Being a Widen DAMster: An interview with Lucas Ledbetter, Informational Systems Administrator at Indiana University

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DAMster Interview

Lucas is an Informational Systems Administrator for Indiana University. A big part of his job involves managing their DAM system, in tandem with Eric Rudd, the university’s lead staff photographer. Lucas is responsible for the structure of their Widen Media Collective site, including the creation and delegation of user groups, asset groups, and permission levels. He also provides personal support to make sure the Widen Media Collective is working as intended.

We recently visited Lucas in Indiana to get a better feel for what his team does every day and how Digital Asset Management plays a role in making things happen. Here’s what he had to say.

What do you do each day at work and what are you responsible for?
Most the time I’m putting out fires. I handle all the client requests, so that’s a large part of my job.  I work with the newsrooms folks to make sure the news releases are going out and the images look good, and I answer any questions they have about the DAM system. I also handle all the internal technology support in the Indianapolis office.  

DAMster Interview

Approximately how much time do you spend using the Widen Media Collective?
Recently it’s been a bit more, but usually about 5-7 hours a week.

When did your team know you needed a DAM system?
We were previously using another DAM system, but we were having a lot of issues with reliability, accessibility and availability. Due to the way that we use our DAM system, it’s important that the system be accessible all the time or nearly all the time.

We cache all of the images for our news releases, making sure that two different systems aren't responding at different intervals.

We were having issues with our support and getting the system working as intended.  We would have long periods where images weren’t generating. Instead of the way Widen does it, where images generate on-the fly, the old system would only generate specific sizes whether they were necessary or not. That created a queue and that queue would backlog the system. The only alternative we had was to restart the server in order to clear out the queue.

So we moved to the Widen Media Collective where our images can be served as needed. All of our images don’t necessarily end up in news releases, but the news release images need to be available right away.

If someone asked you what the Widen Media Collective does, what would you say?
Right now, the Collective does everything for us. That’s the difference between us and a lot of other universities and entities. A lot of people use the Collective as an asset management tool only  – specifically for tracking images, making sure the images are used in appropriate ways, and looking at who’s downloading and viewing their images.

We use it a full production tool beyond asset management. It’s our image catalog for our designers, it’s our asset management for marketing purposes, and it’s our production tool for our newsletters.

What types of content do you manage and publish with the Media Collective?
All image files. Photos mainly. We will probably add video in the future.

Who are the core users of your DAM system?
Our designers, our writers, and our photographers. Our videographers are not using it quite as heavily yet because we’re shooting 4k and we need to make sure the workflow works for us first.

How are they using the Media Collective?
Our designers are using it to find images for websites. When they create new websites, they go into the Collective and look for images that will be useful for creating sections and headers, and altering them to fit the website’s needs. So, for example, if they’re doing a law school website, they might pull photos of the law school building..

Our writers are doing similar things.  They put our images in news releases and grab images from our photographers who are dumping basically everything into the Collective. Everything that’s worth keeping.

What do you users do with the Media Collective?
All of our users can do upload, download, and tag metadata, depending on their user group. Our photographers have pretty strong abilities to do lots of things.  Our newsroom is pretty stripped down – their metadata is very simplistic.  We have a couple of different metadata types to help accommodate this because a lot of things that photographers put on their images isn’t necessarily for our newsletters.

We include licensing information on everything, but many times our writers are taking images from external sources. They might give credit to a different photographer, or they take something off of Reuters or the Associated Press and credit them. We don’t have a lot of information about when or where an image was taken. But we include caption information, so in case we need to find it again, we can search the caption or parts of the caption to find that image again.

Our photographers are including information that’s very specific. We have a list of common events. For example, this weekend is the Little Five, so we’ll have a Little Five metadata type.  We’ll put in the categories and who the photographer was.  We have a pretty populated field for that.  People can enter “other,” as a metadata field, but we have all photographers at the university, the field, and the location listed. Campus is listed because we have IU Bloomington, IPUI, and six regional campuses where we shoot photography as well.

It’s important to know which campus the photos are being used for because we have a couple of different law school buildings. In Bloomington, it’s Maurer, which is the law school here. In Indianapolis, it’s McKinney.  But they’re both “the law school,” so if you search law school, it’ll pull up both sets of images.  Being associated with the right campus and building is important.

How did you roll out the system to your user base?
Our photographers bought in early.  They were in the system quite a bit beforehand and they really didn’t need a lot of training.  Eric got them up to speed and was responsible for establishing all the metadata types and things like that.

Then we added the newsroom folks, so we had to design the API integration for their system. After that was done, we wrote up system documentation (how to use), and then we did group training, which is ongoing.

We want our users to continue asking questions of us, so we’re aware of their workflow was and how things change. We have to be aware before we can make adjustments to the Media Collective and to better fit their needs.

How many people were involved in the one-on-one training?
There were 20 people for two trainings, so 40 people overall.  Occasionally, people still ask to do one-on-one, and I’m primarily responsible for that, so I’ll do that training online or in person if I can. I’d much prefer to the in-person ones because I can have them use their computer and walk them through the process with their own images.

Do you view this as an ongoing maintenance for the DAM system?
Absolutely. It’s important that we train them and update them on how to better do processes and make sure they’re letting us know how to update our processes to better suit them. We need to work together to get this working right. The DAM system is not necessarily intended to operate this way, but we’re making it work.

Are there any unique things you or your teams do with the Media Collective that you didn’t initially realize you could do?
We are doing a lot of sharing.  We’re doing some integrations because those are really powerful for us. It’s been especially nice for our Instagram photos (through the Zapier integration), which we’re uploading now because it’s nice to have those.

The internal cropping tool was a big thing. I don’t think it was a well-known feature until we started getting involved with the interim stuff. It’s really important for our writers and news staff. Our photographers don’t care about it as much.  They might use it occasionally to get out to some folks that are on the side or to cleanup, but for our writers to do a crop in the DAM system is really powerful.

Is user generated content important to your team?
We don’t put much in the DAM system that isn’t produced by us (the university), so it’s not paramount for us, but it’s probably something we’ll look at down the road because it’s really powerful.  We see there’s a lot of potential with it.  It’s just a matter of figuring out what we could use it for.

Are your people/teams collaborating in different ways because you have a DAM system?
A lot of our collaboration has been simplified.  So IU has a contract with Box, a cloud storage system. Our contract is for unlimited storage, so people use it as a dumping ground for everything. Our department has an internal folder that we used to use for sharing.  So we could share the content with our designers and our clients.

Widen has made it a lot easier for us to share that content directly, so our designers are able to go in and find their images a lot quicker than having to having to rely on our people to send it out. They usually handled that sort of request, having to pick out images and share them with designers.  It’s a lot less work for everyone involved, especially our designers who can now just look in the DAM system and quickly find what they need.

What is the single greatest value your marketing team has gained from having a DAM system?
The ability to search multiple asset groups. In the Widen Media Collective, you can create different asset groups, so the ability to have multiple user groups have access to different asset groups is really powerful. Our photographers put photos into their own asset group and they don’t see the newsroom at all. The newsroom is kind of it’s own section and we can monitor that space.

Then newsroom folks can upload whatever they need.  They can search the photographer’s images for use in press releases and it simplifies sharing images. We can make sure there’s no duplication of effort across the board because of what we can do with Metadata in the Media Collective. With the old system, we had to move images manually in order for them to be accessible by newsroom folks. It was not a pleasant user experience.

Where do you go to find more information about digital asset management, content management tools, and best practices?
I really check mostly with Eric.  Widen also has a lot of resources online that I check occasionally.

What advice would you give other organizations that want to invest in a Digital Asset Management system?
Focus on getting your metadata right from the onset.  Identifying how to classify your images is probably the most important thing you can do because it’s hard to go back once you have images in there.  Especially when you have images coming in that you want to classify. If you’re a marketing department and you want to classify specific images, tag them right the first time so 10 years down the road or even next month, you can find that image without any problems. Otherwise, it’s like “I uploaded these images somewhere between this date and this date and now I’ve got to sort through thousands of images to find this one specific image I know we have.”

Getting the metadata right has been a big thing for us because once we had that set up, all of our images correctly mapped metadata automatically when we uploaded them.

On the same note, mapping metadata is important too. It’s a way to ensure your photographers can work smarter. We set up fields in Photo Mechanic and automatically import them into the Widen Collective. When we add a thousand images, those thousand images already have all their metadata set and it stays with those images when they get loaded in the Widen Collective.

How was the implementation process for the Widen Media Collective?
We decided internally that we were going to go day forward into the Widen Collective as a fresh platform. The old system had about 5 terabytes of images and we pull them off on an as-needed basis. The process was easy and Widen’s support was great.

Do you know how many assets you have here?
The last I checked, about 21,000.

And how many users?
We’re getting close to the 75.

What does it mean to you to be part of the Widen experience?
Fantastic support, that’s the first thing.  We’ve been very happy with the support we’ve been getting. The other thing is being really easy to learn compared to other systems or even technologies in general.

While it’s easy to learn, there’s a lot of stuff that you can do with Widen that I think a lot of people don’t know. Like the granularity for permissions is incredible.  For me, that’s huge because I can specify one person to only be able to view, but I can also specify one group to have the ability to order images or edit metadata.

Topics: Photography, Marketing, DAM, Workflow

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