Digital asset management (DAM) is one of those technologies that can be defined in a variety of ways. Is it simply a method for organizing electronic files? Is it software that controls the flow of work? Is it a hardware-based system of servers and storage devices? Or a combination of all of these?
Narrow the definition to DAM for the digital content creation (DCC) space and the variations continue. There's production management software, a DAM tool tailored to the DCC production pipeline. It would seem to fill the bill. But does it rule out less production-oriented programs that control and facilitate the distribution of finished assets at the back end of the production cycle? What about complete hardware/software systems designed to control assets for large media organizations, such as ad agencies and broadcast studios? And, just to confuse things, consider those tangential yet essential tools such as Internet services that combine with other processes to provide asset management.
|Artesia's Teams software helps link creation data and other detailed information to digital assets.
The truth is that programs offering any and all of these features could be considered digital asset management tools for the professional content creation market. And while at first glance they might seem to contend with each other, they are actually much more complementary than they are competitive.
Avid Technology's recent acquisition of NXN Software, maker of the Alienbrain line of production management tools, illustrates this synergy between DAM products. Alienbrain has the largest share of commercial production management seats in the rarified world of high-end digital content creation, particularly in the game development market, for which its Studio product (Version 7 is scheduled to ship this month) is specifically designed. NXN also makes Alien-brain VFX, a version of the product that is geared for postproduction.
"NXN Software is a great example of a niche asset-management company," says Tim Claman, director of interoperability and standards for Avid. "They really don't have any direct competitors for games and postproduction systems. For production asset management, they're the only game in town." Although Avid already has two DAM products—the Active Content Manager and the Unity Media Manager—those are designed to manage finished content, "what some people call content management," says Claman.
|Version 7 of Alienbrain Studio from NXN offers new features for enhancing work group performance.
On NXN's part, the new subsidiary now has greater access to the postproduction world, in which Avid is well-entrenched. "Avid's strategy is to make, manage, and move media," says NXN marketing manager Eric Schumacher, "and we fit in." The company has been looking to branch out from its roots in
the gaming world, he says. "We've been looking more seriously at postproduction. We've always considered [moving into] broadcast, but other products, like Artesia and eMotion, are there."
Artesia is one of the original players in the DAM-for-media space, with a background in creating work flow systems (including both hardware and software) that integrate with electronic publishing tools. Its Teams software was introduced in 1998, and Artesia counts among its customers content creators such as DreamWorks and
Electronic Arts, but specializes in managing the back end of the process, rather than the front end—content creation. There, the Artesia system can take on whatever files need to be processed, archived, or made into further assets.
"What we did from day one was decide that the unit of information wouldn't matter," says David Lipsey, Artesia's vice president for media and entertainment. Artesia is "asset-type neutral," he says, and the product is complementary with Alienbrain. "We really don't go after specialized markets."
Other DAM vendors involved in the DCC and/or broadcast market include eMotion, which offers a host of business applications for managing digital assets and marketing content; Canto, with its Cumulus software product that offers DAM for a variety of applications, especially Web publishing; and Adam Systems Group, which develops hardware and software DAM systems for the entertainment, geospatial, and medical markets.
Adam Systems' principals are great believers in hardware and software systems designed specifically for DAM. According to David Breen, the company's vice president of sales and marketing, "Developing a DAM system based solely on a storage hardware solution does not track the use of resources and the relationships between them. Asset management software packages alone do not deliver an integrated, functioning solution or preserve the quality of digital rich media over time. True digital asset management systems can create an integrated environment to manage, preserve, and re-purpose assets."
|Adam Systems creates hardware and software digital asset management systems for clients such as Ascent Media.
Examples of other DAM system providers include Savvis/Wam!Net and Ascent Media, whose services involve streaming and, in general, transporting assets from one place to another. Because digital assets are integral to just about everyone's work flow, many other companies are getting involved in the process. Type the words "asset management" into the search window of Web sites for workstation vendors such as Hewlett-Packard, IBM, SGI, and Sun Microsystems, and you'll find whole pages devoted to the process, often with specific references to DCC applications.
Several of these companies partner with the previously mentioned product vendors to provide DAM services. Sun, for example, lists Canto's Cumulus and other DAM products as part of its iForce Partners program on the Web. And some of the above vendors are partners with each other. Ascent Media, for example, is a customer of Adam Systems Group.
The DAM industry's current challenge with regard to digital content creators, says Adam Systems' Breen, is "developing a customized, non-disruptive work flow system that can be integrated with a DCC's facility, and is dealing with digital rights management, since assets can be easily re-purposed." In fact, re-purposing represents yet another frontier—controlling digital assets from "birth." The more information an asset starts with, the better it can be classified, used, and protected. Artesia's Lipsey, using the analogy of an identification bracelet on a newborn in a hospital, contends that the better the bracelet—the more information it contains—the better the work flow.
Many in the industry believe that identifying assets from birth will be the only way to control them, because digital assets are growing at a relentless pace. One reason is that companies have realized the value of converting their licensed assets to an ever-widening array of merchandise. Another is that audiences crave high-quality digital imagery in their movies, television shows, and games. Every time a studio releases a film with breakthrough amounts of imagery, the bar is raised. The challenge to asset-owning companies and DAM vendors is coping not only with all these assets, but also with all their potential uses.
Jenny Donelan is a contributing editor for
Computer Graphics World.
Adam Systems www.adamsystems.com
Artesia Technologies www.artesia.com
Ascent Media www.ascentmedia.com
Avid Technology www.avid.com
NXN Software www.alienbrain.com
Sun Microsystems www.sun.com