Refreshing Media Management: Coca-Cola Turns Archives Into Assets


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With a newly implemented DAM system, Coca-Cola's Archive Department is bringing the firm's rich collection of graphics, video, audio, and text to company desktops worldwide, facilitating access to a valuable resource for ongoing promotional and informational initiatives.

"Historically," says Dick Anderson, general manager of IBM Global Digital Media in Bethesda, Maryland, "the media and entertainment industry was the first to embrace the need for complex digital asset management systems. But now the trend is for companies outside of the entertainment space to look at their business content as a potentially valuable asset with, if not commercial viability, the ability to increase efficiency and go-to-market timing. So digital media projects are no longer just for media and entertainment companies."

Anderson believes the advent of corporate computing has brought with it exponential growth in the quantity of digital data in American enterprise. And he describes DAM systems as "solving the problem of accessing, indexing, cataloging, and using" that data, which may be text, images, and graphics, or rich media, such as video or audio.

The extent to which a given enterprise produces rich media to manage depends, of course, on the business it's in. One company that generates more than its share of rich media is Atlanta-based Coca-Cola, which has a 116-year history of communicating its message to consumers via media, including print, television and radio.

It's the job of Coca-Cola's Archive Department not only to preserve such media material, but to keep it accessible for repurposing. To do so, the company recently reinvented its approach to media management, instituting a new system jointly developed by IBM and the company's in-house Business Information group. The system integrates components from IBM and Virage into a complete environment for "ingestion," archiving, search, and desktop delivery.

"Coca-Cola operates in nearly 200 countries," says the department's director, Philip Mooney, "but it has been difficult for our employees outside Atlanta to access the material we hold." The DAM resides on the company's intranet, and is viewed at the desktop. The primary targets for the new system, according to Mooney, are employees who would not normally have easy access to the company's archives. Additionally, he believes that Coca-Cola's advertising agencies, licensees, and key suppliers will find it to be a valuable resource.

Easy access to archived materials is important because today's promotional work often draws on themes and images from Coca-Cola's past. "Someone looking to develop an Olympics promotion," Mooney says, should be able to "see all of the television advertising with an Olympic theme, review all the press materials created on previous Games, and see whatever photos we have on this subject. Armed with all this information, the employee can build on previous work to create a contemporary program."

Mooney recalls that before the launch of the system, the primary burden of supplying any historical information or materials needed by employees fell on his staff. "Atlanta-based personnel could physically come to our library and go through books of images to select appropriate materials," he says. "But field personnel would rely on the expertise of the staff for information." Given the time-restraints on handling reference requests, Mooney says that most inquiries would receive incomplete information. He says, especially given a topic as broad as the Olympics, "we simply did not have the manpower to copy large volumes of material and transmit it quickly to remote locations."

The DAM system, on the other hand, allows employees anywhere on Coca-Cola's global network to search for and view information and materials in the archive at their own desktop. "The system contains photographs, textual documents, and video that is fully search- able," Mooney says. "The use of a DAM activates a very rich resource and allows employees to easily explore content."

Key Criteria
To Ted Ryan, the Archive Department's manager of collections development, the crucial point about the new system is that it is more than simply a digital card catalog for locating materials. "The ability to actually view the photograph, print, or moving image enhances the end-user's knowledge," Ryan says. "Describing a commercial with Elton John does not do justice to watching the ad and listening to him sing the jingle."

This capability of directly delivering media content was among the key criteria for the department when they began contemplating a new approach to archive management. "The requirement was to provide a visual representation," Ryan says, though he adds that this need had to be balanced against the realities of bandwidth worldwide. Compatibility with formats already in use in the archive was also an important consideration. "Our images previously existed in three formats," Ryan says, "two low-resolution JPEGs—thumbnail and view—and a high-resolution production-quality TIFF." Those formats have been carried over to the new solution.

Defining video requirements, Ryan says, was more problematic. Working with the company's business units, they decided that the requirements called for two formats: low-resolution for playback around the world, and high-resolution for non-broadcast decoding to tape. He says, "We opted for MPEG-1 at 500kbps for low resolution, and MPEG-1 at 3mbps for high resolution. We did not need MPEG-2."

The video decisions were guided in part by the need to avoid requiring substantial changes to desktop systems worldwide. "The Coca-Cola Standard Desktop runs Internet Explorer 5 as a minimum," Ryan says. "No plug-ins were required with MPEG-1. Plug-ins would have been required with any other format we chose, which is a matter of some concern with 29,000 worldwide employees." At the same time, the department decided that the system architecture must easily allow a change of format in the future.

Another important requirement was that the system integrate on the front end with a legacy search, retrieval, and image-ordering system based on Lotus Domino that had previously been developed in-house. "CCISRS—Coca-Cola Image Storage and Retrieval System—has been in use by the Archives for the past three years," Ryan says. "It has a great deal of functionality, including a shopping-basket system." Coca-Cola also wanted to maintain its assets in three distinct libraries: image, video, and document. "This allows searches of one category or all at the same time," Ryan says. Finally, the company wanted the document library to support text search capabilities.

Rigorous RFP
When the search began for outside help in putting together a DAM system, Ryan says, "our request-for-proposals process was rigorous, and took into account factors including compatibility with our architecture and willingness to make changes to the software." The RFP process lasted almost two years as the company examined "almost every system in the field." He adds that the first decision was to "examine the logging products and the back-end content management products separately, allowing us to choose best of breed for both."

The result is an integration of component parts from more than one vendor. "Coca-Cola's solution," Anderson says, "is built around IBM's Content Manager, which provides the infrastructure to store, access, and manage the full spectrum of digital information archived in the system, including indexing and metadata search functionality." Virage provides the front-end tools to ingest the video assets, and Content Manager allows the solution to link to existing databases, such as Oracle. Java "servelets" are used as well, helping to facilitate custom applications.

The solution uses IBM server hardware—xSeries and pSeries servers. "One server series runs the user interface," Anderson says, "and the other runs the Content Manager middleware." Centralized storage management and data backup is provided by Tivoli Storage Manager, with IBM tape systems in use as well.

The conversion of video and the video logging is done on IBM IntelliStation MPro workstations running Windows NT. "When we started logging," Ryan says, "Virage was not yet compatible with Windows 2000, and we have not had the time to update."

The Movie Maker Plus card from Optibase converts analog video to the two resolutions of digital video. Key frames, meanwhile, are captured with an Osprey card. "While it was problematic to set up," Ryan says, "we run all three cards in the same Intellistation. The Optibase card does a better job with the 3mbps files than the 500kbps files. We are closely monitoring the formats with an eye toward change in the future."

Describing the workflow for ingesting the video content, Ryan says that the overall collection has been broken into two categories. The corporate presentation and B-roll collection is handled in-house. The worldwide advertising collection includes material that is being restored for donation to the United States Library of Congress; this material is handled by Archive Impact, a third-party vendor based in Detroit.

Ryan says Coca-Cola provided Archive Impact with a Virage workstation to do the encoding and metadata cataloging. Both encoded resolutions of the ad and the Virage VDF file are burned to CD and shipped to Atlanta. The VDF and the MPEG's are put into Coca-Cola's Content Manager archive via batch load, and a copy of the CD is shipped to the Library of Congress.

As for the in-house work, the metadata fields are identical to those used on the Virage workstation at Archive Impact. After the Video is logged and the metadata entered, the same batch load is used to import into Content Manager, during which the metadata is indexed with IBM's Enterprise Information Portal [EIP] for text searching. Low-resolution video is maintained on disk for a period of time and high-resolution is pumped directly to tape storage.

Searching for "Santa"
Once the video or other content is in the system, it's available to employees through CCISRS. A sample search, Ryan says, might begin by selecting "Search all Libraries by Text," with the search term "Santa Claus." The system would return a set of initial descriptions and thumbnails for viewing by the user, including images, such as paintings and print ads, corporate presentations, documents, such as press releases, and video ads.

"Select the thumbnail for a video ad," Ryan says, "and you are presented a storyboard which gives visual overview of the ad. This option, which lets users know if they are on the right track or if the ad is different than they thought, has been popular overseas, where bandwidth is more limited. They can then select 'Play Video,' and the low bit-rate version of the ad is forwarded to desktop. Windows Media player launches, and will let the user play video." The user also has the option to save to his or her desktop.

Ryan says that installation and testing took place over most of 2001, with a soft launch to the existing user-base in September. In October 2001, the system was opened up to general Coca-Cola use. While over 20,000 images, videos, or documents now reside in the system, Ryan describes this as "just a good beginning. I doubt we will ever have the entire Archives online."

"The biggest challenge faced by the IBM team—besides creating and building the system for less than $5 million—was addressing the client's business requirements early in the planning stages," Anderson recalls. "As with most major productions, it's easier and cheaper to make changes before the physical implementation begins. So we go through this tremendous planning stage where we really clarify technical requirements early on."

Among the most important lessons the department learned in the process, Ryan says, was that "developing your metadata and field structure will be the most critical thing you do. That way you will not back down when the vendor says a 1,248 character description field is too big." Ryan also says that the customer "has to make an effort to understand the technological side to offer input. The IS side does not understand archives, so the archivist must learn as much IS as possible."

So far, the effort appears to have paid off. "The time-savings for my staff is huge," Mooney says. "Coca-Cola employees can now do their own research at their leisure. The system allows them to search as broadly as they desire, to review hundreds of pages of material, and to be sure that they are locating the most relevant materials."

"We have seen a tremendous number of new users," Ryan adds, "and the feedback we are receiving from users, particularly those outside Atlanta, has been tremendous. Prior to the launch of the system, a request from Australia for an ad would have been conveyed via phone, fax, or email, we would have pulled the ad, hoping we had the correct one, transferred it to video, and then shipped it out." With its DAM system, Coca-Cola now measures time savings for locating valuable archived materials in weeks.