11. Will artificial intelligence completely change the way we manage digital assets?




On a trip in the Philippines David unearthed a problem from where MediaValet as a digital asset management (DAM) solution was born. Today, probably more so than ever, having a digital, single source of truth, living in the cloud and containing your company’s most important assets, is critical to both fully remote, local or blended teams.


Man smiling, short styled-hairstyle, wearing navy cardigan with lighter blue undertop

David MacLaren is the founder and CEO of DAM company Media Valet. MediaValet started as a travel repository for images and digital information for hotels and resorts. Developing into one of the forefront DAM companies worldwide.



Doug Foulkes: Hello and welcome to The Future of Work, the podcast that looks at all things work in the future, brought to you by WNDYR for the blog, Chaos and Rocket Fuel. Today, WNDYR CEO Claire Haidar on myself. Doug Foulkes are joined by a digital asset management fanatic, CEO and founder of MediaValet, David MacLaren. Claire, would you like to kick things off?

Claire Haidar: David, good morning, so good to have you on our podcast. And I’m really looking forward to this conversation.

David MacLaren: It’s great to be here Claire, thank you.

Claire Haidar: David’s diving right in. This isn’t your first gig. And I’ve had many crazy conversations with you in the past. In one of these conversations, you told me a really crazy story about photos on the beach. And I think it’s one that our audience will just really enjoy. Do you mind telling us a little bit about that and what brought you to MediaValet and what it is today as a company?

David MacLaren: It’s probably not that too crazy to some. It’s the way that many businesses start for that initial idea. So back in January 2000, my wife and I were traveling in the Philippines and we ended up on a small island called Balkhi. On that island there’s this beach called White Beach and it’s an idyllic white beach that is one of the top ten beaches in the world. But very few people, especially back then, knew about it. And I couldn’t believe at that time there was very few photos available of White Beach or Balkhi.

On the flight back, I jotted down some ideas on how I might be able to solve that problem. And within six days of landing back in Vancouver, I had hired a production manager. Within three months we had shot our first 30 destinations and then by early 2010 we were covering three hundred destinations and over fifteen thousand hotels around the world.

The challenge is we had 40 plus terabytes of imagery on our servers and in DVD format. Now DAM at the time or digital asset management had existed for twenty five plus years. But what did exist was made for big media companies and it didn’t meet our needs. The idea was to be able to build an internal tool that our hotels and destination and travel clients could log into and access the imagery. So it would be more self-service. And this was the very beginning of MediaValet.

Doug Foulkes: David, I’m going to jump in here. I’m not the sharpest pencil in the box when things start getting too technical. So some people call me old school, I suppose. Could you explain to me what defines a digital asset and why is it so important in business these days?

David MacLaren: So a digital asset is any digital file that you’d save on your computer from photos, videos, animations, graphics, audio files, documents and presentations, PDF, anything like that, all the way to 2D and 3D engineering and product designs. As businesses, we spend a lot of time and money creating assets like these, having a system specifically to house, manage and track those assets. Let alone protect back them up and provide controlled access to them that will make any business more efficient, productive and competitive.

Claire Haidar: So with that definition in mind, and everything that has just recently happened globally because of the pandemic that we’re all facing. Am I correct in saying that digital asset management has likely moved up very high onto the strategic agenda?

David MacLaren: I completely agree. And that being able to have this single source of truth that’s on the cloud, that contains all the important assets that a business has and making those available from anywhere in the world, no matter where you are, whether you’re local or remote, has become more important in the last two months than ever.

Claire Haidar:
People are notoriously bad at managing their spaces in the cloud. How does that impact a successful DAM implementation?

David MacLaren: It’s a great question. So first and foremost, when you’re creating a DAM, you need to be able to find all those silos of assets. That’s the first step.

And it is it can be complicated and a little daunting to people when they contemplate, at least initially, creating and setting up a DAM. This is where we come in and we do this every single day. So it’s easy for us and it’s not daunting at all. But finding those assets, getting them all into one cloud based archive, organizing them both manually and using AI today, helps tremendously on how people go forward and work. Because once you’ve set up a new system and process, and the process is making sure that now those assets, whenever someone creates an asset or updates an asset, it goes into that single system. It’s no longer in these silos. That process can be set up really quickly. Once a system like this is set up, it makes the entire organization more efficient.

Claire Haidar: You say something important that you spoke about AI and how it’s changing the DAMs face. Talk to me a little bit more about that piece that you alluded to.

David MacLaren: One of the biggest challenges with DAM is the number of assets that we’re dealing with and the fact that those assets, at least initially when we work with the company, they’re going to have a large archive of existing assets as they’re aggregating those siloed assets. That’s going to be thousands, tens of thousands to millions of assets. None of those assets are tagged. They’ll have a file name maybe, but the search ability or in our world, the discoverability, those assets is quite limited because they’re not keyword it.

There’s not much metadata attached to them. And this is where AI plays a very important role within digital asset management, because it helps tag those assets. And what’s exciting is that when I first started coming out in the imagery space, it was basically a horse, dog, tree, sun, Eiffel Tower, simple stuff like that. That’s changing very quickly for a lot of our customers. Today, we’re using advanced AI where we’re creating custom AI models for them, where we’re able to identify objects that are unique to their businesses.

So then we can add automatically add the SKU numbers and all the other metadata that’s needed to really increase the value and make those assets easily discoverable by people when they search them individually, but also by systems that connect into that DAM as a single source of truth when they’re needing them.

Claire Haidar: That leads me to the next question that I have for you, David, which is what do you feel are the key innovations or changes that yourself and your competitors in the DAM environment will need to make in order to meet the demands of this new era of work that the pandemic has all pushed us into?

David MacLaren: The next thing is how we’re interfacing with those systems and with, in this case, for us, a DAM how we interface with that as keyboards are very inefficient. It’s about how we identify those assets. When we think about in our businesses, we’re creating so many assets, how do we know where they are? How do we know where those silos are? And within those silos, those assets right now, we do it all manually. Every time we work with a new client, there’s that manual effort of identifying.

We’re only catching some of the assets. There are a lot of assets within our organizations that are still going unidentified. We need ways to find those. So we are not doing the work anymore.

Doug Foulkes: David, I’m sure there are many of the listeners out there have actually heard the term Digital Asset Management, and they’d like to get into the DAM space, if you mind my language. How do they get started? By overhauling all the assets that they’ve got and starting to manage them in a digital way.

David MacLaren: When someone’s starting to experience pain around managing or interacting with assets, as many of us do, it’s the hours that we spend finding an asset that we might remember creating or coming across months or years ago. Those pain points or deleting assets by mistake or having assets lost as those pain points become more prevalent. This is when we start to have to consider or considering something like a digital asset management system. So that first step is identifying the silos that we can see and trying to find the ones that are hidden to us initially.

Step two is identifying who’s responsible for those silos, who oversees them, as these people will become your core team, determining what your main pain points are dealing with assets and the use cases around them. The third step is when you start looking for a DAM vendor, that DAM vendor needs to bring everything together for you and needs to make it as easy as possible, but also as effective as possible, because you need to get a system up and running relatively quickly from a cost standpoint, but also in a way that’s effective.

So I think when you’re buying software, a truly 100 percent believe you need to find a vendor that is going to be able to grow and work with you over time.

Claire Haidar: I can relate to that so much, just as a as a business owner myself.

One of the things that we’ve seen over and over again as the company has matured, you know, since we started, is you really going through periods where it’s like housekeeping, you need to overhaul your systems. And so, Dave the point you’re making is really critical.

Can you give us a very practical use case of what this looks like?

I’m a CEO. I realize that digital asset management is a very big issue in my company. What does it actually look like on the ground when I get my team to go and identify silos?

David MacLaren: So some of the silos are really easy. Marketing, engineering, training, communications.

These departments have just folders full of assets and those can be source files like photos, videos, animations, graphics, the building blocks of the sales and marketing material and training material that we create for our businesses. But the silos go much further than that because a silo could be an ad agency that you’ve been working with for the last 10 years that they keep sending you the final assets. Those are great. We use those in marketing and sales. Once we get those, where do they go?

They go into different departments. They go into people’s laptops, they become silos. So going back to the initial silo of the ad agency and saying, hey, we want to get those original files from you all in one delivery, but also the source files you’ve used, stock photography you’ve purchased for those projects you’ve created b-role for those projects that we’ve paid for. It’s all part of our project. But that was never delivered. We just took the the final delivery, the final asset.

Getting those source files, that’s another silo that a lot of people don’t think about. Those individual building blocks, we we want to now repurpose because a lot of us have internal teams that are starting to create content as well. And they can leverage that b-roll and stock photos and other building blocks of the final assets. Now, another example will be we have a lot of customers. I think almost every customer will have one or multiple servers in basements or various offices and back rooms that have silos of assets that only a few people know about.

And when you’re looking for that specific product photo or video or event photo or something like that for a while ago, you call Bob or you call Sue and she knows where to go. A lot of us also work with individual photographers and videographers and designers and writers. They all have their own mini silos.

Once you bring them into DAM it now eliminates turnover in your business, people retiring, people moving on, you can find assets by self-serving, by going to a DAM, that system, that single source of truth and using the metadata associated, you can find those assets. As simple as who was the photographer that shot it, what was the year?

We can easily find those threads and start to pull them pretty quickly to figure out where those silos are, even if they’re hidden to you.

Doug Foulkes: David is sort of coming towards the end of our conversation. I’ve got a couple of questions I’d like to ask you. One is just around, how does Dan play a role in departments outside of, say, maybe the more traditional usages like marketing?

David MacLaren: Well, yeah, marketing’s always the easy one in that managing all the marketing and sales material that’s created within the business. It’s a nice, easy way to go because a lot of people need access to it. What surprised me from the almost the very first day that we launched MediaValet are the companies that call us. It really does blow my mind, the variety of companies that use DAM in different use cases. So that might be the Federal Reserve of the US, that might be the U.S. Navy, that might be an individual water utility in California that uses it for training material to manage.

It could be a mining site somewhere in Australia that every day they need to take pictures and videos of their excavation work that they’ve done that day and then share it with management teams around the world. Every single day, I’m surprised by the different companies divisions and use cases.

Doug Foulkes: David, I want to conclude things. We’ve talked a lot, obviously, about what’s happened in the last 20 years. Tell me what’s exciting new about the new era of work that we’re moving into.

David MacLaren: Moving into especially in in the last couple months where we very quickly moved into a very remote, distributed workforce and environment. And that truly excites me. I haven’t been a huge fan of working remotely over the years. I’m a real proponent of having people in an open environment and be able to collaborate face to face. And I really enjoyed that over the years and multiple companies.

At MediaValet we have a really great environment. We’re known for our people were known for our culture, and I’ve loved that for 10 years.

But in the last two months, for someone who rarely, if ever works from home. I love it. I’ve really enjoyed working from home and spend a lot of time in the last two months working with our team to try to maintain that culture online and with a lot of the video project products and the collaboration products that we have at our fingertips today, we’ve been able to maintain that. And I’m really, really enjoying it. So definitely pros and cons to both, but I’m now a huge fan of working remotely and I know going forward that it is going to be a big component of our business and of my life.

So to give you an example. So a lot of companies are starting to go back to work. We are going to maintain our office and maintain an environment for people to work collaboratively, face to face if they want. But we have no requirement for people ever to come back to work. So they want to work from home now forever for us, they can. If they want to come in back to the office and work full time in the office, they can. Or they can do something in between. It’s completely up to them because we’ve now set up the systems that allow them to work however they want remote or in the office or combination. And that really excites me.

Claire Haidar: You have no idea how excited I am when I talk like that, because, I mean, Tracey and I have in every company that we’ve ever built has been a virtual company and we’ve been very big proponents of it and have received a lot of flack because of our views on it.

And so I’m like a little kid doing cartwheels in the backyard because of all the CEOs that are having these lightbulb moments, because it really is, it truly is transformative.

And as you say, there’s pros and cons to both, but I think the pros far, far outweigh the cons. If they’re managed correctly and if the systems are in place, as you say.

And I think that’s where the conversation around DAM is going to become particularly relevant. Because in this phase where people are going to be experimenting with this blended, one of the biggest risks that companies face is the fact that those silos that you refer to are going to become they actually going to exponentially increase for a period of time before the company puts a strategy in place to manage that. David, thank you so much for taking this hour out. Really, honestly appreciate the conversation.

I’ve learnt a lot from you inside of this conversation, and I’m more excited about DAM than I actually thought I was.

David MacLaren: Thank you. I’m glad I’ve converted you. But Claire, it’s taken me how long? I thought I converted you a long time ago. Thank you very much for inviting me on today. I really appreciated talking to you guys.

Doug Foulkes: Well, again, thank you for your time, David. Claire, thank you also for setting this conversation up. I certainly feel a little less old school than I did about an hour ago. From us at Chaos and Rocket Fuel thanks for listening. Be sure to pop back for more top of mind conversations. Keep safe and we’ll see you soon.

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