I worked some years in companies that created lots of multimedia assets, like animations, videos, training material. Those companies are still in business, some of them were doing this for years - before I even arrived. And I was - and still am - very proud that I worked there, it gives me a boost to see creative people draw, design, create worlds and stories starting from a blank sheet.
I can’t draw, not even if you’d hold a gun to my head.
I envy people who can draw; it amazes me how they bring shape to a white canvas.
But, at least I’m somewhat gifted with an above average sense of imagination, fantasy and curiosity. Being curious helps, so I often watched colleagues draw or sketch or create new parts of animation. And I quickly remarked they often started all over, designing a simple figure over and over again: they drew yet another question or exclamation mark, or a tree, or bicycle, or a ball…
They always drew everything from scratch, starting all over again.
Because that was quicker.
Quicker than re-using existing material….?
Nah - too difficult?
What, how do you mean - re-using is too difficult?
Re-using means you have to look up the correct source files...
Safe to say there was no asset management in place.
I found that whole situation a little bizarre.
But all was not lost: there was an existing “item library" somewhere at that company: 1200 digital items in a custom built, very basic asset management software system. And someone even had the courage to make a complete description and tag set per item. In a separate excel sheet. Effectively nobody knew where that library was, and not a single soul used it. I had to ask the IT guys to dig the system up.
The company (Instruxion) still builds hundreds of animations per year, and did that for over 15 years. But there was no central managed and used digital assets repository. People just kept stuff on their own desktop, things they liked, things they wanted to re-use.
Truth be told, the IT guys had a solid procedure for file storage and backup. They stored per project 1 folder (... in it a truckload of messy sub-folders), but that project folder had at least a naming convention. There was a system behind it.
I love systems.
So, hey, there was a managed system of project folders, that you could manually check on dates (naming conventions, yes, I love ‘m). That fileserver system was about 6TB in size, and it was rather well organized over the last years. The guys from IT started their system 3 years back, but before that time, it was a bit of chaos, a complete mess: just a pile of files and folders. On separate USB disks.
So I started on that basis first: Gave the existing project folders naming system a newer structure and meaningful structured subfolders. The whole team decided upon how that structure should be used in more detail; what the naming conventions were and how the process of a project creation and project folder creation would look like.
Together with IT, I presented a first proposal on a team meeting, but the team had +10 years of experience, so I wanted their feedback and buy in.
We kicked off the new naming and sorting system in only 2 weeks from the brainstorm. It took us two team meetings, and that first change was done. We put no effort in cleaning up the past, only changed “now” and moved on for the future.
I also asked the team why they never organized and managed their assets before. They tried asset management two times before, where the last custom library had just over 1200 items in it, a poor set of keywords,... and no active users being the final result.
It had taken them over 3 man-months of custom development, based on a poor list of specifications, and the resulting piece of software was never used. Because it was not bringing a massive "waaw" feeling: the offering was too poor, every single artist had more assets stored on their local machine than they could find in the library.
So I started doing some desk research, I got a little deeper into asset management systems. I wanted to get this done correctly, that meant building a plan and make sure that success was at least defined.
I’m really a big fan of opensource software. And I like to tinker with hard- and software. I installed a local virtual machine so I could do some local testing.
The ideal system I looked for had to be browser based, simple to use, built on open standards and preferably free. It took me some time to grow into the matter (I did this specific project on the side, next to my day-to-day other stuff). I ran into resourcespace, an open-source DAM system.
To be honest, it wasn’t love at first sight, I found it a rather complex system at first. But, I was far from being a digital asset management specialist. Long story short, I made a loop testing a longer list of solutions and ended back at... ResourceSpace.
I didn’t tell the team that I was doing all this research. Instead, I asked only one person who really wanted a better situation, to help me do some tests and provide me a subset of “assets”. That person had a specific role in the team: he had to present mock-ups of animations and he also suggested a first ‘style’ to every customer, almost for every single project. So he had a real "pain" and needed a solution. Being able to dig into the past work easily would improve his day-to-day work experience a lot.
He also was a big fan of simple but structured systems.
I asked him to provide me a sample subset of our assets: What was really used, what would be used, what would be available in our “assets” library? Those assets turned out to be images, Flash fla and swf files (brr…), illustrations, sound files, fonts, video files, 3D objects, customer brand guidelines, voice actor samples, animations, after effects presets, …
I had no idea we had so many assets. And so many different types.
I honestly had serious doubts on how we could tackle this.
Luckily, we had a lot of pictures we purchased a very long time ago. In wrong quality (sizes like 640x480... anyone?) or where we had no clue where they were used before. But for mock-ups they were perfect.
ResourceSpace is good in extracting meta data. So I uploaded 500 of those images on my local machine, just to see what would happen.
Turned out that we could easily track from what broker those images were purchased, what their ID was. When I combined that with a clever upload (added sufficient tags to the upload), I had resources for a project, customer, purchase and meta data from the image itself (if the broker provided that). This took some trial and error, but at least we could now easily find the ID of the images and simply purchase better quality if customers wanted to stick with what was proposed.
Imagine the time we already saved: That ‘upgrade process” alone took us sometimes half a day before we had any asset management. I was a happy camper, I saw a potential win on all fronts.
So I went to IT, asked for a virtual machine and a lot of storage with a decent back-up system The whole shebang. But I said no to software cost: I asked for a headless Debian, and built a lamp stack with webmin on it to ease the sys-admin effort. The asset server was only accessible from the company's intranet, but it did need extra security (software firewall, antivirus, etc are easy using webmin). ResourceSpace has some specific system requirements, but nothing too complex.
Once that server system was up, we gave it a cool name - "damstruxion" - and we started. It was just me and that 1 colleague, doing the imports all over again. Step by step we learned to master the upload process, made sure we did a short analyses of what we needed (like keyword-wise) before we did the upload.
We went for the quick wins first.
Popular relatively recent images with a lot of metadata. But after 1200 images we ran out of luck. So we started uploading assets per project of the key accounts first and we both tagged every day about 50-100 items each. Adding keywords to items is daunting.
No fun. Not-at-all.
But we found a rather effective and efficient way to do it.
Get in touch if you want a golden tip :)
We did the tagging for about 3 months, and tried not to forget it or skip it.That gave us another 1200 tagged items, give or take. So in about 3 months we were up and running with a free solution, that had professional support, bug fixes and that gets new features every 3-4 months - thanks Montala and the whole community behind ResourceSpace.
It seemed a good moment to brief the other team members, by now they got a clue what we were doing. So we presented both what we had done, and we explained what we want to achieve: a full library of digital assets where creative people could dive into, project managers could find samples for customers and all at the tips of our fingers. Simply: digital asset management getting done.
Yes, you need to be ambitious.
We gave all the team members their own login, gave them a training if they wanted it (to help do the uploads) and I insisted on the team to make sure that all projects from the current year got their assets put in a specific location in the project folders. The gathering, tagging and expansion of the dam system took another year and a half before we reached 15000 tagged items with thumbnail etc.
That was longer than expected. And it took much more effort (of me, and the first colleague) to do a lot of tagging by hand than we expected. That was a boring job, but an important step. The daunting task was related to the older projects, the assets there were of poorer quality when it came to metadata.
We did brief the whole team on how to use simple steps when they created new assets, so we could automate the extraction of it. The newer assets were imported much more easily.
What was an important step to success, was that we kept track of "statistics": I showed once per quarter the “numbers”: like we now have 1000 fonts, 1200 images, 800 fla’s, 150 voices, etc. The first time you have to be humble.
The team saw the Resourcespace library was growing, step by step.
And we noticed that the team started to log into the system, we could see what keywords they were using, what they were looking for. So we made sure we added assets that were related to their keyword search.
I was very happy, proud even, once that I noticed that the team started to gather and normalize their assets, preparing them for upload, without me having to ask for it. They understood the added value of the system, and took over part of the job of importing the “past” projects.
The ResourceSpace based Digital Asset Management system ("DAM") led to an enormous time saving and it had a financial angle to it. That came as a surprise to me, "financial measurement" was something I didn't add to my goals. But it is an important aspect: Accounting could now put a number on the company's digital assets and evaluate it more precisely, even in hard currency.
That was an eye-opener for me, digital assets has a real monetary angle to it; "Digital Assets Management" is not just a "back-up & search" jalopy thing.
It’s safe to say that I’m a big fan of ResourceSpace, but systems are only a very small part of success. Getting buy-in from other team members and keeping up the effort are even more important factors. And by the way: did I mention that we were a multilingual company? But from the start, we decided: English only in our library.
So all in all a short story (ahem...) on how you have to prepare for success: make a plan.
Learn from the past and ask the lead users for information and involve them. Do your research, test, measure and communicate on time. And make sure you define success, find a way to show meaningful numbers.
And add a lot of hard work to that, getting to success is rarely achieved without some serious transpiration.
But I’d do it all over again, with a smile.
Thanks to Montala and kudos to all people behind the ResourceSpace community.
*** Update (April 2019, Frederik Van Hecke)
ResourceSpace just launched its new user interface with a major new version release.
Three cheers to version 9.
And a screenshot of how it looks. Slick, right !?