Interview with Giovanni Benigni about Digital Asset Management
(Duration: 10 minutes 40 seconds)
How are you involved with Digital Asset Management (DAM)?
How does the Vatican Museums’ Digital Transformation project involve Digital Asset Management?
What are the biggest challenges and successes you have seen with Digital Asset Management?
What advice would like to share with DAM professionals and people aspiring to become DAM
Henrik de Gyor (0:00): This is Another DAM Podcast about Digital Asset Management. I’m Henrik de Gyor. Today I’m speaking with Giovanni Benigni.
Henrik de Gyor (0:08): Giovanni, How are you involved with Digital Asset Management?
Giovanni Benigni (0:12): Well, before starting, I have just to say that I’m speaking on my own, of my personal experience in the Vatican. All the opinions expressed not necessarily reflect ones of the institution.
Giovanni Benigni (0:32): That said, I started working for the Vatican Museums at the end of last century. And in the early 2000s, I directed for the Governorate of Vatican City State several software development projects related to image storage and retrieval systems. But such projects, unfortunately, at the time had no fortune for several reasons that would be too long to say here, and went into oblivion. Moreover, since coming to Museums, I dealt with several software systems used to catalog and store images, without any direct connection to our CMS. Also, since the advent of digital high-resolution imagery had just been conserved on file shares, without any way to retrieve it, other than using [file] path and file names. So since then, my obsession has been to put all the information we had in a single system to get to a single access point directory of everything. This is shortly how I started my involvement with DAM in the Vatican.
Henrik de Gyor (1:50): Giovanni, how does the Vatican Museums’ digital transformation project involve Digital Asset Management?
Giovanni Benigni (1:57): The digital transformation project of Vatican Museums started some years ago with a larger, seemingly never-ending, technical renewal project involving all our seven kilometers [~4.35 miles] of galleries and working spaces, and all the systems from communication to remote surveillance, access control, networking, and so on. In this framework, we started several projects as, for example, the 3D scanning project of all said spaces, that is now completed, and a long-awaited scanning project of our historical pictures on glass plates strongly wanted by our new director, Dr. Barbara Jatta. It appeared immediately that for the pictures we needed both a new cataloging system and long-term storage to accommodate forever their digital copies.
Giovanni Benigni (2:15): And fortunately, I had a good experience with what we shouldn’t do. We looked for solutions offered by big tech, but it seemed not likely to be valid ones, because although they were flexible, and metadata rich, generally stored the images on database blobs. And I had a good experience with blobs and I knew that were not good for large files that we needed to store. That’s why we started to search for a solution that wouldn’t store large files on a blob, but just on disk on shares, on other support, but directly, physically on disks. And we identified among a large number two possible products, [a] commercial one and an open-source project.
Giovanni Benigni (3:47): The first appeared to be more aimed at companies that had to manage images for commercial purposes, while the open-source seemed built for research institution libraries, and for sure, museums, because, also, it was validated by the Musées de France. It gave us a good perspective to be able to use it satisfactorily, and, most important, being an open-source platform, it was inexpensive, which is a word always loved by management.
Giovanni Benigni (4:18): So we started a test and we had a nice surprise. It appeared every day more and more suitable to contain every information we already had. And a new possibility arose. Finally, get to a unique access point for every artwork-related information in our possession. It was my dream coming true. So, in brief, we started migration. First moving existing CMS data to the new catalog, followed by images and all the other conservation and historical data we had. Today, we are still ingesting images, the last 100,000, more or less, audio files, conservation and analysis reports, and we are planning to ingest also videos starting from the most recent digital, going back to older on tapes. Here we could open another chapter, talking about formats no more easily readable, like Betacam.
Henrik de Gyor (5:20): Giovanni, what are the biggest challenges and successes you’ve seen with Digital Asset Management?
Giovanni Benigni (5:26): We have a very ancient museum. Our history starts a few centuries ago, more or less. You can well imagine how much information we have accumulated in such a long time. One of the biggest challenges is being able to digitize the answer pictures and documents in our possession. Their quantity exceeds any idea you may have, for sure. And this reverses in time necessary to do the scanning because the items must be handled with extreme care, must be cleaned, and so on. Moreover, you know, it was 1997, and I had just joined the Museums, when I first heard about a project for scanning our ancient photos on glass plates. Well, we definitely have been able to start such a project only in 2017. Twenty years later. And although the scanning job is being practically completed today, the curator still has to check all the archival information related to them and this takes a lot of time. We are going a bit slow in this moment. Really for we have moved objects, entities, and all the assets into a unique system, where everything is directly related to inventory items with meaningful relationships, now searches are simpler and more efficient, although people have had to get used to a new way to enquire. The new CMS uses Lucene syntax, and there’s a faceting capability, so people today, unlike before, when they had to ask our inventory to make searches, now they are able to make top-down searches and, listen, they are able to find for themselves what they are looking for. And this is a really big step forward, together with the capability to see in a glance the documents, pictures, analysis, and so on in a single application. Finally, I can say that the new catalog has made possible a true collaboration between departments that today they can easily share information of every kind about inventory objects without printing paper or sending emails, but directly inside the catalog using the sharing capabilities of the system.
Henrik de Gyor (7:59): Giovanni, what advice would you like to share with DAM professionals and people aspiring to become DAM professionals?
Giovanni Benigni (8:05): Well, I think that if you want to get out alive from a DAM project, you must build your project on a strong metadata base. So take your time to think and rethink and rethink it as many times as you need to be strongly convinced it will work. Really, this is not as hard as it seems, because the hard work to reduce data to a common structure will be limited to no more than 15 metadata [fields], but you must take it into consideration very seriously.
Giovanni Benigni (8:44): Second, you must define DAM and long-term preservation policies. When I say DAM policy, I say policy about ingestion, about acquisition, about tagging, about descriptions, and so on, also about vocabulary. This is crucial, to pass onto people the concept that they must follow the rules. Otherwise, you will have a fantastic system filled with objects without any capability to find what you’re looking for.
Giovanni Benigni (9:23): Third, drop an eye to interoperability, because for sure you will need it internally to develop products based on your assets. For example, our system has a built-in IIIF server, which makes it possible to superimpose more than one image and then, for example, we have visible light, infrared, X-ray images, and we can superimpose and look to particulars by switching immediately from one layer to another, and this is very useful. Very useful for curators, for restorators, and also for the public. So, interoperability, I think should be a must. And that’s all.
Giovanni Benigni (10:20): Indeed, if you are crossing over troubled water, feel free to contact me. Thank you.
Sandra Sundback discusses Digital Asset Management
Henrik de Gyor: This is Another DAM Podcast about Digital Asset Management. I’m Henrik de Gyor. Today, I’m speaking with Sondra Sunday back. Sandra, how are you?
Sandra Sundback: Hi, I’m good. How are you?
Henrik de Gyor: Great. Sandra, how are you involved with Digital Asset Management?
Sandra Sundback: Okay, so I work as the product owner of our DAM, which basically means that I’m the subject matter expert and I’m responsible for the implementation of our enterprise-wide DAM and actually for the whole product and the concept. I work really closely with all of our stakeholders. It’s basically the vendor, our end users, which we have quite a lot of and then the IT department and all the developers from our integration partner. Also, I wrote my Master’s thesis on DAM which was a case study on Kesko and its current status on asset management. And then I did an analysis on how the implementation of a DAM could help us achieve our strategic objectives. So I actually also studied the field for quite some time during that time.
Henrik de Gyor: How does a leading Finnish listed trading sector company use Digital Asset Management?
Sandra Sundback: Well, we actually just started our implementation project in mid-April, so we haven’t really been able to start using the system quite yet, but the aim is to build kind of a central hub which would work for all of our content creators and it would enable them to have a much faster time to market for much more streamlined production processes. And this we aim to achieve too, streamlining the production processes with the tools that DAM provides us and also by using all possible automation possibilities. And just to kind of downsize the manual work for everyone by combining these tools. And our DAM utilizes a lot of existing enterprise data as its metadata. So for instance, we collect a product data and recipe data from our other systems APIs and we plan to highly concentrate on making the metadata as business-centric as we possibly can so that it will both serve the end users of the DAM. And then also our publishing and marketing automation processes. And we just completed the first migration project last week and actually, and we’d have now kicked off a kind of a soft launch, so we’re refining the metadata with our DAM champions and they will do a lot of manual refining and fine-tuning of the metadata, but we will also run several refinement runs from the data sources from the APIs which we have available, but we still have four upcoming migration is to go through. So the work is far from done just yet.
Henrik de Gyor: Sandra, what are the biggest challenges and successes you’ve seen with Digital Asset Management?
Sandra Sundback: Well, in our case we went through a very rigorous discovery and decision-making process, which at times felt really hard and frustrating almost. We also actually had some difficulties in finding the right vendor for us. So a vendor who would be able to provide us with the suitable toolkit for us and how we wanted to implement our DAM. So we actually ended up having two RFP rounds, but fortunately, we were able to use some expert help outside of K group on the other time around or the second time around. Also, we decided to do a proof of concept with the two finalists vendors and finally we found our match. If I were to think about our biggest success, it’s probably how we prepared for the first migration and the cleanup of that legacy system was pretty well prepared and all the stakeholders were very engaged in getting the cleanup done.
So we ended up cleaning up the system, I guess within a month roughly. We migrated 200,000 assets and we were also able to classify different priorities for the assets which we were migrating. So it made me very happy actually to see kind of everyone dig in and start working on that. We also did have a pretty extensive mapping of the metadata from the first migration or the legacy system. And that’s going to help us a lot when we tried to manage kind of the metadata refining phase now in the new DAM after the migration is done. But the beginning was really tough. But after we got the vendor and we started implementing, things have actually been moving really fast and I’m really, really happy to see that.
Henrik de Gyor: And what advice would you like to share with DAM professionals and people aspiring to become DAM professionals?
Sandra Sundback: I created a top three. Probably I would have more, but my first one is never, never, ever, never give up.
There’s going to be times when people don’t really understand what DAM is all about and they’re going to question the whole endeavor and probably everyone won’t even see the benefit in investing huge amounts of money for a resource to do the DAM implementation right, but I would say that by analyzing the current state, calculating what benefits you could gain and continuously communicating with the decision makers that’s a key issue and it’s going to help. And we actually went through almost two years of internal marketing and justifying the need and mapping of the vendors and trying to find the perfect vendor and before we could start implementing. So, I really at times felt that I wanted to give up, but I’m really happy I didn’t. So that would be my first advice, never give up. It’s, it’s gonna happen.
The second one is that do your due diligence, which basically what I mean by that is that you really need to know who the users will be in the organization. So also again, a mapping and discovery phase is very important and also understanding the different processes which they’re currently using and who their partners are, for instance, in content production or where they’re buying their assets from and creating them. It actually helped me a lot that I have a marketing background. I understood the processes and the pain points pretty well actually from when we interviewed the stakeholders. And also, of course, it’s important to know what the current systems are which the organization is using, where assets might leave at the moment and how many assets and how to migrate. Then how to build metadata model and the taxonomy in the DAM, which will then serve all the users in the new DAM. So that those are actually the hardest pre-work that needs to be done. But it pays off in when, when you start implementing.
And then as my third one, I actually chose to use all the DAM resources and the whole network which is available out there. The best thing that I invested in was buying a couple, a super great books actually on how to do the DAM implementation right and where the focus should be. It really helped me in a kind of forming my vision and also I reached out to the communities on LinkedIn for instance, and I, I have done my best to network with peers in seminars. And the funny thing about the DAM community is actually that people are really helpful and they are ready to discuss difficulties or give their best practices and ideas with you. So it’s really worth a try at least to connect with people.
Listen to Ron Gill discuss Digital Asset Management
Henrik de Gyor: This is Another DAM Podcast about Digital Asset Management. I’m Henrik de Gyor. Today I’m speaking with Ron Gill. Ron, how are you?
Ron Gill: Hey, how is it going, Henrik?
Henrik de Gyor: Good. Ron, how are you involved with Digital Asset Management?
Ron Gill: That’s a good question. Like lot of my colleagues, Digital Asset Management was something that you kind of wander into. So in my case, I started out as a graphic designer with a fine arts painting background and throughout my career as a graphic designer all the way up to art director, I was always involved with the management of large archives of assets, whether it be for the architectural firms that I was working for, the advertising firms that I was working for throughout the cycle. And this is before Digital Asset Management and even became a industry, let alone a descriptor for what it is that we do. It was a series of organizing and making these assets useful within the company. So as the tools got better and as the systems got more elaborate, I basically had a trial by fire, a learning experience from the ground up. It was learning about how these systems are being used and how I could best implement them in the company’s workflow. So as I progressed, I became more and more involved and roughly around 2008 I became more heavily vested in Digital Asset Management. I kind of a made that my focus over design. So that’s how I got involved in Digital Asset Management, in the Digital Asset Management space.
Henrik de Gyor: What are the biggest challenges and successes you’ve seen with Digital Asset Management?
Ron Gill: They are quite a few challenges. And there are also a number of successes that I’ve seen and I had. The challenges I think are, they’re varied actually. So silos, information stored in silos and teams not being up to cooperate with each other are some of the biggest challenges because in each, in each silo you have system, a subject matter experts that understand the content for their silos and they don’t necessarily communicate too well even though, for example, if you’re doing or you’re working for a marketing organization and the company is large enough so you’ll have different wings or different teams working on different aspects. They all might be doing different things, but in the same industry or sharing the same goal. So getting all these silos together is one of the biggest challenges and getting people to recognize that I think is the biggest challenge for Digital Asset Management. In the beginning, it’s getting a company sign on and higher-ups to pay for the system because it’s not something that you can get overnight.
Ron Gill: It’s not something that’s going to happen, you know, by pulling the software off the shelf and then plugging it into your system. It’s something that takes thorough investigation. It takes an understanding of how the company is using assets and it’s understanding the needs of the end user. So those are the biggest challenges that, I think in Digital Asset Management. Of course, there’s a number of splinter challenges that come up from that way, you know, adding metadata and who gets to add metadata, adoption, so on, so forth. In the beginning, the biggest challenge is getting everybody on board and understanding the baseline workflow that needs to happen inside the Digital Asset Management system.
Ron Gill: Now, so far, successes, successes wouldn’t be obviously getting that challenge, taking care of, so being able to find what the company would need in so far as their workflow is the biggest success I think you can have initially. Finding the system that is going to work for multiple teams and the system that will best make their output and workflow more efficient is the biggest success. Once you have a working DAM in place, those successes will come.
Henrik de Gyor: What advice would you like to share with DAM professionals and people aspiring to become DAM professionals?
Ron Gill: Advice I’d like to share with people aspiring to become professionals. There’s not too much information online or anything that you can glean through the Internet. There is some resources that you can, forums. I think Deb Fanslow has a great one, DAM Peeps. This is for non-vendors. It is a invite only Google group or forum and it’s a good resource that just came up. And it’s good to learn as much as you possibly can and there’s so many industries that DAM touches. So obviously going to big events like Henry Stewart or going to DAM Meetups will expose you to different areas, different industries. I mean I’m still talking to people that are also Digital Asset Managers, but I’ve never met before or I have, I didn’t know that industry was using DAM in that fashion. So getting out there and, and meeting new people and seeing how they’re using DAM to help their company and help their workflows is a vital resource. I mean, it’ll help you tremendously in, in what you’re doing and you’re trying to achieve.