Henrik de Gyor: This is Another DAM Podcast about Digital Asset Management. I’m Henrik de Gyor. Today I’m speaking with Jonathan Phillips. Jonathan, how are you?
Jonathan Phillips: Pretty good.
Henrik de Gyor: Jonathan, how are you involved with Digital Asset Management?
Jonathan Phillips: Well, I currently run two separate Digital Asset Management systems. My former company, that I worked for fifteen years at, we merged with a larger corporation and so currently I’m running the old Digital Asset Management system as well as taking on the newer Digital Asset Management system and I’m running part of the integration of the two systems, which is quite an undertaking I must say. It’s been a year so far and we’re about a third of the way through.
I came into Digital Asset Management probably about sixteen years ago. I actually came to it through graphic design and actually more precisely Photoshop. I was hired as a production and graphic artist and when I was there I quickly moved over to retouching the portfolio of hotel images that we had. And as you can imagine that’s probably one of our key marketing assets of the actual different properties and it was being underutilized greatly at that time in 2002.
So through the photography work, I then actually took on the role of art directing different shoots at different properties and that became a photography program for the properties. This led, actually at the same exact time, into an existing DAM system that they had, which was very rudimentary. It had some photos, a couple of logos in it and that was really where I first got my toes wet. And within three years we kept on growing, doing photo shoots and in about three years it took us to really develop into an actual Digital Asset Management system with metadata tagging, data trees, light boxes, you know, all the things that we know about Digital Asset Management at this time.
Within five years of me coming on, we really bulked out and made the photography program into a completely international project that we managed the photo shoots across the globe. In my career, I actually see the creation of digital assets and the management and distribution as part of a single workflow. So in my mind, it’s actually all one and the same. We kept on building on the system and resolving problems as they came up, creating more tools, we built a big web-to-print system, which we would actually change four times since then. And that’s where we’re really going on twelve years now and we’re still going strong.
So I’d have to say Digital Asset Management comes to people in very strange ways, and it can offer so many opportunities and it really has over the last sixteen years.
Henrik de Gyor: Jonathan, how does a leading global hospitality company use Digital Asset Management?
Jonathan Phillips: That’s a really good question. I’m not going to talk about the current strategy that we’re still developing. It’s still in the very beginning phases but I can talk about the last sixteen years of my life and building on that. I’d have to say, like I just said, we had a very holistic approach to the creation of assets, the managing of assets and then the distribution. We saw it as really, all in one, the same thing. Digital Asset Management that, as a single, unified creative and production department, where I was.
So as an example, I ran the photography photo shoots and then my team ran the submission process of getting them retouched and into the system. And then the same team managed all of the assets that the tagging, the usage rights, the user groups and accessibility. And then we also ran the distribution out into all of the GDS and OTAs as well as all of our partners. So, and that’s the entire travel agency industry, actually.
So it’s really been a massive undertaking. We also are in the same group creating logos, floor plans, meetings and guestroom floor plans, templates to be used, so all of those assets were really created in the same exact team that was managing the Digital Asset Management system and distributing them.
The creative teams, the Digital Asset Management, the distribution to websites, travel sites, marketing teams, they all worked as one large team with a single overall strategy. And I think this really helped us over the years identifying problems and coming up with the best possible solution that we could come up with in a very fluid way.
We saw Digital Asset Management and the marketing materials that we house as kind of an ongoing part of the creative process itself. So the managing tools that facilitated that creation was also the same as housing and the overall use of the asset itself. It’s quality, consistency, and distribution. It’s all one and the same. So for a company that’s selling any types of goods or services and the hotel business is actually doing both at the same time, it’s the market assets are the lifeblood of the company.
There’s nothing more precious than how the world will perceive us and the brand so I’ve spent a lot of time balancing the smallest, little tiny technical details and balancing that with the larger strategy of the hotel business as a whole. So we are always working across the international enterprise to streamline, to make changes, to meet the needs in a rapidly changing marketing world. And I just wake up at night and I just hope that the tools that we’re putting into place are going to hold up in the long run or as long as it possibly can. So it does keep me up at night.
Managing the Digital Asset Management system itself; there’s a lot of time that I spend talking to the customers, helping the customers, resolving problems with the customers and constantly making notes to make sure that the tools are working optimally and meeting the needs of the customers, which is the marketing and the different properties, the ownerships and our partners.
We use a range of really tech savvy managers out in a field, as well as people at the properties that rarely even get on a computer. So we’re always kind of bouncing ideas and the tools themselves off of that very diverse audience and the tool has to work for everybody. So that’s really, kind of the cornerstone of what we do here. I mean, there’s a lot of tools out there, and wow, it’s amazing that the technology that’s out these days. It’s matured in the last few years even, in incredible ways.
I mean, there’s just unbelievable things that are just really science fiction out there, from a few years ago. And finding the solutions that actually meet the goals of our company is really where this skill set comes in. I mean, we could look at out of the box solutions. We have constant debates over configuration versus customization. That’s, oh my god, I could go on for hours just about that.
And I found that the overall systems that we’re using, they really do need a lot more customization. I find that a really strong marketing team has really strong and clear needs and they have a great idea in their minds of what they’re looking for and a good system is going to match those needs and really customize and configure to be exactly what they need.
So I’m actually a big proponent here of boutique solutions. Because our routines have such high standards that that’s all they’re going to accept so I put a lot of thought into this as you can tell. There’s a lot of balancing of the client’s needs and getting those needs meet with the technology that’s available and then customizing it in a very specific way. And then of course, there’s always costs that comes down to just about every single project.
Henrik de Gyor: What are the biggest challenges and successes you’ve seen with Digital Asset Management?
Jonathan Phillips: Over a large and very diverse enterprise, we’re in 83 countries, we’ve got thousands of hotels and a lot of those are franchise models with properties and ownerships. I see in my world, it’s the creating of consistent quality assets that go into the system that’s always one of the great challenges that we constantly have. I know that’s not a straightforward Digital Asset Management problem but I think that’s a huge issue with any system that comes online. It’s really what goes in, comes out.
There’s the old saying that, garbage in, garbage out. The Digital Asset Management industry, it’s really, that’s the core, is if you get good assets, a semi-good system could survive it. If you got bad assets, nothing’s going to survive. It’s really not going to be useful to the users. So there’s a huge aspect of quality control in everything that we do here and that goes into the system itself making sure that we build a great system and then all the assets that go in are just as good.
More from a Digital Asset Management technology standpoint, I’d say the ongoing battle with that is that things get complicated and they get too complicated too quickly. So constantly keeping it simple. And that’s kind of a mantra we’re always thinking about is keeping it simple. Complexity is going to creep into any system with a large number of assets in it. Once you start tagging you got translations, you have all the categories, you’ve got APIs and distribution. So we try to keep the base data and file structure as simple as we possibly can.
Every time we want to add something simple like, just another asset type, we know the ramifications of that can be massive. So we have a lot of arguments about those sorts of base structure changes and they’re really crucial decisions to us and we do agonize over them. Maybe a little bit too much, but we do. We see that as kind of the philosophical statement of Digital Asset Management is keep it simple because complexity is going to come in by the very nature of managing assets and the number of assets you have to manage.
But you know, another big challenge that I see, that I’m pretty passionate about now that you mention it, is UX: user experience. Any DAM system is just a tool. It’s got users, and the success and failure of the system is the success or failure of the users themselves. The best-programed system, it can be completely a huge failure if the user experience is not taken into account. The UX is a big thing in apps and web design these days. But I think it applies to Digital Asset Management. Personally, I think it applies everywhere. It’s just, it comes down to good design and I think good design can make or break just about anything.
We do a lot of user testing, as much as anybody can. I’ve had some great inspirations working in a department where I’m right next to the creatives. So I’m within earshot of the web designers and the app designers so I do get a lot of influence from them and I steal a lot from them as well honestly, and they know it and they’re proud of it. So really taking an interface and really agonizing over the details of the interface, of where every little detail, every little button, the user experience of what happens when they hit a button, we put as much thought of that into that as we do just about any structural change we do on the back end in the programming.
Programmers don’t always see eye to eye but I’ve always believed that the system really has to act in the way it’s supposed to act and behave in a way that is intuitive.
Henrik de Gyor: What advice would you like to share with DAM professionals and people aspiring to become DAM professionals?
Jonathan Phillips: That’s a tough question. Actually, I love mentoring and I think mentoring comes naturally in a situation to situation basis for me. But overall, thinking about it, let’s see. First I’d say always balance a very clear vision of what you want to accomplish and adaptability. You can have great ideas and you can be great at what you do but you have to adapt. You’ve got clients, you’ve got a lot of people who have a lot of opinions and you have to go with the flow. Specifically Digital Asset Management, I try to advise people on my team that you have to know the business that you’re in, that you can know the technology, you can know Digital Asset Management, you can know content management, you can know library science and that’s all great. But if you don’t understand your clients and their needs, you’re really in a hole and you got to dig out of that.
So listen to your clients’ needs. Always coming back to the plan that best meets the needs of your clients and coming up with really creative, streamlined solutions to their needs is where really great Digital Asset Management system and manager come in. So I guess it comes down to being a creative problem solver. That’s probably the second piece of good advice.
You know, I didn’t come into Digital Asset Management in a straight way, and I don’t think most people do. I think most people come to Digital Asset Management from someplace else, be it IT, marketing, or like maybe from a creative background. Yeah, I think everybody who’s in the business feels like they came into it the hardest way possible.
When I got into it in 2002, there really weren’t any resources like there are now. I mean, it’s amazing how much stuff you can just look up and read and keep up on it. But I think I was successful because I listened to my clients and I came up with creative solutions. I really looked at every detail and I made sure that it really worked well. In that way, I think my Bachelor of Science in the Fine Arts with an emphasis on technical illustration by the way, it really came in handy in Digital Asset Management. Coming up with really interesting solutions and I thought that way. And it never hurts that I always tried to go above and beyond. I always tried to meet the expectations and then how do I go beyond that and delight my client. And that’s always been a kind of, internal mantra of mine.
Advice, yeah. It always comes down to creative solutions. I think that’s a good one as well. There’s so much great technology out there and I think it can be really seductive seeing bells and whistles and artificial intelligence and predictive modeling and all this whiz-bang. And you just got to remember that it comes down to users and how do users see the system and how to best meet those goals, before any of the great, amazing technology that’s out there.
And actually speaking about technology, I think the best technology for coming up with ideas is a pencil and paper. I still use a mechanical pencil and a piece of paper whenever I have to think through a problem. I love paper prototyping. I think it’s the fastest way; it’s the best way to come up with really great ideas, is just doodle and scribble down all of your ideas. I doodle up entire pages and then I take post-it notes and I rip them up and I cover different pieces and I put different buttons and I can do it so fast and it’s so intuitive doing it with a pencil. I recommend everybody try to problem solve with just doodling it out on a napkin or a piece of paper. It really is, it might sound old school but I just don’t think there’s a better solution out there for just thinking things through.
And again last thing, going back to the last thing I said in the last question was user experience. It basically trumps everything else, being submitting images or managing or searching a system. It’s how it works and how people react to it. There’s so many resources out there to learn how to really make an interface that is really human and is just intuitive. And that’s another thing, is Digital Asset Management, read up on user experience. It will really, really help you out in the long run. I guess that’s kind of me going back to my artistic roots though and that never goes away. So, there you go.
Henrik de Gyor: Well, thanks Jonathan.
Jonathan Phillips: No problem.