14
Oct
This entry is part 1 of 19 in the series Victoria’s Secret about DAM


MM: BJ, let’s begin with a short introduction to you, about your job function and company.

BG: Okay. I’m BJ Gray. I work at Victoria’s Secret in the Store’s Channel. I’m the head of marketing operations, the tactical side of marketing. We manage all the stores projects from inception to execution including POS for windows, in-store, PR, advertising, CRM, photo retouching, DAM, business process management, and implementation. My team also oversees all master marketing calendars and the entire annual marketing budget.

MM: Would you explain various operations within Victoria’s Secret and, in particular, those operations for which you have direct responsibility?

BG: First, Victoria’s Secret is part of Limited Brands. Victoria’s Secret generates the most revenue for Limited Brands and consists of two channels: Victoria’s Secret Stores and Victoria’s Secret Direct Channel with an on-line store and catalog. I have responsibility for the marketing operations, process improvement, budgets, and production for Victoria’s Secret stores channel.

MM: How large, as percentage, is the direct and web channel versus retail store?

BG: The Stores channel is double the size of Direct. Stores revenue was $3.6 billion last year and the Direct channel was around $1.7 billion last year.

MM: So the stores constitute the primary revenue driver, and direct and web constitute important but secondary channel.

BG: Yes. We have 1,000 storefronts throughout the US and sell primarily intimate apparel where the Direct channel sells more swimsuits, apparel, and shoes.

MM: About how many product SKUs are in your overall mix? Whether store or online?

BG: That’s a giant number for me to try to figure out. Let me think. It’s huge. We have at least 60 different styles of bras that come in about 8 colors at multiple sizes and we have over 380 panty styles. The Direct channel would have a greater assortment, plus apparel.


Category : Interview | Blog
15
Oct
This entry is part 2 of 19 in the series Victoria’s Secret about DAM


MM: So that means on an annual basis, you probably create lots and lots of high-resolution color-touched, color-corrected photographs.

BG: Yes, hundreds. In 2007 the Stores Channel retouched 969 images alone.

MM: Do you have any sense in terms of how many photographs you either have on inventory now and/or create on an annual basis?

BG: The stores channel has at least 10 photo shoots a year that probably generates about 1000 shots a year. Right now the stores channel has 6 terabytes of assets stored in the DAM dating back to 2003. I’d say we have approximately 86,000 images. Not as much as direct, but lots of images.

MM: Direct, because it’s a broader product line, would probably have as many as two or three times that number?

BG: Yes, it’s even five to 10 times as many.

Category : Interview | Blog
16
Oct
This entry is part 3 of 19 in the series Victoria’s Secret about DAM

MM: So that means on an annual basis, you probably create lots and lots of high-resolution color-touched, color-corrected photographs.

BG: Yes, hundreds. In 2007 the Stores Channel retouched 969 images alone.

MM: Do you have any sense in terms of how many photographs you either have on inventory now and/or create on an annual basis?

BG: The stores channel has at least 10 photo shoots a year that probably generates about 1000 shots a year. Right now the stores channel has 6 terabytes of assets stored in the DAM dating back to 2003. I’d say we have approximately 86,000 images. Not as much as direct, but lots of images.

MM: Direct, because it’s a broader product line, would probably have as many as two or three times that number?

BG: Yes, it’s even five to 10 times as many.

Category : Interview | Blog
17
Oct
This entry is part 4 of 19 in the series Victoria’s Secret about DAM


MM: With respect to your journey of DAM, would you take us back to when you first started to think about, “We need a better way of doing something.” Were you part of that initial kickoff?

BG: No, I was not part of the very first kickoff. I came to Victoria’s Secret two years ago and one of my new direct reports was struggling to start a DAM system. He was challenged for a good three years by the Creative Director to get the many hard drives into some sort of digital library so that we weren’t losing images and they were easier to find.

At that point, digital asset management hadn’t evolved or doesn’t have as many options as it does today. He couldn’t find an independent company that would host the asset management. It was going to be one of our big printers that wanted to build our asset-management system. That’s kind of limiting when it’s the printer that’s actually hosts the asset management because other vendors may not be able to load into it.

So he never got it off the ground. When I got here, the creative director approached me and said, “Can you really try to find some sort of way to catalog all of our images?” She really didn’t even speak in terms of digital asset management. She just spoke of, “We need a better way to find our images and catalog our images.”

So I started digging in. I started investigating several companies, learning about their capabilities and whether we host it or they host it. What the contracts were, et cetera? Then eventually, I came up with a company that we wanted to work with.


Category : Interview | Blog
18
Oct
This entry is part 5 of 19 in the series Victoria’s Secret about DAM

MM: If you could, just review some of the buying criteria that you applied in sorting through those four or five vendors.

BG: One of the big considerations was that it should be hosted web-based and not put onto Victoria’s Secret servers—not licensed. It would be quicker to get up and running if it were web-based. If not, I would have to go through corporate IT, and that would’ve really slowed the project down or completely made it come to a halt. That was a huge criterion.

Also, I didn’t want to have to be charged or have to re-engage with the company if there were improvements to the DAM application. I wanted to have those updates supplied to us. So if a new version came out, we’d just be able to use them without having to pay for it.

AS: Could you clarify that what you mean by saying “without having to pay”? Do you mean, “not having to pay for an upgrade? [NOTE: Andrew Salop joins this interview. As a consultant, he worked with BJ Gray in implementing the DAM at Victoria's Secret]

BG: Sure. I mean not having to pay for an upgrade or new enhancements to the DAM application.

SaaS and Strong Partnerships Speed the Return on Investment

AS: This is a classic case for what is now referred to as SaaS – Software as a Service, which frees the customer from having to worry about IT infrastructure, allowing them focus on their business. This concept is generating a lot of buzz across the software community and the practice is beginning to live up to the hype.

BG: Another criterion–I didn’t want to be constrained to a contract with the providing company, in case it just didn’t work out, or we needed to have more companies latch onto the system. I really wanted to find a company that wouldn’t expect a usage contracts out of us. Right now I am very much at free will to stop using the service if needed. Most companies I talked to offered 2- to 4-year contracts.

MM: Right.

BG: Next, I wanted to find a company that wasn’t just supplying me with their software that they developed and I’d have to conform to how their system moves, and the language they put into it. I wanted to find a company that would be flexible to making the system work around our needs, our language and our workflow; around our vision. Someone to partner and brainstorm with more than just buying a big massive pile of software application that would be installed and they’d walk away from.

I wanted a really good partnership with a vendor so that we could keep developing and brainstorming together on things that we needed.

AS: A strong customer/vendor partnership and iterative dialog is critical to a successful DAM implementation. This particular relationship is a compelling example of the benefits generated by such collaboration.

MM: So, BJ, does that also mean that they had a professional services capability that could come in and develop and run and deploy a new project? Or did you just simply want somebody who was more open to your ideas in terms of how to move this into a better fit for your organization?

BG: I wasn’t looking for a professional services team. And I was not looking for the most hi-tech answers to all my needs. That wasn’t a requirement. I just needed a company that would be able to listen to my vision and give me a tool that would work. And Industrial Color did a really great job in doing so. After our initial talks they tailored their system to fit our specific needs.


Category : Interview | Blog
19
Oct
This entry is part 6 of 19 in the series Victoria’s Secret about DAM


MM: Right. That means that they had a system that was flexible enough to accommodate your evolving set of requirements and needs? What other criteria did you use in selecting a vendor?

BG: That their interface be user-friendly and aesthetically pleasing to the creative eye—and as I say—”Apple-esque.” It’s a very creative atmosphere, here. If you put some really boring software enterprise solution in front of these designers, they’re not going to want to use it. You want these designers to try the system and see how easy it was. So I really wanted a cool interface.

AS: This is an important point. There is a direct connection in creative environments between user-interface and system utilization. Enterprise solutions seeking to expand into media content workflows will need to place a higher priority into improving the state of their system’s usability. [NOTE: Andrew Salop joins this interview. As a consultant, he worked with BJ Gray in implementing the DAM at Victoria's Secret]

BG: I also wanted a company that was using the latest and greatest technology out there to build their DAM application so that we weren’t always a step behind of what was being offered by others. Like high-speed file transfer, etc. I wanted a company that was on the cutting edge of their industry.


Category : Interview | Blog
20
Oct
This entry is part 7 of 19 in the series Victoria’s Secret about DAM


MM: What would’ve been some of the cutting-edge technologies that you wanted to make sure this provider or vendor incorporated in their offering?

BG: One would be that they were using XMP. Building their system with XMP, so that it was open to connect with other systems.

MM: XMP meaning the Extensible Metadata Platform and an open standard championed by Adobe? That’s a way of capturing metadata and putting it into the actual file. So when the file or asset leaves the repository, the metadata travels with it.

BG: Correct. I am not a tech person but I also understand that if it’s built on XMP—and that if another system I have here is built on XMP, it’s an open interface for us to try to figure out how to link them together if they need to share information with each other, maybe link them by project number, or by file number.

AS: Thereby enhancing workflow connectivity by supplementing, or possibly even substituting system integration with file-based metadata interchange. [NOTE: Andrew Salop joins this interview. As a consultant, he worked with BJ Gray in implementing the DAM at Victoria's Secret]

MM: So we’re not just talking about being about to send a file—an asset—from one system to another. XMP also provided the basic architecture for two systems to share metadata and assets in some sort of collaborative or reciprocal process. What other technology did you want to have in terms of considering a state of the art platform?

BG: XMP encompasses part of what is needed for the metadata but the other part was a company that was developing flexibility with the metadata schema. Metadata drives what we are doing, drives the rules of how our system works based on detailed (loaded) search capabilities and image rights expiration. All the importance is in the metadata so we needed to be able to have lots of functionality when updating, changing or viewing the metadata.

The high-speed file transfer technology came about while I was working with the company. I did not think of needing it up front but now I can’t imagine not having it. High Speed file transfer is a huge, huge plus.

MM: Tell us a little bit more about that.

BG: It’s developed by a vendor called Aspera and partner with the company that built our DAM which is Industrial Color. The DAM application is called GLOBALedit. Using Aspera allows the images to upload or download in minutes or seconds versus hours. Like using an FTP site, a big image from an FTP site could take a long time to pull down, and hold up someone’s computer. Aspera’s high-speed file transfer makes images down or upload super fast. It saves so much time on the vendor’s side when they pull massive amounts of images down for retouching or printing. It’s just incredible. An example would be 1 GB file downloads in about 7 seconds with a 20Mbps connection. So it’s really, really fast.


Category : Interview | Blog
21
Oct
This entry is part 8 of 19 in the series Victoria’s Secret about DAM


MM: It probably also keeps track of who transferred what to whom, by time of day and user ID?

BG: I don’t think Aspera does. I think that’s just a total high-speed highway. But the tracking of images is available in our DAM workflow system. That’s something that I wanted.

Actually, that brings up a good point. A lot of the systems that I was looking at did not have different reporting formats. They only had one way to pull the reports, and only one kind of report you could pull. I wanted a system that I could pull reports by user, by image and by day and hour and week. To get how many terabytes or megabytes were being transferred. Instantaneously, I wanted to be able to pull reports. Who was using it the most? Who am I saving the most time for? So I could report back to the executives about what kind of return on investment we were getting. I really wanted a robust reporting-and-tracking system.

MM: So they gave you a really robust reporting and query system that allowed you to correlate and collate various aspects of the activity journal into higher-level business information. You’re saying that was part of the system? Or was that added to the system, but they integrated it for you?

BG: You know, I really can’t remember what was offered at the onset. We started exploring all the needs for the system in such an organic way that part of the reports were theirs and some were my vision.

MM: How does management use the information that they’re getting from your reports?

BG: Because we just turned it on in February and we just on-boarded 68 users to the system, we’re very much in the infancy stage of making sense of all the reports. I’m just pulling the reports to see how many people are on the system at this point, accessing it and figure out how many assets they are actually downloading. We have so many different teams in the enterprise that are using this system. Which ones are really using it the most and finding efficiencies with their time?

Right now, I’m more curious to see how this adds up as far as expense on a weekly and monthly basis. So right now, it’s really high-level—just getting the information out of it.


Category : Interview | Blog
22
Oct
This entry is part 9 of 19 in the series Victoria’s Secret about DAM


MM: We have seen other DAMs in similar businesses using what we’ve called an ROI dashboard. People log onto it and there’s a little admin panel. It basically says, “Here is the total volume,” to-date, year-to-date or whatever. “We estimate that it eliminated 595 DVDs at a fully-burdened cost of $74.00 to burn and ship and receive.” The data summarizes year-to-date savings: x-amount of money or x-number of hours in reworking or redoing preexisting pieces that they couldn’t find. This would’ve been based on historical baseline information that you would’ve gotten prior to deploying the system.

BG: Prior to moving forward I worked up a return on investment, obviously, to sell it to my boss—so that I could embark on this venture. Although our main goal at the onset was for protection of assets, a library that held everything and was accessible to finding images for layouts, etc. However, I did think that it would save designers time and I wanted to put a value to it. After asking several people throughout the firm how much time they spent tracking down hard-drives, looking at web-native systems we came up with about a fifth of their time each week was spent searching for images. This was the case for many people in the company. So if it were a 50-hour week, maybe 10 hours a week could be saved.

I also put a cost savings to the many downloads that we get charged for from vendors and FedEx shipments which probably end up being $350,000 a year in savings.

MM: As you begin to look at some of the baseline data that you gathered to build your business case, that will probably help inform what kind of reports you’d like to have on an ongoing basis.

BG: Yes, agree.

MM: One of the other things that we’ve learned from other people in situations similar to yourself is setting up departmental benchmarks. In terms of basic asset reuse as well as who creates more reusable stuff as opposed to less reusable stuff. It’s just simply a report card for your asset creator communities, in terms of who creates the more reusable stuff. That kind of starts to set up a game to create more reusable stuff.

In some cases, we’ve seen companies put incentives in place for asset creators to want to create more reusable stuff as a function of how they do layers and PhotoShop files or Illustrator files. How well they’ve done meta-tagging, et cetera.

As you were talking about some of the technologies that you really appreciated in a state of the art DAM platform, you’d mentioned the XMP metadata piece. The flexible user interface. The high-speed data transfer and the reporting functions. Were there any other features of a DAM system that you wanted to have?

BG: I think the workflow capabilities were something always in the back of my mind. A couple of the vendors that I looked at had workflow capabilities built in, but it wasn’t my initial criteria for going out and embarking to build an image library. If they had workflow services, it was a plus.

AS: DAM customers are increasingly realizing that having a secure yet accessible content archive is only a first step. There is a growing premium connected to the availability of integrated tools and services that drive and optimize key workflows. [NOTE: Andrew Salop joins this interview. As a consultant, he worked with BJ Gray in implementing the DAM at Victoria's Secret]

Category : Interview | Blog
23
Oct
This entry is part 10 of 19 in the series Victoria’s Secret about DAM


MM: I take it in the GLOBALedit system that you have today; it has some enabling services for workflow?

BG: Yes. The workflow starts from the very beginning – the photo shoot. We can do image capture at the photo shoot, move the selected images from the photo shoot to retouch vendors with comments attached, and move them back into DAM system into retouched folder, then also, flowing them back out to the end-users or the printers. It has a pretty comprehensive workflow capability.

MM: In that workflow specifically, does your system really support online review and approval of the asset? Or is the review and approval process kind of an overlay to the asset?

BG: The approval and select process is all done in the workflow within the DAM. You can select or kill and use a star rating for the images that are selected. Different designers and creative directors can go in and pick which ones they want to select and then they can be reviewed or approved by the Chief Creative. There is a way to track who selected the images or rated them and then who killed or approved them.

AS: BJ, you might want to talk about the evolution of your vision since the project kickoff, for the central library into how it’s evolved. I think that’s an important point. [NOTE: Andrew Salop joins this interview. As a consultant, he worked with BJ Gray in implementing the DAM at Victoria's Secret]

MM: That was really more of just a basic library function. Right?

BG: True. Very basic library function. My thought at that point was, “Once we get this library up, wouldn’t it be great that everybody can connect to it as cross-functional partners?”

Victoria’s Secret is broken up into different sub-brands. There’s a sub-brand called “Beauty,” and a sub-brand called “PINK.” Then we’ve got several cross-functional partners—a real estate team, another creative team that’s at the Limited Brands level. I was thinking, “Wow! Once I get this library done, I’ll be able to share this library, and everybody will see how useful it is. They can now have access to look themselves for images that Victoria’s Secret specifically—the store channel—had created.

While meeting with Industrial Color about GLOBALedit, I heard more about the GLOBALedit functionality, the workflow capabilities, and then the intent of what I wanted the system to do really evolved.

That’s when we got into creating an online tool for the designers to use for image selects and approval, where they could review the images, approve them or kill them. Having it web-based was a huge plus as many of our creative directors are out of the office, at photo shoots, working from home. Having easy access to review images saved time in getting the images in play to work on.

In addition, many, many requests come from the Victoria’s Secret enterprise for the same high-res images that are completed through retouching because it’s going to be deployed for multiple uses. For instance, each campaign our production team sends the images out to many different print vendors they work with so the same asset might go to 10 different vendors to be printed in a digital format or an offset format. I really wanted a tool where those images could just be moved in and out of so we didn’t have to ask or get charged by the retouchers each time we needed a download of final images. I wanted those final images to be ingested back into the DAM, and then pushed out from the DAM by us.

Then for the front end I wanted the workflow to be in place so that the photographers could easily upload their images from the photo shoots. This would make all the difference in the time it takes to edit and select the images. Because there are thousands of images taken at the photo shoot, editing down the images instantaneously or each night—on GLOBALedit—is just a lifesaver.

We’ve really increased our efficiency in time in getting projects done and images selected. We’re not in the dinosaur ages anymore of moving the images on a hard drive—having the art director upload them onto her screen—picking which ones she likes. It’s really being done instantaneously on GLOBALedit.

As we thought about putting all the images up, the art buyers started getting really nervous about, “Well, then everybody can download these images at any time. They might not have rights to download them. We may not have bought enough usage rights for those images or they are expired.” We needed to build in some sort of image rights approval workflow for all the images. In the XMP compliant metadata, we set the expiration date for that image. So the expiration date would determine if the user gets approval to download or needs to request access to the expired image. Part of the workflow is that the requests are generated in the DAM and sent out via email to the image rights managers who will approve or deny.

This was a big thing that we talked through. It took a long time, processing through how an image would flow through the system automatically to get approved—either via the art buyer or the library manager. This became part of the evolution of developing the DAM.

Which brings up another big thing to figure out: the Metadata Schema. We wanted to create a simple metadata schema that would make sense to the users. How are they going to want to search for images? What key words are they going to use in the search? Let’s make those words part of the metadata and enable the user to search using metadata. That was another evolution that came about. I wanted the metadata to be the working tool for finding the images.

I think that’s about it. Those were the main things that came about, as we started brainstorming. They really enhanced the system from a basic library and actually put a lot more exciting energy into the product.


Category : Interview | Blog