December 28, 2001, 12:00 AM

When it comes to managing digital images, the web creates the problem—then solves it

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High resolution print images, stored in digital form, can be re-purposed for use in other formats or other sizes. Image transformation systems automate the process, saving what might otherwise be hours of manual labor in reformatting stored images. For when it comes to the creation and storage of digital images, an image is simply a set of data to be sliced and diced in different ways to produce different end results. “When you’re going from a JPEG file to a TIF file, you’re changing the algorithms for rendering that picture,” says Duhl. “You put it through an image server on its way to the web site. That server makes some changes and then renders the image to specification on the fly.” Such re-purposing covers more than just changing formats to the output requirements of different media; it covers resizing for web display as well.

By having to store only one original image on its own servers and dynamically generating derivatives on an image server as they’re needed, retailers will store fewer images overall, simplifying storage and sorting. “Your storage requirements will be less,” Duhl says. “Your processing requirements might be higher, but if you are serving up millions of images that people want to look at in their own way, image servers begin to find a niche.”

Start your engine

For example, at Equilibrium, whose clients include The Sharper Image, Sundance Catalog and Van-Heusen shirts, Bigoness describes the company’s server-based MediaRich platform as “an imaging engine” that can link to a digital asset management system or sit alongside a database to generate derivatives from the original product image on demand. “Let’s say a shopper goes to a retail site and does a search for a sweater,” he says. “Instead of having to pre-generate and store all the different images of the sweater in each color, our system gets the original high resolution TIF file from the product database. If the shopper wants to see the sweater in green, MediaRich will take that image, transform it into a JPEG file in the right color, and serve it up on the web server.” That enriches the shopping experience for the consumer while cutting down on storage requirements back on the retailer’s server and ensuring the correct images are served up to the shopper pronto.

Apart from providing a customer with a richer shopping experience, image management systems play an important role in brand management. Whether simply reformatting images on the customer side so as to re-use them and save costs or building an entire digital management system to organize images and other content and share it among business partners, digital asset management systems can deliver brand-image consistency. “When retailers or manufacturers operate on multiple channels, they want the image to look the same wherever it is,” Duhl says. “It might not be just the web site images they are trying to manage, it could be the images that go into their Sunday fliers or even the video they used in the ads last month.”

Brand protection was part of what high-end furniture manufacturer Herman Miller Inc. was after when it hooked up with digital asset management system provider Artesia Technologies Inc. last year. Holland, Mich.-based Herman Miller had amassed many thousands of product images for catalogs, brochures and its web site, but it had no central repository for storing, organizing and sharing them within departments or among business partners. Instead, the marketing department stored the images in a variety of ways, such as on CDs and on shared corporate servers. And it wasn’t just product images that were scattered, but other digital content ranging from illustrations to presentations to video as well.

Moving outside the 4 walls

“We’ve gone from a system that wasn’t working efficiently to a single repository for our digital assets and a single way to manage them,” says Kurt Slinglend, team manager at, which oversees development of the company’s corporate portal. “We know with confidence now when we pull up an image whether it’s the right source for this digital information, and when we share it with a partner we know exactly how it will look. That helps protect our brand, and at Herman Miller, known for innovation in design, our brand is our life.”

Digital asset management systems such as Artesia’s save labor, time and cost on the back end in part by making digital content like images easily searchable. “You can find a text document with a keyword search,” points out Slinglend, “but you can’t do that with a picture. You have to search for elements within the picture.”

Digital asset management systems search images using metadata-in-depth descriptive information that goes beyond a simple naming system-that’s attached to each stored image. Metadata can include product information such as product line, color, or size, as well as information about the properties of the image itself.

The system not only speeds up locating images, but also automates re-purposing to generate them in whatever format needed. The capacity to do both is one reason Herman Miller chose Artesia’s system, Slinglend says.

Closing in on break-even

Herman Miller licenses the software from Artesia and runs it on its own server. Slinglend won’t say how much Herman Miller has spent on the system. But he does say that only six months out, it’s already approaching break-even. Over the next six months, the company will integrate the Artesia system that now resides within its walls into its corporate portal so business partners needing digital content from Herman Miller can access the same functionality.

“This will let us be as flexible as we need to be in the future,” adds Slinglend. “I can’t predict when we’re going to need a picture of what product, but if I have a system that lets me quickly extract and transform it, whatever the request may be, I’m miles ahead of folks that don’t’ have that capacity.”

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