also provided on a continuous and iterative basis.
These factors have helped propel the DAM as SaaS market to grow at much faster growth rates than installed solutions. Based on Frost & Sullivan's latest analysis, this market is expected to grow at a very aggressive compound annual growth rate of well over 30% and achieve revenues totaling over a quarter of a billion dollars by 2013.
The Plight of DAM as SaaS
Though the increased use of digital media is a boon for the DAM vendor community, it is also a double-edged sword, creating some significant challenges that have emerged due to the rapid proliferation of digital media:
- Increasing file sizes and bandwidth constraints: Apart from the increased creation and use of digital media, the average file size of content is also increasing. To take the example of images, both the files size and the pure number of digital images taken have steadily increased each year. This is true for almost all media types from text to images and audio/visual content. The emergence and popularity of high-definition video has been further fueled by the availability of numerous devices to receive content. This burgeoning demand has created a huge infrastructure challenge. High-resolution images and video are storage- and bandwidth-intensive.
Coupled with the sheer increase in the amount of content being created and shared, this has created a tremendous strain on the existing delivery infrastructure, both upstream and downstream. Creative and marketing departments now deal with an increasing amount of media types. A lot of the marketing collateral that is created has many different versions that need to be collaborated on during the production process. Internal and external stakeholders to the content need access to it in real-time. These processes create serious bottlenecks in the delivery mechanism as most corporate infrastructure has not been set up to deal with high volumes of high-resolution content. Such scenarios impede the ability of marketing departments to be nimble and react to market dynamism.
- Integration with content workflows: A serious challenge facing organizations is the ability to integrate their content workflows with the DAM system. The DAM market is fast-growing and highly lucrative, prompting many vendors to enter the DAM market with solutions that merely provide basic indexing and search capabilities. By definition, a DAM systems is a solution that enables the ingest, archival, search, management, repurposing, sharing and cross-platform publishing of content in a seamless, collaborative and secure environment that can easily integrate with other third party systems within the content workflow spanning the asset life cycle from creation to delivery.
Many solutions that claim to be DAM at best provide some superficial integration ability, if any, with some of the tools of the content workflow. In most cases, there are no APIs that are built into the other tools of the content workflow. For example, a person in the IT workflow looking for product images to post to the company web server would first look for the piece of content within the repository, save it locally and then re-upload it to the web server. This creates needless latency and contributes to a lack of control of the asset, thus prolonging the process and creating a greater risk exposure to a process that can be easily handled within the DAM systems through a Web Services framework.
- Lack of approval and routing processes: Another major issue facing most marketing and creative departments is the lack of any coherent approval or routing process. These processes are manually driven and require a lot of human intervention to keep track of what assets are sent to whom for approval and then manually entering the received comments into the system. This, again, creates a lot of process latency and exposes the workflow to a higher degree of human error.
DAM as SaaS 2.0 to the Rescue: The Widen Solution
The DAM vendor community is proactively trying to address these challenges. Widen Enterprises has been quick to realize that the best way to address the bandwidth issues caused by increasing amounts of high-resolution content was to put a node between the customer and the host server. This is very similar to the well established Content Delivery Network (CDN) architecture used to ease traffic over the Internet.
Content delivery networks (CDNs) emerged in the late 1990s as a piece in the Internet value chain combining hardware and software technologies to ease traffic congestion and handle peak usage. CDN vendors have established infrastructure comprising data centers, central access points and a wide network of servers in various regions that catalyze the delivery of content from the source to the end users. The edge servers cache and distribute the most accessed content from the source. The CDN service then involves processing a request from the end user and directing it to the server most proximate in the geographical network, instead of routing it to the original server. This helps serve frequently requested content and reduces bottlenecks in the Internet delivery. This, in turn, reduces time latency and helps content providers to manage and monitor their end traffic usage.
Widen has been very innovative in using the same underlying principle of moving content as close to the end users as possible without imposing burden on the originating content server.
The Widen Appliance
The Widen Appliance brings digital assets closer to the departments creating and using the digital media. The Appliance is an onsite hardware/software combination managed by Widen within the SaaS architecture. APIs allow for integration possibilities with desktop applications such as Adobe Creative Suite generating a familiar window into the digital assets used by the entire organization. Widen manages the onsite service used in tandem with its hosted services to enable a fully replicated set of digital assets in different geographic locations supporting multiple creative operations and business continuity plans.
Digital assets are now served to users through desktop integration with the Appliance for immediate repurposing, enabling business continuity planning with fully replicated sets of digital media. The customer does not have to worry about maintenance of the Appliance as Widen maintains the responsibility for maintenance and upgrades. This model helps with creating efficiencies on the creation-end upstream, enabling the creative and marketing department knowledge workers to work at network speeds while the SaaS model supports global demand for digital media downstream, accelerating the entire workflow and eliminating bottlenecks.
In addition, Widen has created more modules to better address the end-user market needs. These enhancements include:
- Backdrop Photography Routing/Approval System: Backdrop is a web-based photography management application for photographers and/or corporate marketing departments to route images for comment and approval. Images are delivered automatically to clients in the formats and sizes needed for immediate approval and feedback. Integration with Widen's DAM system provides creative teams a single point of entry for review, comment and distribution of images, eliminating repetitive administrative tasks in routing and approving images and streamlining time- and resource-intensive processes through automatic routing and on-demand file conversions. This enables users to share images with clients immediately via the web across multiple geographic locations, thereby accelerating cycle time considerably.
- Project Collaboration: Widen Project Collaboration is a web-based document approval application for routing documents to multiple individuals for review, comment, markup and approval. The online application consolidates all reviewer comments in one central location with time-stamping on all actions. Automatic email notifications trigger tasks for selected users to review each version of the project by a set deadline. Final versions can be released into the digital asset library. This process improves communication by allowing multiple stages of the approval process to take place simultaneously while enforcing greater accountability with automatic email triggers and tracking of all activity in one location. This is significantly faster than traditional email routing and no attachments are sent, thus eliminating clogging of email servers and easing storage concerns on the desktop while eliminating printing and delivery costs. This again accelerates the approval cycle time.
- Dynamic Media Building: Widen Dynamic Media Building provides self-service promotional resources to sales channels for creation of localized promotions from a menu of brand-approved marketing content. Users point and click to populate printable media templates with predetermined images and text options. Printable media types include ads, brochures, direct mail, point-of-sale displays, sell sheets and proposals. The application pulls high-resolution photos and logos from the digital asset library. Text options can be preconfigured or allow users to enter their own text. Document previews are generated during every step of the build process. Users receive a print-ready PDF file in the end and have the option to deliver the file with print specifications to their preferred print vendor. Dynamic Media Building enables sales channels to co-brand materials within brand guidelines and also enables the creation of professional quality media online without design expertise or creative software. The solution automates repetitive graphic design processes. Corporate campaigns can be extended through the repurposing existing assets, thus providing a higher ROI.
- CRM Integration with Salesforce.com: Widen is partnering with Salesforce.com to deliver the first-to-market digital asset management integration within the CRM application. Digital Media Organizer and Marketing Template Creation give Salesforce.com users a value-add experience in distributing digital media and creating marketing templates. This seamless integration allows organizations to manage digital media and deliver marketing materials to sales channels through the CRM portal. Dynamic creation and conversion of promotional materials can now get expedited to field representatives, vendors and retailers.
- Web Services: Widen Web Services enables multiple systems to work together to accomplish departmental and organizational objectives. Widen technology operates as a platform to integrate with technologies that complement digital asset management. This full breadth of software services enables marketing and creative teams to be empowered through a seamless integrated workflow from a single point of entry to a collection of best-in-class software technology and resources. Customers can now leverage the core competencies of multiple software applications through one window.
Available later this June, Part 2 continues with a second case study on Reebok, which shows how an asset's life cycle can be best managed from creation and acquisition through to delivery using Widen's DAM solution. It ends with an overall summary and conclusions from both case studies.
Mukul Krishna is global director, Digital Media Practice, at Frost & Sullivan. Visit www.frost.com for more information.