For Tech's Sake: Doing DAM Right

Gary Arlen

Artesia Technologies Inc., a Gaithersburg, Md., software firm, was feeling great. Three of the four bidders for an American Forces Information Service contract had specified Artesia's digital asset management solution in their proposal. Hence, when the Defense Department awarded the $9 million contract last month to TranTech Inc., an Alexandria, Va., woman-owned technology services firm, Artesia's "TEAMS" solution was part of the package.

For Artesia, the project represents a major step in the privately owned company's transition to government-related business. Equally significant, the inclusion of a digital asset management component in the Visual Information Management System contract underscores the growing need to sort, find and authorize access to an ever-expanding avalanche of content ? visual as well as text and data. The contract is intended to be a standard for digital asset repositories in DOD. It is designed to capture, edit, index, store, search, retrieve, distribute, and manage the Pentagon's content, which includes still images, video, audio, graphics, and eventually textual documents.

The system will be accessible via the Defense Visual Information Center, the Joint Combat Center, and the Joint Visual Information Services Distribution Activity. The project is intended to ensure that high-quality digital assets are readily available and rapidly distributed to support wartime activities, interactive training and communications.

Taming the massive DOD deluge of content ? a challenge that required TranTech to bring in six subcontractors in addition to Artesia ? is inevitably a forerunner of other digital asset management projects. These ventures are rapidly expanding onto emerging platforms, most recently portable and wireless tools. In mid-July, Sun Microsystems Inc. bought a privately held San Jose, Calif., firm, Pixo Inc., which created technology to manage the secure distribution of digital content for mobile customers.

That's a likely harbinger of digital asset management's growing role in government and enterprise projects ? especially as remote and field operations rely on secure access to "rich media" content (graphics and video). Digital asset management and its technological cousin digital rights management have quickly migrated from library and entertainment roots into the enterprise and government sectors. Fueled by the need to let authorized partners, field personnel and other users into a centralized base of text and graphic content, digital asset management has become a critical ? and often controversial ? feature in data management.

In the case of the DOD contract, Artesia ? which began life as a unit of the Canadian-based Thomson publishing empire ? accelerates its role in the government sector. (Its core TEAMS solution represents the legacy of the Thomson heritage, although President Scott Bowen insists the term is now a meaningless acronym; when pressed he claims the letters stand for "The Enterprise Asset Management System".)

Federal projects are expected to represent up to 30 percent of Artesia's revenue in the coming year, up from about 16 percent public sector work revenue in its recently concluded fiscal year. The company is seeing other shifts in its revenue streams, with the once-dominant entertainment-related digital asset management clients (such as Home Box Office, Disney, MGM) representing 39 percent of last year's revenue, and enterprise customers climbing to 45 percent. The privately held company does not reveal actual sales levels. Nonetheless, it appears that its major growth is coming from the government sector, which Bowen credits to the "growing adoption [by] federal integrators for contracts involving our nation's defense, training and intelligence content assets."

For the DOD project, Artesia adapted its content management software to support SCORM (Sharable Content Object Reference Model), a standard that is designed to assure inter-operability, accessibility and reusability of e-learning content across federal agencies. The capability is considered essential for repurposing of materials for individual training and readiness, especially during wartime.

Expanding DAM and DRM Options

Digital asset management and digital rights management are growing in significance, especially as visual and graphic content plays a greater role in government training, security and operations. Another subcontractor in the DOD project, Vienna, Va.-based Convera Corp., eschews the DAM term, choosing to characterize its capabilities as "mission-critical search and categorization" technology. Nonetheless, Convera's core RetrievalWare package handles access to more than 200 forms of text, video, image, and audio information, in more than 45 languages ? considered by most to be components of the digital asset management process.

As digital asset management and digital rights management assume larger roles in government and enterprise environments, their ongoing presence in the entertainment sector remains controversial ? and could affect future developments of the technology. Hence, it's worth keeping an eye on the legal and business aspects in those unrelated sectors.

Digital rights management, often called "anti-piracy technology," is at the center of the movie and music industry's efforts to prevent illegal copying of their intellectual property. Government's security requirements are even higher, but the suppliers seeking a role in either or both sectors ? entertainment and government ? are confronting a contentious and litigious landscape as software companies battle for dominance and survival in this emerging market.

For example, a federal judge last week quietly issued a critical ruling against Microsoft Corp., which seeks to become a dominant digital rights management provider. The decision supported many of the requests of InterTrust Technologies, a digital rights management firm that has sued Microsoft, claiming 144 counts of patent infringement. Although the preliminary ruling only involves definitions and ground rules for the trial, the decisions are considered a blow to Microsoft.

Whatever the outcome of that trial, it is a reminder of the contentious nature of the emerging digital assets and rights management sectors ? and of their importance.

Gary Arlen is president of Arlen Communications Inc., a Bethesda, Md., research firm. His e-mail address is GaryArlen@columnist.com.


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