How Two Catalogers Are Saving Time and Money Using Digital Asset Management
Linda May Ellis has been on the front lines of digital asset management since long before the term’s conception.
Ellis, the image librarian for Norwell, Mass.-based WearGuard, a business-to-business cataloger of work apparel and accessories, started with the company in the fall of 1992, long before the firm took its catalog production digital.
“In 1993, we started getting computers — Macs,” she recalls. “Before that we were doing manual paste-up galleys with wax.
We used transparencies, but were finding we had more and more digital images.
“Using computers,” she continues, “enabled us to work faster. So we were able to do more work and produce more print pieces. But we also had way more images than we ever had to manage before, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to keep track of them.”
Before WearGuard put a digital asset management (DAM) solution in place, Ellis’ job was labor intensive and largely paper-based. “After a catalog was done, I’d manually go through each page and put a sticker on each image. The sticker referenced the archive number I’d assigned to [the item],” Ellis recalls. “So when someone wanted to pick up an image from page 112 of the last catalog, for example, I’d have that printed reference, and I’d know where to find it. But I was the only one who had easy access to that information.”
With more images in digital form, it became easier to pick up and reuse them from catalog to catalog. However, many of the images took on new lives in the form of different versions, and Ellis’ image library grew exponentially.
“We might have had a photo of a man in a particular shirt in one catalog, but for the next, we might change the personalization on the shirt. Or we might change the color to navy in another catalog,” she recalls.
In 1996 WearGuard partnered with a prepress house, which recommended that the cataloger give Canto Software’s Cumulus asset management solution a try. “They came in and set up Cumulus for us in our department on a Mac server,” Ellis remembers. “We were in charge of maintaining it.”
How WearGuard Uses DAM
Today, WearGuard produces 70 print catalog editions each year, and complements the print initiatives with a full, e-commerce-driven, Web presence. The company’s Web team accesses the Cumulus-based library — which manages images, logos, line art drawings, illustrations and other visual assets — for Web development, while art directors, designers, production artists and freelance creative team members have access to the Cumulus library for print work. In all, WearGuard’s Cumulus library currently houses more than 19,000 visual assets.
“It’s an open system in our department, in terms of viewing and accessing information. But my assistant, Ray Walker, and I are the only ones with write access,” Ellis explains.
While WearGuard is running Cumulus version 5.0, it has plans to upgrade to the latest version (6.6) once the company upgrades to Mac OS X.
A solution that enables a cataloger to better manage its digital assets is “definitely worth the money,” says Ellis. “It increases productivity if you have easy access to the information and images you need. The money you can save in time alone is valuable.”
When choosing an asset management solution, Ellis says ease-of-use is important. A system that’s tedious to learn will cause only down-time to catalog production.
And like so many other catalog and direct mail producers, she says it’s difficult to allocate funds to software training. She was grateful to find the Cumulus solution easy to learn and use. “While I’m computer literate, I’m not a computer genius,” she jokes. “I haven’t had formal Cumulus training. I’ve been able to learn just by doing.”
When it came time to implement a DAM solution at WearGuard, Ellis says it was helpful that she had support from top-tier managers within her company.
“Companies may not recognize their digital assets as being as important as more tangible assets,” Ellis stresses. “They may not realize how much time it takes to work with unorganized, uncataloged and unshared assets. They may not realize how much more efficiently information could be used and shared if everyone … has access to it via some kind of DAM system. The people who work with the assets can see the value of such a system, but the decision-makers and people who hold the purse strings may not.”
How E.B. Bradley Co. Uses DAM
Like Ellis, David Lyttle is no stranger to the demands of quick turnarounds and the need for a streamlined catalog production workflow. For nearly nine years, he’s been the marketing manager for E.B. Bradley Co., a Los Angeles-based wholesale distributor of cabinetry supplies.
“We sell everything except the wood,” Lyttle explains. “All the little gadgets and do-dads, hinges, screws — everything you can think of needed to make cabinets, and then some.” The company sells to independent cabinetmakers, carpenters and craftsmen, as well as large commercial accounts in hotels, banks and schools.
The E.B. Bradley catalog — whether in print or online — is an essential tool for the company, not only because it generates new business; it also serves the sales force and core customers as well. Creating a functional, effective, complete and accurate catalog is essential to E.B. Bradley’s business model. It’s fulfilling these goals today, but a little more than four years ago, it was a different story all together.
The items E.B. Bradley sells come from more than 150 vendors. That’s a lot of digital assets to manage, and before the company decided to implement DAM in-house, it relied on a service bureau in Michigan to manage them instead.
“That was a problem. We didn’t have access to our data,” Lyttle recalls. “And while we’d get product changes routinely — new images and new descriptions — there wasn’t an effective way to make these changes to a database that someone else owned.”
For about six years, E.B. Bradley simply would reprint its existing catalog, changing just the spine to reflect a new date. “But at a certain point, it became a customer service issue,” Lyttle says. “We didn’t have current information in the catalog.” As a result, it had become difficult for the company’s sales reps to use the catalog as a selling tool, he notes.
About four years ago E.B. Bradley went in search of a solution that would enable it to more efficiently manage product information, and ultimately, to produce catalogs better, faster and less expensively.
The company wasn’t keen on investing buckets of money in software; nor was it high on adding staff to support a new system. So, an application service provider model proved to be a perfect match with Object Publishing Software’s Catalog-On-Demand. It’s a Web-based DAM tool that enables catalogers, mailers and others to manage and output their digital assets for print or electronic distribution and e-commerce initiatives — all on demand. Originally a software application that customers licensed, installed and maintained internally, the solution now is available as a Web service.
“We saw the writing on the wall five or six years ago,” explains Tim Hennings, president, Object Publishing Software. “All of the vertical software companies were struggling with issues of dissatisfied customers, difficulty of support, and the horrendous cost of installation. … We had to move toward standardized models, which would be easier to support and install. A natural extension of that idea was to put it on the Web.”
The Web-hosted service model enables the developer to more easily and expeditiously roll out upgrades and updates to its customers. And there’s never additional software to download or install, Hennings notes.
Lyttle says using it is as easy as point-and-click. “I’m not a graphics guy or a technical person, but I’m able to put a catalog together,” he says. Catalog-On-Demand drives print catalogs (which can be as many as 350 pages) and the company’s e-catalog.
The investment in DAM workflow was easy to justify for E.B. Bradley. Its catalogs now meet the company’s high standards of being timely, accurate, complete and cost-effective. Other than a modest initial licensing fee, the cataloger pays a flat monthly fee for the solution. Says Lyttle, “We now have the opportunity to update things, to maintain our own data — to have
How to Select a Digital Asset Management Solution
* Define the workflow. Before you make a software (and possibly, hardware) investment, get to know your workflow, and precisely define the areas that need improvement. Knowing what you want from a digital asset management (DAM) system will lead you down a clearer path to the right tool.
* Create a reasonable budget. Some advance research into the potential solutions that will meet your needs will better guide your budgetary decisions.
* Get buy-in from management. Those who hold the purse strings within an organization may not be quickly convinced that a DAM investment is necessary. It’s up to those who are specifying and will use the technology to demonstrate the potential productivity gains and cost savings.
But don’t get oversold. Why invest in a DAM solution with too many bells and whistles — features your organization isn’t likely to use now or in the future?
* Don’t settle for less than what you truly need. While there are several low-cost, entry-level DAM tools on the market, don’t settle for them just because they’re cheap — especially if the solution doesn’t really meet your expectations or resolve your assets issues.
* Consider the cost of implementation. Your company can’t afford lengthy periods of production down-time while complicated systems are implemented and integrated into the workflow.
* Don’t forget about staff. Determine who will use the system, but perhaps more importantly, determine how the solution will be managed, maintained and populated. Or consider an application service provider model.
* Plan for the learning curve. Many DAM solutions have easy-to-comprehend and self-explanatory interfaces. Others are a bit more complicated and require a robust understanding of rules-based logic. Translation: There will be a learning curve. Be sure it’s not too high, requiring an IT genius to work within the system.
Gretchen Peck is a freelance writer specializing in the graphic arts.