Collaboration Be DAM’d

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Streamlining the Workflow
Portals can also offer collaboration coupled with rich media asset. Plumtree Software's Content Server and Collaboration Server products can work in conjunction with a Plumtree portal as well as with document management systems such as those from Documentum. In that type of environment, the Plumtree portal "isn't the system of record," explains Jenny Michel, the company's product marketing manager, but uses external repositories to store the assets.

What Plumtree does is create metadata—that is, indexable detailed descriptions of assets—from a variety of different sources, marking the actual locations of those documents. "We don't store the assets, we point to them," she says. That metadata can be accessed through Plumtree's browser-based interface, and then desired assets can be downloaded. Project managers can also set up workflow through Plumtree, with task lists, group calendars, and discussion forums, in addition to email messaging through gateways with Lotus Notes and Microsoft Exchange Server, and instant messaging via a Yahoo! integration.

Plumtree makes assets available to internal users directly, or through a gateway to external customers, partners, or contractors over the Internet, according to Michel. All of the metadata is stored in XML format; to the portal indexing system, all types of rich media are treated the same. "Plumtree thinks that video is a document," she says. The actual content itself might be stored on a streaming media server for delivery directly to the consumer or filtered through the Plumtree portal.

That self-service aspect is key to the success of broad collaborative portals, argues Artesia's Warner, who says that the trend is for users of DAM systems to bifurcate into trained "power users," who both produce and consume content, and a large number of consumers who need access to the media—under the control of business rules. "You have to extend the content to both groups, such as an agency that produces content, or to licensees," he says.

In some cases, that means automated rules and workflow to ensure the appropriate usage of the data. "Those rules can get sophisticated," he admits, citing needs for sign-offs or approval based on legal, creative, and financial considerations. In those complex cases, pure self-service and immediate access to assets may not be possible, but would require manual interactions, including checking terms and conditions of rights, or setting the proper cost. He asks, "Is the customer going to put my photograph on a magazine cover or in a small box on page 12?" Depending on the answer, the approval process itself might be different, along with pricing and terms and conditions.

Artesia's TEAMS software focuses on a to do-list metaphor, Warner says, where content creators, content consumers, and others involved in the food chain—such as legal departments or business managers—see all their tasks when they login to the system. They can also receive email alerts on key tasks, or if they're approaching deadlines. "If you miss due dates, it'll send you nastygrams," he says, laughing.

Different systems offer a different take on workflow. Artesia's system is designed to be ad hoc, starting with informal collaboration between small groups, and then only becoming more locked down as growing teams begin to require structure. This can have drawbacks, Warner admits. "If I was at the top of the corporate food chain, it would drive me nuts; to a lot of C-level folk, informal workflow can't be budgeted or managed." But he insists that this method is better for fostering creativity.

Plumtree's Content Server includes features for version control, workflow, and check in/check out. "You can attach documents to workflow, or publish new Web pages, or route digital assets for approval," Michel says. "You can also publish that asset to a larger audience using shared folders; you don't need to set up something special."

Like Artesia, Interwoven offers both structured and ad hoc workflow. "Most are ad hoc with structure imposed later," says Cummings. "You start with the project originators, maybe just a couple of people. At some point they need to expand and transition to a small team with processes, and then a bigger one with more formal processes." He advises that anyone setting up a CM system look for one where it's easy for project managers to maintain those workflow rules. "Who defines that workflow? Going to IT won't work," he says.

The value of digital assets has always been great, but with today's increased emphasis on outsourcing and offshoring, self-service content delivery to customers and licensees, and more widely dispersed creative teams and project management, the value of a collaborative DAM system is greater than ever. Whether by using email or portals, secure extranets or hosted utility computing, it's clear that DAM and collaborative technologies are evolving to meet those challenges and opportunities.

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