Web Extra: DAM: It's a Good Thing?

By CIOinsight  |  Posted 05-23-2003

Web Extra: DAM: It's a Good Thing?

With nearly 100,000 information assets to keep track of, executives at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia were quick to realize that an efficient system to catalog its many articles, television shows and radio spots wasn't just common sense, it could actually save money. CIO Sheila Beauchesne spearheaded a digital asset management project and recently spoke with CIO Insight Reporter Debra D'Agostino about the initiative's benefits and challenges. What follows is an edited transcript of that interview.

CIO Insight: When did Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia begin thinking about using DAM?
Beauchesne:
The idea initially arose from our concern for all of our assets. The company has been around now for over 10 years, and had created all these wonderful assets through books, magazines, television shows and such, and there was a concern that we would lose track of them. We find these assets to be very valuable; our whole business model is based on reusing digital assets that we create, and of course you can't reuse them if you can't find them. So the basic security of all those digital assets was the initial impetus for getting rolling with it.

Was security an issue beforehand?
Primarily in the sense of not losing [an asset]. For example, we would have many photos that had been shot that were stored on CDs in a box in someone's office. As employees come and go, and as you collect more CDs, you lose track of where [the assets] are, and potentially they make their way out of the building.

And was that happening frequently?
I think it was more of a concern than it was really a problem. Someone may have had to spend a few hours finding something they were looking for, but eventually they would find it. But that would bring up the concern, "Oh my gosh, what if the people who know where to look for the boxes end up leaving the company? How will we ever find these things?" There are two employees here who are kind of experts. They've been around since the magazine's launch. Before the DAM system was implemented, everyone would go to them and ask 'Where is this? Where is that?' and they would say, 'Oh yes, that was in the September 1989 issue.'

The whole company relied on those two people?
Yes.

That's kind of risky.
Exactly. So the big thing was covering that risk, so that even a new employee could go in and research the data we have on various topics.

So the DAM system allows employees to do faster research?
Yes. It has all these assets. Say, for example, someone is going to do a television segment on Martha's rose garden. Well they can go into our DAM and say, 'Show me everything we've done on Martha's rose garden before,' and they can read all the articles, all the research that was done. They can literally click on it and get a PDF of the magazine article, book story, radio transcript, whatever it is. Another example: We do photo shoots for our catalog. We sell our Catalog for Living products in our print catalog as well as at our marthastewart.com Web site. We do refreshes of the catalog [but] we don't necessarily have to go out and take all new photos of the products. We can go back into the DAM program and find all the photos that we have taken before of garden clogs or whatever it is we're looking to sell, and we can use those images [to update] both the catalog as well as the Web site.

How many items are we talking about?
Right now we have loaded into the system more than 93,000 assets.

Can you walk us through the process of how you implemented?
Sure. First, we sat down with each of our four main business units, all of which come into contact with the DAM—publishing, merchandising, television, and Internet direct commerce. We sat down and met with department heads from each area, to understand their workflow for the assets we were creating, and how and where they were being stored. From that, we generated a list of functional requirements for what we wanted to have in a digital asset management system. Then we went through a traditional software evaluation process, where we identified and met with various vendors, and by the end, each came in and did a demonstration, and we included the business units' users as well as the technical folks in those evaluations and demonstrations. We ended up selecting WebWare Corp. Once we selected WebWare, we put together the whole project plan from the systems side on what it would take to implement and test the system, and looked at what modifications we might need to meet our business requirements.

How often did the planning group meet?
They met every single week through the implementation, for about an hour.

Does that still go on?
No. It's not weekly now because that was geared toward development and the plans and processes for getting in the initial archive of content. They still meet, but I would say now it's probably once a month.

After that, were you responsible for getting all the assets digitized, or did WebWare do that?
We did. A really key thing that we didand would never have made it without doing was to hire a full-time content librarian. His name is Jeffrey Sauder and he works for us, and his big project after joining with us was first of all to identify the taxonomy and the language that we would use to categorize and describe all these various assets, and then start working on the plan to actually ingest all of those assets. So he basically is responsible for getting in all 10 years of archives.

How long did it take him?
He's still doing it now (laughter). He's by and large done with the major chunk of it, but overall I would say he's been working on it for the past year.

When did the process begin?
January 2001.

And how long did it take you to roll out the system?
We've rolled it out in pieces. The first major piece, related to our Martha Stewart Everyday products, was launched in June 2002. We used this not only for our editorial assets, but also for our merchandising and catalog assets. We took images from all our Martha Stewart Everyday products, all those things that we sell at Kmart, and got those ingested into the system along with all their merchandise specs and description information, etc. We tied that into the database our merchandisers use, so they use it as a regular part of their product design and support processes. For example, when we get a request that we need a binder to print out an image and information about every single one of our Martha Stewart Everyday products, this is the one and only place in our DAM system where you can actually go and get that. We were using that right away.

Since then, we have continued to ingest all of our magazine issues. Around September of last year, we launched the rest of the system; we have it available on our intranet. Any employee can go in, click on our DAM system, sign up for a user ID if they don't have one already, and they are able to go in and look at any of our historical archives. And we continue to add to the historical archives all the time. For example, we just this year launched a magazine called Everyday Food. Well that's already incorporated into the system and we are completely up to date on the assets from Everyday Food in the DAM system.

Sheila Beauchesne Interview, continued

So any new asset now is automatically entered into the system, and the real effort is going through the archives, the back issues, to put them into the system?
That's right. The biggest chunk of work is getting all the archives of information into the system. On an ongoing basis it's not nearly as challenging, because you just make it part of the process.

Let's talk about benefits. With the economy in a slump, and considering some of the issues MSO has been facing in particular, how does DAM help the bottom line?
The most specific example that I know we're making use of now is the idea of repurposing photos we have already taken. We have gone through and cut budgets in different areas, not necessarily for any of the reasons that you just mentioned, but we may be adjusting budgets in different areas for a whole list of reasons. And if you bring those budgets down, things like photo shoots get hit. So how can we do fewer photo shoots? We can go back and look at what images we already have and see how we can repurpose those for digital use. And we are doing that today as we speak for our Catalog For Living business. When they are looking at producing the catalog for a new season, often they want to use different photos of the same products. Before we implemented the system, they would go schedule a photo shoot and reshoot these products. Now they can find various versions of these same products in photos that have been taken before.

In total we expect to see ROI in the system in between two and two-and-a-half years. That's not as quick as we like to see all of our returns, but there is also a value that isn't included in that, which is just the pure value of keeping our assets secure and not losing track of them. If you look at what we're doing from a revenue perspective, which is that we are always launching new magazines, it gives us a whole other archive that we can use for assets to be a part of those magazines without us having to re-create them. So it really is just fundamental for the whole business model of reusing assets as opposed to re-creating assets, or creating new assets.

How much can DAM contribute to cost cutting over time at MSO?
I honestly don't know an accurate answer to that question. We see that there's a lot of value to it and we have invested in hardware and software and our own internal resources to get to the point where it is now, and I think that we are just going to begin to see the impact that it will have on an ongoing basis. We don't have a specific dollar amount calculated that we expect to see impacting the bottom line. We did a full business case when we evaluated and decided to move forward with the project, and we are going to continue to compare against those savings that we estimated as well as new revenue-generating opportunities as we get into using it in full force.

Have you seen any unexpected benefits?
Oh, yes, the one group that absolutely loves this in our company is customer relations. This is a small group of people who answer letters and phone calls and e-mails from all of our consumers everywhere. And they answer all of them. When someone writes in and says, "I am really looking for that great macaroni and cheese recipe that was in one of the magazines in 2002 but I can't find it," customer relations goes in and they can use the system to find that story or that recipe, or whatever they are looking for.

Was this an easy idea to sell to other execs, or was getting buy-in still a challenge?
In terms of just conceptually agreeing with it, it was very easy. It's a very difficult process to find what you're looking for when you want to do some research on something the company has done in the past. So we have had people literally go back and flip through old magazines to try to find some particular topic that they are researching; to them, the idea of being able first of all to keep secure those things they have already created, and then being able to get access to them much more quickly and easily, everybody saw that as a big benefit right away.

So we've talked about benefits. What about challenges?
The biggest challenge is getting the archive of information, finding where all of it is. We don't do things the same way today that we did 10 or 11 years ago, so things are in different formats, and it's difficult to get our hands on everything in the right format and then get it ingested into the system. I would say that's the number one challenge. The number two challenge was that the WebWare software was relatively new at the time, so they have grown along with us. We had to have been the first major publishing company to use their system. And it's a great system, but it has grown up with us over the past couple of years.

Hindsight being 20/20, what would you do differently if you could go back and do it again?
I would have liked to have done it faster. And it's difficult to say exactly how we could have done that.

Looking forward, what is this going to enable you to do in terms of creating new products or strengthening the brand?
Content subscription is something we are evaluating right now, looking at the business model for what our consumers would like in terms of premium content that they would be able to get through our Web site. And we are going to look at some business models and we are doing some surveys of our consumers to see what they would like and what kind of value they would associate with that premium content, which could be anything from packaging and indexes to all of our previous magazine issues. So for example, if you want to learn how to paint Easter eggs, you could look up how to paint Easter eggs and see that 'Oh, that was in the March 2000 issue.' Click on that and pull up an actual PDF of those pages and be able to print them. We think that's something our consumers would find very valuable and would pay some sort of a premium for.

Another example might be packaging groups of segments of our television show. So if we say, 'Here's a grouping of all of the cooking segments or gardening segments from a particular season of the Martha Stewart Living television series,' that may be valuable to a consumer online. We don't know how that's going to turn out yet, but we are evaluating that and looking at our DAM system as the central point to provide that information, no matter how we decide to serve it to our consumers.

Any idea when that would happen?
We are planning on having a business model together for that by the middle of this year.

So is DAM one of the projects, or perhaps the project, that you are looking at going forward to help bring you through until the economy improves?
I would not say it's the only project. Even if the economy had stayed great and we didn't have any cost issues to deal with, we would still be moving forward with this project. When you look at why we created our DAM, it truly was so we could secure our digital assets and provide a quick and easy way for our employees to be able to access that archive of our assets. We started this over two years ago, so it's not that we did it in response to the economy or in response to anything associated with reducing costs. It was much more [about] protecting our assets and giving us an easy way to access all of the information that we have accumulated over the past 10 or 11 years.

However, the DAM must at least be a "good thing" to have during these tight economic times, especially considering that MSO just posted its first quarterly loss.
I would agree with that.

And does Martha herself see the value of DAM?
Long before I got here, although she may not have been using the words digital asset management, Martha had been talking for quite some time of her concern over securing all of the assets that we have been creating over the past many years. Believe me, her vision goes way beyond where we are (laughter). This far and further.