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Managing Digital Assets

(February 2001) posted on Thu May 31, 2001

Coudray explores the impact of digital design in the Internet age and its repercussions for printers.

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By Mark A. Coudray

To address this obvious challenge, a new type of entity is emerging. You can call it a digital-asset manager. Many different incarnations already exist, but despite the need for their unique services, they have not yet been fully embraced. A digital-asset manager could be a company, Website, or computer application. It really does not matter. The objective is that the asset manager controls and tracks all of the details that typically seem to be lost, regardless of what end uses the digital image is destined for.


Here is how an Internet version might work. A large customer (say Coca-Cola), has thousands of digital graphic assets. They are used on screen-printed T-shirts and posters, offset-printed magazine ads, inkjet-printed vehicle graphics, Websites, and so forth. Each time an asset is used, it must be repurposed for that application.


The client (Coke) contracts with the asset manager, who catalogs all of the assets into a searchable visual database. Keywords are embedded to make the search process easier. For each asset, technical specifications are provided to address all of the various uses of the image.


The image becomes part of a huge data warehouse. The managing entity then acts as a facilitator, providing the image and application-specific instructions for those who need access to the graphic. In a way, the asset managers are high-tech middlemen who facilitate easy transfer and use of the client's digital asset for anyone who needs it and has permission to use it.


The asset manager handles permission for use in a secure way, allowing data exchanges only through a "secure area" of the Website. This means that everything entering and leaving the secure area is encrypted and protected against unauthorized use. It is all but impossible to break the digital code, and the digital certificates or digital signatures the encoding provides are assurances that you are who you say you are and that you have permission to use the graphics.


The companies that are putting together such asset-management services see a very large opportunity to facilitate business. They are often called collaborative sites, and their value to the client is in expediting the process of getting something printed. It does not matter what imaging process is employed--they will manage the preparation of the image and production of the job. To do so, they will form partnerships with various printers in specific regions and product areas.


Many of the key people behind these collaborative sites have managed print projects for years. They may have been print brokers, traffic managers, print buyers, or some other type of print estimator or expeditor. By drawing on the expertise of individuals that are versed in specific processes, markets, or substrates, the collaborative site can make some money while smoothly shepherding the job along.


Watch and wait


If all this sounds interesting, but you are not quite sure how it is all going to work, don't feel alone. The collaborative portals or Websites have been in development for almost two years, and only a few of the several dozen that have been announced are actually up and running. To date, the results from these functioning collaborators are mixed. Some companies love the idea of digital-asset management and have embraced it completely, while others have not.


The majority of these Internet-based businesses are still unprofitable, and as we have seen since the second half of last year, unprofitable Internet companies have not fared well. Once their cash is gone, so are they. Virtually all of the companies I studied had raised millions in venture capital and were counting on more funding rounds before it was all over.late spring 2001, we will have a better idea of who the survivors will be. In the meantime, have a seat on the sidelines until the dust settles. The important thing to remember is, there is business to be had when the winners emerge.



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