In recent years the number of images a company must deal with has exploded. What used to be a few sketches, pattern pieces and photos has become a mountain of Illustrator files, digital photos, PDFs and images downloaded from the internet. Images are used as inspiration, to convey design concepts, to provide details to vendors, to maintain brand identity, for consumer interaction, for almost every transaction and interaction that occurs, there is an image.
Back in the day
In the past many business systems contained no images, then a few started to include “thumbnails” for browsing and reporting. Most images were maintained in product systems and marketing systems. Departments and individuals managed their own images as best they could; using the file system tools provided by their operating systems and networks.
What’s in a name?
Most of the organization was implemented using folders and sub-folders along with “intelligent” file names. Over the years prefixes and suffixes ran out of room, so most of the “intelligence” was lost. Many business systems had file name restrictions on length and special characters, further limiting the “intelligence” of the file names. This also meant that in newer systems more descriptive (and longer) names were used, making integration with the older systems a challenge.
Many departments started using various applications to help manage their images; PDM/PLM systems in product development areas and DAM systems in marketing departments are typical. These are what I refer to as “point solutions”; they only addressed the immediate needs of the departmental users. Little or no thought was expended to other users of the same images and typically there was little enforcement of rules; users still maintain their own images, submitting only the bare minimum to the departmental systems. User share folders on the network continue to explode. The typical IT reaction was to add hard drive space; enabling the problem further.
Recently Master Data Management (MDM) and Product Information Management (PIM) initiatives and systems have come into play. While these don’t address images directly, they do try to enable enterprise-level consistency of data about the company’s products and services. This data is “data about data” – metadata. Most of these initiatives still treat images as an afterthought rather than the lifeblood of the company’s creativity and workflow.
Solution- An Enterprise Approach
What is required to achieve industry best practice in regard to images is an enterprise approach. This approach must include enterprise taxonomy and an enterprise structured vocabulary. Taxonomy creates the classifications for the business; division, department, product type, season, collection – how the business attributes are organized. The vocabulary creates the nomenclature; being structured means everyone uses the same values or names, across departments, systems and users. The taxonomy and vocabulary must be consistent across all business systems so the data elements are easily exchanged allowing for integration.
With an enterprise taxonomy and vocabulary in place, images can be “tagged” with compliant metadata allowing the image to be accessed via the metadata by any user from any system. Best practice is to embed the metadata into the file itself, this allows the image to move (or be copied) from system to system, location to location and still retain the information. The image becomes “self-aware”.
The first metadata attribute should be “image type”. Each image type will have a subset of metadata attributes associated with it. Fabric images will have a different subset of attributes than a style sketch or a sample photo. Each subset will have common enterprise attributes to relate the image to its workflow, users and systems. Having the enterprise level standards allow images to participate in multiple workflows and systems.
Implementing an enterprise level DAM (Digital Asset Management) system enables the sharing of images from a single source. DAM systems don’t have to move or create additional copies of the images; they catalog and index the images in their current locations. Metadata is extracted form the images and imported into the DAM database allowing easy access to the images and the metadata. Images can be “served” with the proper file format and resolution from the original source file tracked by the DAM. Applications can access images on demand or they can be “copied” as required. If the metadata is embedded in the copy of the images, the applications continue to have access to the metadata.
Folders, sub-folders and file names can still help manage the images but with the addition of embedded metadata and an enterprise DAM, images are no longer locked into “point solution” databases or departmental network share locations. All users and applications can access the images as they progress through their workflows. The ever-growing image repositories can be managed.
Images now drive your business rather than filling your network storage and clogging your business processes.