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By Ralph Windsor
With the explosion in content creation, broadcast channels and social networks DAM sits at the heart of marketing and creative operations. But how do you create a Digital Asset Supply Chain?
Digital Asset Supply Chains… are critical to realising the full potential of DAM systems and achieving maximum ROI from your investments into DAM technology
Digital Asset Management (DAM) systems are often employed in many enterprises to help deal with the ever-increasing volume of digital media that is being generated in the modern workplace. The marketing function in many organisations, in particular, tends to be one of the key users of DAM solutions. Although interest in DAM has increased over the last decade, the systems themselves have changed comparatively little when it comes to their user interfaces and core capabilities.
One development which is more innovative is the role of Digital Asset Supply Chains as DAM solutions get integrated far more widely with many other technologies and digital media channels. With the explosion in content creation, broadcast channels and social network endpoints, digital assets are now being transported to and from a wide range of platforms. DAM systems which were once viewed as isolated silos or ‘media warehouses’, are now adopting a new role as the central hub of a complex and multi-faceted network of nodes and processes. This article aims to explain the theory behind these supply chains, and how to best apply them to the efficient management of digital assets.
What is a Supply Chain?
The concept of Supply Chain Management (SCM) has been around since the early eighties, and is now a widely accepted model in logistics and manufacturing, especially, but many other business sectors also now also. So what is a supply chain? In essence, it is a series of nodes between an organisation and its suppliers, via which goods and services pass as they are transformed from raw materials to finished product. These nodes may be external business or internal departments that are managed and operated independently.
Value vs. Bottlenecks
Two important concepts are essential to properly understand supply chains: value and bottlenecks. Each step of the supply chain adds a certain amount of value to a product. However, each of these activities also creates a bottleneck which can be quantified in terms of additional time, cost or materials. Processes that add the most value are often the ones that create the largest bottlenecks.
In supply chain terminology, the speed at which products or services can pass through all the nodes on the supply chain is referred to as ‘throughput’.
Supply Chain Management
One of the key objectives of Supply Chain Management is to increase value whilst maintaining a high level of throughput by minimizing bottlenecks. As a result of identifying and optimising high value yet inefficient processes, organizations have an opportunity to reduce bottlenecks without adversely affecting value, which in turn translates into increased bottom-line profit and ROI. Effective supply chains are crucial for a business to remain competitive.
Upstream and Downstream
To identify and differentiate between the different points on a supply chain, the terms ‘upstream’ and ‘downstream’ are used. Upstream defines the nodes where products and services are in the process of being transformed or modified, whereas downstream nodes are those where the product will move to next after the current process is completed.
What Are Digital Asset Supply Chains?
The processes that occur in a digital asset supply chain are very similar to those found in traditional or physical supply chains. With regards to the term ‘digital asset’, many users will refer to the file itself as the asset (e.g. an image or video file). However, those familiar with Digital Asset Management will realise that digital assets are both the intrinsic data (e.g. the frames in a video) and the metadata used to describe the file and its context.
Based on the above definition of a digital asset, it becomes clearer how a digital asset might comprise different raw materials received from multiple upstream nodes and then compiled to form a single digital asset within a DAM system. In a DAM system, the downstream side of the equation covers integration with numerous digital channels including social media, retail in-store displays, and promotional marketing.
Upstream and downstream destinations in a Digital Asset Supply Chain can be any or all of the following entities:
Here are some examples:
* In some scenarios, another DAM system might be responsible for supplying ‘finished’ digital assets.
You may also be interested in: Rights Management Strategy: How to Right Your Wrongs with Usage Rights
DAM systems are the central operational hub in an organisation’s Digital Asset Supply Chain. They are the reason why most of the significant innovation that has taken place in DAM now relates to integration of these different systems as well channels. Modern Digital Asset Supply Chains are all about how to effectively ingest, manage and subsequently deliver digital content to the relevant channels as efficiently as possible.
The flow of digital assets between nodes on the supply chain is not necessarily linear. For example, a multi-format brochure containing copyrighted text, video, audio and imagery from multiple sources might need to be managed, modified and approved at numerous nodes before being pushed to downstream media channels (e.g. print, television, web). In an ideal world, nodes on an efficient supply chain would only ever encounter a work-in-process digital asset once before sending it to the next link in the chain, however, complex issues such as rights management and territorial licensing often mean that assets are required to make a number of round trips before being released for downstream consumption.
Implementing Digital Asset Supply Chains
Any business that deals with digital assets already has a Digital Asset Supply Chain, although they might not describe it in such terms, or necessarily have thought about how each of its component parts connects with the others. With this in mind, it is often best to begin by taking stock of what processes already exist and attempting to formalise and optimise them as opposed to implementing a supply chain plan from scratch.
Mapping Out Your Current Digital Asset Supply Chain
The first task to undertake is to make a list of all the upstream sources which feed into your DAM system, along with a list of all the downstream destinations that your digital assets are delivered to or consumed by. Once your two lists are compiled, the next step is to create a simple diagram to show how your digital content flows to and from each of the nodes.
As you can see from the above diagram, your DAM system should be at the centre of the supply chain. Systems and other human suppliers of digital materials to the DAM should be upstream (i.e. sources), whereas everything below the DAM will typically be downstream (i.e. destinations).
Once your diagram is finished, you should be able to get a complete picture of your current Digital Asset Supply Chain, along with the opportunity to flag up nodes and processes that are not adding a great deal of value, either because they are inefficient or redundant.
An important consideration when planning a new Digital Asset Supply Chain are processes that are carried out with direct human intervention. An example of this might be the manual download of an asset from one system which then needs to be re-uploaded to the DAM. This is clearly inefficient and presents an opportunity to remove the intermediary and clear the bottleneck whilst preserving the value of having access to the stock image.
There are, however, certain tasks that cannot be automated and rely on a level of discretion and judgement that can only be exercised by qualified human beings, such as licensing and usage requests or approval of unexpected edge cases. Nonetheless, many supply chain bottlenecks can be reduced and often removed entirely.
Technology and Digital Asset Supply Chains
Streamlining Digital Asset Supply Chains relies heavily on the ability to assist automation by way of integrating different nodes with each other and the DAM itself. This can be achieved via several methods, including:
The technical details of specific solutions is beyond the scope of this article, however, if a DAM system can directly communicate with any given upstream or downstream node via dedicated connectors, the results are likely to be more reliable and manageable. Sifting through the range of supply chain implementation options is a complex task which might require some specialist expertise which a good DAM consultant can offer.
Much like Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is a key practice in the appraisal and development of human-based skills, a similar principle ‘Continuous Improvement’ also applies to Supply Chain Management, whereby incremental reductions in friction between the nodes on the supply chain are made to optimise efficiency wherever possible. This implies constant monitoring and review of the performance metrics of the Digital Asset Supply Chain, both as a whole and as individual interconnected components.
This article aims to provide a basic overview of Digital Asset Supply Chains and how they are critical to realising the full potential of DAM systems and achieving maximum ROI from your investments into DAM technology. A six-part Digital Asset Supply Chain course that goes into far greater detail is available free of charge for DAM end-users.
About the author
Ralph Windsor is Project Director of DAM consultants, Daydream. He has been working in the Digital Asset Management sector for 25 years as a software developer, project manager, digital asset library manager and consultant. He is also Editor of DAM trade journal, Digital Asset Management News.
The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Producers & Procurers iQ or imply endorsement from the publisher