National Geographic hunts for global archiving solution

When you’ve got a library of more than 10 million images, digitizing 10,000 of them doesn’t seem so hard.

National Geographic Society launched a B2B Web site

earlier this month to allow its customers to review and purchase those images online. The system, built on IBM tools and hardware, is replacing a phone/fax ordering service that the company, best known for its glossy magazine, used in order to get those images in the hands of its clients.

Ten thousand from a library of millions may seem like a drop in the bucket, but the process of saving them as high-resolution files that can be sold online still took on the order of five months, according to sales manager Bill Perry.

“”Now, even when we’re closed, a client can log on, do the research they need, and if they want to, price the image, download the high-res and go right to production,”” he says. The Washington, D.C.-based company has about 10,000 customers, according to Perry, including other magazine publishers, text book publishers, universities, and advertising agencies. In Canada, National Geographic counts among its clients the University of Manitoba, TV Ontario and Young & Rubicam in Vancouver.

For manager of e-business Shawn Bleam, 10,000 images is a good start. He says that of the millions in stock, about 600,000 are potential sale items, but “”right now, we have no immediate plans of transitioning all 600,000 through the e-commerce site. Even those, we realize they’re not all saleable. We’re trying to take the cream off the top right now and move those into e-commerce and also develop the solution to ingest new images right from the get-go.””

According to Perry, there are about 140 photographers around the world on National Geographic’s payroll, and 500 images — a combination of new material and old — will be added to the database on a monthly basis.

National Geographic is in the process of moving over its IT from legacy equipment to that from IBM. Aside from a mix of DB2, WebSphere commerce suite and IBM Content Manager to handle the B2B site, the company recently purchased IBM hardware for server consolidation.

For now, though, WebSphere has to connect to legacy applications that handle payment reconciliation for both photographers and image buyers. The total implementation was “”80 per cent out of the box,”” says Bleam. The remainder required some tinkering to establish “”the look and feel”” as well as rules governing photo usage and rights. Those, he says, will be added into future versions of WebSphere.

Establishing a multimedia archive for National Geographic is “”indicative of things that have been happening recently”” for IBM, says the company’s director of strategy for data management, Jeff Jones.

In recent months, the company has set up similar solutions for Coca-Cola to archive its advertising, for CNN to archive its news pieces, and Oglivy and Mather for its advertising campaigns. The IBM package is built to handle non-relational (as opposed to relational) data, like multimedia files. “”People are beginning to understand that this software is here now; it’s not futureware,”” says Jones.

According to Perry, National Geographic’s online picture library comprises a “”broad variety,”” but it’s the wildlife pictures and exotic scenery that remain the company’s top sellers. “”We still rely heavily on what’s made us great over the years,”” he says.

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