Electronic Logbooks

Electronic Logbooks

Stripped to their essence, digital content controls comprise a variety of technology encryption schemes with built-in e-business cash registers or logbooks that show or govern who's using what—and when, and for how long. Content is encoded, and those who own the content give users a key that requires them to do something—pay a fee, perhaps, or provide an e-mail address. Digital content controls deliver the protection, but it's up to the content owners to set the conditions. For example, vendor ContentGuard Inc., in which Microsoft has invested heavily, uses a "multiple key" approach. Anyone who receives bootleg content would have to crack into it all over again—in effect, preventing hackers from distributing what they've just won from hacking. Digital controls vendor Authentica Inc., on the other hand, lets a content owner like Simmons encode its data so that it essentially self-destructs if forwarded, or if terms of use are violated. The controls also allow for some flexibility: Simmons can leak some data—but keep the rest, a decision that took a lot of discussion to reach, Schad says.

At Simmons, company executives originally just wanted to cut publishing costs, but worried that research reports would fall into the wrong hands if Simmons were to distribute them more cheaply online. "You send stuff off to a client, but then, gee, he might be turning around and e-mailing it to his brother-in-law who works for your rival, who then forwards it on to God only knows who," Schad says. "We wanted to be able to control and specify who gets our information. We wanted to say they couldn't forward stuff or, in some cases, even print it out. We wanted to take control of our information."

At first, Simmons considered using digital content controls to prohibit all content from being forwarded. But after much discussion, the company decided that a few leaks might not be so bad. "We didn't want to put the handcuffs on so tight that the customers felt like, you know, our company has turned into Big Brother and people wouldn't want to do business with us anymore," Schad says. Indeed, "we wanted to see where this information was ending up, as a way to find out if there's other business out there that we should be tapping into." The company has been testing the technology for months, and later this month it plans to go live with a new e-mail system that tracks reports sent to clients. Schad expects to generate at least several hundred sales leads from the experiment.

Meanwhile, Schad says, Simmons has achieved its original objective, cutting publishing costs in half, or by about $150,000 so far this year. Next year, he says, it will be more. "We're a small company, and the economic conditions of the last year have hit most investment banking firms hard, so you're trying to go after whatever kind of cost-cutting you can," he says.

Digital content controls can also help speed response times to inquiries and requests for permissions, cutting by days, if not weeks, the time it takes a company to produce a new film, book or piece of music. Chan Preston, the managing director of the digital content management practice at KPMG Consulting Inc., says Net-distribution methods run head-on into paper-based processes that most organizations still follow to locate a piece of content's rights of use and ownership.

Preston says large companies might have literally millions of digital assets, each with their own set of usage rights and permissions filed in paper records. At Simon & Schuster Inc., for example, CIO Anne Mander has created a Digital Asset Library to centralize materials such as book jackets, author photos and sales sheets—data previously stored on zip drives or in someone's file drawer—into a single database. Mander says it's eliminated the need for dozens of employees whose jobs were to simply find this information and copy it each time one of S&S's executives requested it. "Much of this information would be scattered all over the company," Mander says. "Now it's in one central place, and we're getting faster now at producing books as a result."

This article was originally published on 10-10-2002
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