Supply chains have existed since the advent of markets. They are definitely not a novel phenomenon. As the buying-selling equation transitions to an increasingly digital world, digital supply chains have become ubiquitous in discussion. To usher in a robust discussion about digital supply chains, we must first look at the notion of digital assets and the management of these digital assets; digital asset management.
What are Digital Assets?
We live in the digital era. An era where digital assets mark the landscape all around us. Photos stored on smartphones or cloud storage, movies on Netflix or Amazon Prime, professional documents stored on laptops and cloud productivity suites. Incrementally more people are interacting with digital assets. And they are doing so several times a day.
But what is a digital asset, precisely? An even more pertinent question, ‘Why should you care about digital assets?’
In simple terms, a digital asset is content that is stored digitally. Images, photos, videos, text files, spreadsheets, slide decks, mp3, mp4 etc. Each asset has metadata assigned to it to allow the context to be understood and the content inside it to be explained; this means it can be easily surfaced when searched for by someone or another system. As technology advances, channels of communication advance in line, As such, new file formats appear and are added to the digital asset category. Consequently, the definition of a digital asset is always expanding. Rather than a definitive list of file formats that qualify as a digital asset, a digital asset can be any content, in any format, that is stored digitally and provides value to the company (or to the user or consumer). A digital asset can be easily described as Digital File + Metadata = Value = Digital Asset.
For a business to survive and thrive in the digital era, it must have a firm grip on the digital assets it houses. For this, a digital asset management (DAM) system solution is highly recommended.
At Creative Folks, we have been providing advisory services around DAM solutions for over 20 years. Members of our team have also been implementing DAM solutions for over 30 years. Reach out to us if you seek help in this space.
While DAM solutions have not witnessed large bursts of innovation in core functionality, one significant change is the range and scope of integration with other solutions. Integration is now becoming a key component in digital asset management. DAM programs either involve raw assets that are required to make the published digital assets, or the finished assets themselves need to be received from or sent to a multitude of different sources and destinations. This makes integration a mandatory exercise.
Pertinent to note that digital assets are now so ubiquitous in business that they are a key component of a business’ core supply chain.
What is a Supply Chain?
Simply defined, a Supply Chain is a network of connections between an organisation and its suppliers. Each of these connections are steps or processes which transform raw materials into a product that the end customer uses. These may be external organisations or potentially internal business units which are managed independently. Supply chains have been around for decades now. Supply Chain Management is a well-established operations management concept which has been widely used for more than four decades, especially in logistics and manufacturing.
A core principle in supply chains is the ideology of value. Each connection in a supply chain adds value and contributes to the finished product. Contrariwise the connections can also serve to be a bottleneck. Often, connections that add most significant value in the supply chain also serve to be the largest bottlenecks.
In supply chains, the speed with which raw materials proceed through all nodes of the supply chain to become finished products is referred to as ‘throughput’.
A core goal of supply chains is to maximise the value produced and minimise the bottlenecks, so as to maximise overall throughput.
High value processes can often be quite inefficient. Increasing efficiency of these high value processes helps reduce a bottleneck, increasing throughput and enhancing value. This leads to increased bottom-line profit for organisations.
Now that I have touched upon the notion of supply chains, let’s grapple with digital asset supply chains.
What is a Digital Asset Supply Chain?
Digital Assets are similar to assets in a conventional or physical supply chain. Digital assets in digital supply chains are congruous to assets in physical supply chains.
Digital Asset Managers regard digital assets to be comprised of the intrinsic binary data and the extrinsic metadata that is used to describe what a digital asset is. Essentially a digital asset is composed of different digital raw materials. These materials are acquired from a variety of upstream sources. They are then brought together to create the digital asset.
Progressively, upstream integration now takes the form of receiving digital assets from a dedicated Work-In-Progress DAM and from an Enterprise Content Buying Platform. These platforms are integrated with a wide range of third-party content providers. Even on the downstream side of the equation, most DAM systems now allow for direct integration with digital channels.
In a digital asset supply chain the upstream sources and downstream end destinations can be human beings, third party businesses, digital marketing vehicles and channels, software systems etc.
Examples of upstream sources: Photographers (images), Video production companies (videos), Master Data Management Systems (digital asset metadata), Artwork approval systems (print artwork files and metadata), Digital Asset Management system, Enterprise Content Buying Platform etc. A DAM system integrated with an Enterprise Content Buying Platform might also supply a finished digital asset.
Examples of downstream end destinations: Websites, Mobile applications, Social Media channels, CRM, In-store displays, Email marketing.
Not long ago, digital asset management systems were content warehouses. Today they are the operational hub of an organisation’s digital asset supply chain. This is one of the major reasons why most of the innovation that has taken place in DAM in recent years has related to integration and how to ingest digital materials as efficiently as possible.
Pertinent to note that digital asset supply chains often present a scenario whereby one system is both upstream and downstream. In essence, the system supplies digital materials and receives them from the DAM. In this case the flow is often not linear. Example, a Product Information Management system might organise and gather product metadata which is used by the DAM. Then, the DAM may send back the finalised digital asset using a digital image supplied by a photographer.
How to implement a Digital Asset Supply Chain?
Organisations that house digital assets are already involved in a digital asset supply chain. They might use different terminology to describe it. They also might not purposefully think about how various nodes collaborate with one another. In this case, it is less about implementing a supply chain and more about formalising and then optimising what already exists.
How to map the existing Digital Asset Supply Chain?
Organisations must start by collating a list of all the upstream sources of digital materials which flow into a DAM and downstream destinations where digital assets are sent to. After the two lists have been produced, you must analyse how digital materials flow into each other. The DAM sits at the centre of the upstream and downstream sections. Everything above the DAM provides materials to the DAM and is considered upstream. Everything below the DAM is where the DAM sends digital assets to is downstream.
Once you have collated a list of upstream sources and downstream destinations, along with the DAM at the centre, you arrive at a holistic picture of your current Digital Asset Supply Chain. This process allows us to gauge inefficiencies and redundant processes that do not add value to the chain.
You must take into consideration the activities that are carried out by humans, when devising and implementing Digital Asset Supply Chains. Example, if a stock image is manually downloaded from a content provider’s site and then uploaded to a DAM it creates inefficiency and provides an opportunity to remove the bottleneck of downloading and then uploading while preserving the value (the ability to use the stock image).
Not all tasks can be automated. Tasks that require creativity or require discretionary judgement by a qualified human being are difficult to automate. However, when focused on, many of the inefficiencies can be reduced and sometimes removed entirely.
The role of Continuous Improvement
Continuous improvement is a key component of supply chains. So too, continuous improvement should be a key facet of digital asset supply chains. Simply, continuous improvement allows for incremental reduction in the friction between supply chain nodes and optimising efficiency where the opportunity presents itself. End-to-end automation of all facets of a supply chain is not realistic.
Continuous Improvement in a Digital Asset Supply Chain is about streamlining digital processes such that the most advantageous to the net supply chain and easiest to implement opportunities are improved continually. It also involves data collection as well as robust reviews of supply chains to identify where improvements can be made.
The DAM platform at the heart of the digital asset supply chain is a living breathing thing and needs to have a product owner to nurture the continuous improvement. The DAM must be seen as a key technology platform in an organisation such as the ERP, ecommerce or Point of Sale system.
The Relationship of a Digital Supply Chain with Enterprise Content Buying
Enterprise Content Buying has an intrinsic relationship with Digital Asset Supply Chains. It is a practical application of the core concepts of digital supply chains. Enterprise Content Buying streamlines the integration between two platforms and generates a body of auditing data which can be used to gain insights about digital asset usage. To an end user, a DAM, integrated with an ECB platform makes the content provider’s digital assets appear to be part of the DAM, thereby achieving the core objective of optimised Digital Asset Supply Chains.
I hope this article has provided you with an overview of the concepts of Digital Asset Supply Chains and sheds light on why the digital asset supply chain thought process is crucial to maximising ROI from investments into DAM technology.
When planning transformation in the delivery of your product supply chain, you should also be considering the digital assets components needed, in addition to the physical, to ensure the scalability of the supporting content needed to drive the experience customers expect in a modern business.
In order to get the desired throughput in your digital asset supply chain, it’s critical to review the process flow and systems architecture. The necessity to integrate with both legacy and modern business platforms is crucial to the overall efficiency of the process and ultimately the profitability of product(s) throughout their lifecycle.
Should you wish to speak about digital asset management or want to take a deeper dive into the benefits of implementing a digital asset supply chain, reach out to us at Creative Folks.
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I would like to acknowledge the thought leadership of Ralph Windsor in the enhancement of my own knowledge of Digital Supply Chains.