Turning your images (and their data) into a valuable asset.

24 November 2016, Elizabeth Cochrane

The Royal Opera House is a particularly complex organisation. It is the home for two orchestras and a ballet company, and the company's iconic London venue is in itself a major project to run! Its shows are by their nature huge, and they are recorded and documented in numerous ways - so that productions can be toured, or put on repeatedly, so that audiences can see them in cinema broadcast as well as on stage, and with the needs of compliance, marketing, reference, and future collaborations all in mind.

So staff spend many hours handling both still and moving images. Some of these are the photographs, drawings and plans that are used by technical teams to record the details of each production, and others are the kind of material that is shared with audiences, used on the website or in books, put to commercial purposes or used for publicity. In all cases, however, each image needs to be labelled with the right details (its 'metadata') so that it is easily found whether it is be searched for by production, artist, year, location or any other term.

The ROH had already been through one quite extensive process of change when they decided to bring all their image rights management in-house some years ago. More recently Golant Media Ventures was initially asked to review their pilot system for image management, to help develop a comprehensive strategy for the future. At the same time there was also a project ongoing that was looking at information flow in the organisation, but that hadn't been extended to include the content of the images they were holding. The pilot image management project needed to be linked in with this: storing and labelling images correctly is all about information flow – who is that is going to need to find and sort them and what will those people want to know.

One of the main findings of the initial GMV review was the need for consistent information standards across the organisation. Another question was raised in the process of this work - whether the actual systems for all the different types of image needed to be brought together. GMV consulted with staff from across the ROH to look at who was producing, using and looking for images, and what the overall approach to images (and all their associated information) should be. In a way, says Christopher Millard, Director of Press and Communications, GMV was “opening the whole can of worms”!

In exploring this it became clear that the two main strands of image production should maintain separate data management systems. The technical teams use different processes, standards and categories from the people handling 'creative assets' - the media produced for consumption in various formats by audiences. However, production teams will sometimes want to access the images created and stored for audiences, and vice versa, which means that their systems need to be able to talk to each other - and certainly each side needs to have a clear and well understood process for finding and recording its image data. This will make life easier for staff and also serve their needs in relation to legal compliance and rights management.

Evolution in big organisations requires focus and investment - and even when you are talking about 'data' or information, that will be mostly evolution to do with how people work rather than technical changes. That effort - and the time and money it implies - has to be justified by the advantage it will bring. Experiences with a similar arts organisation suggest that benefits can be gained right from the first year, as departments share knowledge more efficiently and are able to collaborate more. Of course staff morale is always hugely strengthened by easier working practices, but creative and commercial benefits can also be realized, as visual material and all its related information (related images, previous uses, licensing details and so on) is more easily discovered, and processes like approvals and rights licensing become simpler and swifter.

More effective storage and 'labelling' of images - and consistency across the different teams and the systems they use will strengthen the Royal Opera House's role as a custodian of national culture.

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