Monday, 30 June 2014

Digital Asset Management Europe 2014 (DAMEU)

I attended this conference on 26th-27th June in London on behalf of ISKO UK, in place of Stella Dextre Clarke, who was unable to attend. The full programme of the meeting, with abstracts of papers is given on the conference web site.

The scope of the concept that is labelled by the term “digital assets” was not defined, but it became clear during the conference that the main emphasis was on pictures, video and audio, prepared for marketing purposes in big organizations. These may amount to hundreds of thousands of items, including, for example, all the images of products included in printed and on-line catalogues, advertising images, sales and training videos, news items, and pictures of people. Marks and Spencer receive 1500 such digital assets per day, coming from many agencies who may be in competition with each other, so that the work of each one has not to be visible to the others. DAM systems are also used in non-marketing applications, such as Kew Gardens, which uses them for scientific purposes as well as for public awareness. The collection of North Wales Police includes fingerprints, scene of crime photographs, mug shots of criminals, CCTV recordings, recordings from video cameras worn by police officers and recordings of interviews, all of which are growing at the rate of 2500 new items per day.

DAM systems are basically information storage and retrieval systems, and their underlying functionality is similar to that of such systems used in other applications. A blog post by Elizabeth Keathley lists ten features of a DAM system, including the essential requirements of version control and workflow processing, recording where a resource has come from and where and when it was used.

These systems depend on metadata being attached to each item, either at the point of creation or later, and if this can be done automatically so much the better. Technical information may be embedded with a picture in EXIF format, for example, and the location may be recorded automatically if the capture device has GIS capability. Embedded information is sometimes lost when an item is edited or transferred to a different system, and it may be better retained in an associated file of metadata, which can also contain fields which are not supported by the embedded format.

Several speakers mentioned the importance of having a “librarian” as part of the team, to manage the metadata and to help create and maintain controlled and structured vocabularies. Very little was said about the nature of these, however, and from the demonstration systems that were exhibited I got the impression that indexing vocabularies were often ad hoc creations without being based on sound principles such as those understood by ISKO.

Many of the presentations were around the problems of procuring a DAM and introducing it into an organization, convincing management that it was needed and convincing potential users to use it. The advantages of a coherent centralised system were pointed out, but several speakers said that they found about forty different digital asset management systems in use in their organizations, and it was not easy to persuade people to give up their personal or departmental systems and transfer their data to a company-wide scheme. As usual, if one department could be convinced and realise the benefits, they could act as a “champion” to enthuse others. It was essential that the end users should take a full part in the procurement process, so that they could feel that the system was the one that best met their needs and that they “owned” it and participated in its development.

Several speakers said how important it was to engage a consultant to help with the procurement process, who could suggest a realistic list of suppliers from the large number of systems available, and work with users to define and prioritise their requirements. In such a fast-changing field, it was essential to choose suppliers in whom the client had confidence that they could work with, and in one case the client and the supplier were asked to share “road maps” of how they saw their systems developing over the next five years, to check that they were in step. One consultant whose advice was mentioned as valuable by two of the speakers was Mark Davey, president and founder of the DAM Foundation. His presentation “DAM will morph into knowledge based platforms” was the only one to acknowledge that wider developments in KOS were applicable to DAM systems, mentioning and linked open data, for example.

There was a small exhibition of DAM software, including the open source system ResourceSpace. (Other open source packages are listed at Review of available open source DAM software). One of these might be appropriate for ISKO UK’s increasing collection of presentations and recordings from its past meetings.