Five Key Questions To Ask When Choosing A MAM

Ask some in our industry about Media Asset Management (MAM) and they either recoil in horror or simply roll their eyes. Even so, most will tell you that they can see the value, but their particular implementation hasn’t quite realised the expected workflow benefits.

Howard Twine is director of software strategy at EditShare.

Howard Twine is director of software strategy at EditShare.

Why do we so often hear stories of MAM projects going wrong? Admittedly there are fewer such errors now than there were five years ago, but it still happens. Part of the problem could be that as businesses strive to maintain their own identity, they implement processes that are unusual.

The proliferation of content formats and delivery platforms also compounds this issue. Additionally, the broad range of production tools available mean that any number of editing and effects solutions can be used. Add to this any legacy content managed by other systems or coming from other agencies and the combinations of software and content type are almost infinite.

How to begin the definition process?

Many start the system definition process by trying to replicate legacy or inherited tape-based workflows. But such an approach is far too limiting for digital content. After all, there is only so much information one could write on a tape label or post-it note. The workflow definition needs to account for the vast amount of metadata that accompanies or defines all content data that will be processed.

There really is no right or wrong selection process as long as there is an implementation plan. This is perhaps where many MAM projects falter – the “plan.” Some would say “the plan was flawed,” but more often than not, the biggest issue is that the plan gets changed mid project, or it just isn’t followed correctly. This could be for reasons too numerous to detail here. The main thing to consider is the impact of any changes to an implementation plan.

Many lessons were learned during the early days of the UK Digital Product Partnership Program (DPP). One of the learned keys to success for this initiative was that any changes made were incremental. There was also a good level of consultation with the relevant stakeholders before any changes were made. But (and it’s quite a big but), the first aspect of the DPP project that stayed cast in stone from the outset was the delivery codec and wrapper.

Delivery is the easy part

The output formats are usually well defined, but what about ingest and internal formats? All too often we hear stories of clients being told, “Deliver your content to us in any format you like, our engineering team will work it out!” 

Some media asset management systems provide a workflow designer feature. This enables the creation of simple or complex workflow templates using triggers, inputs, tasks and filters. In this image, workflow templates are built graphically on screen in the style of a process flowchart.

While it may be true that engineers and tech operators can often pull rabbits from top hats, but at what cost to the business? The desire to the gain the business from one particular client may be at odds with the number of hours required to make it work. There are of course tools that can help solve these types of problems, often in the form of transcode engines and workflow automation.

This is where a MAM product comes into its own, having the ability to orchestrate these types of processes and ensure that valuable metadata is not just preserved during the process but also enriched. The enrichment process is vital when things go wrong.

If the MAM system can provide some form of audit trail, it may not be necessary to go back to the rushes when someone realises that the audio has been messed up after the final colour grade. Better yet, if the MAM system is integrated into an automated quality control system, it may have the “awareness” that something is wrong at any key part of the process, and be able to alert an operator.

Even if a fully intelligent and aware QC workflow is a way off, it is possible to use processing and monitoring systems in a MAM-controlled environment to make sure that when things break (which they will) the right people know about it. Crucially, these people also need to be provided with enough information about the problem, in order to make an informed decision.

What is broken? How broken is it? The MAM system should be the place where they go to find that information. Why? Because over time the information on these types of problems (and other processes) can be stored within the MAM database. This repository can provide users with valuable analytics on the overall performance of the many workflow processes.

All too often technical teams get excited about the performance of the storage system and networking more than the overall business or workflow process. Obviously having a shared storage solution that works and scales effectively is vital to the business, but if you don’t know how well you are using such an asset, how do you know if it represents value for money?

Purchase due diligence requires asking yourself the following questions, and then finding answers to each one as it relates to facility needs for today and in the future.

Does the MAM system match your current working processes? 

For example, if you work with projects, can you arrange the work in the MAM by project? Can you add project-specific metadata to help with the overall management of these?

Is it easy to adopt new working practices or add new codecs for ingest and delivery? 

If you have teams of remote users that need to collaborate on the production process, will your MAM system cope with this? Can you host all or parts of it in the cloud? You’d be surprised at the number of MAM systems that cannot be run on major cloud services simply because of licensing restrictions.

One additional value of a MAM is the ability to capture, store and process both images and metadata from remote editorial workflows. Production managers may find that an integrated MAM is not just a useful tool, but the essential component to building an efficient production workflow.

How easy is it to customise metadata schemas within your potential MAM system? 

If for example, you have a delivery specification for a certain broadcaster or network, there may be mandatory metadata parameters you have to deliver along with the content. Can you take a sample file from the client and can it be used to create a work template for the MAM system to make sure everything you deliver meets the customer’s requirements?

Can you automate repetitive tasks and can these tasks be interdependent? For instance, if the workflow performs QC, does the QC report get fed back into the MAM system as metadata? When errors occur, how easy are they to find and interpret? Are they displayed as low resolution proxies managed by the MAM system?

Does the system provide analytics on storage and workflow performance? 

Can you generate reports to better understand how well your investments are performing? This could apply to physical storage or processing platforms (servers, etc.) as well as the MAM users which could be controversial in some areas. However, if you have operators making the same mistakes repetitively such analytical reports can show where additional training may be necessary.

Many more questions could be asked as part of the design process. However, because Media Asset Management is all about workflow processes and since no two workflows are the same, there is no silver bullet or “one size fits all” solution.

With the many changes in digital formats, delivery channels and increasing complex workflows, a file-based MAM is often more than a convenience. It can be the key to more production volume, higher product quality—the virtual key to a successful business.

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