Bringing Order to a Chaotic Library of 180,000 Images with Webdam.
Twenty-thousand miles of rail across 22 states – Norfolk Southern is responsible for a massive amount of railroad. A consolidation of hundreds of railroad companies dating all the way back to the 1820s, Norfolk Southern serves every major container port in the eastern United States and helps transport just about every product and commodity you can think of.
You don’t manage an extensive network of rail for nearly two centuries without collecting your fair share of images. Norfolk Southern has a collection that can rival major museums. There are thousands of archival photos – many on ancient glass negatives – and thousands of new images and assets are added each year.
Getting to the End of the Line
As Norfolk Southern’s marketing organization grew and modernized, so did its demands for marketing files and visual assets. The system originally created to store visual assets began to break down and eventually came to a screeching halt.
A shared disk file system (also referred to as a storage area network or SAN) was built to update the repository and give more people access to digital assets. This solution helped at first, but quickly created more and bigger problems of its own.
Without metadata or a well-documented taxonomy, files were nearly impossible to find. No one knew where to store their own work. In the mayhem that followed, users created mounds of duplicate images, which made finding the correct originals even more difficult.
Pretty soon the system’s storage, which seemed plentiful at first, was near capacity. Additional hardware was required, which meant IT had to get involved,causing more expense and delays. Eventually, most users chose to save files on local machines and shared servers, defeating the original purpose of the SAN.
Creative teams struggled to complete projects because assets were hard to find. Their requests for specific files took more than a day – and sometimes as much as a week – to turn around. With 150–200 projects open at any given time, the cost of these delays was huge and affected dozens of people. Newsletters, social media posts, advertising, promotional calendars and more were being impacted.
Building a New Line
The Visual Communications team at Norfolk Southern stepped in to look for a new solution. They wanted to create a central repository for all of Norfolk Southern’s digital assets. More than anything else, they wanted a self-service system that was easy to use so people could get their work done without help or training.
The system would be a hub for creative services, the media center, corporate communication and NSTV. It would also be used by the supporting cast in marketing, outside agencies, operations, HR and legal.
In order to avoid the current chaos of duplicate and missing assets, the system would have to support automated version control, robust metadata schema and powerful search functionality. The Visual Communications team also wanted to manage the system on their own without IT support, so it would have to be cloud-based to eliminate local software installation and hardware constraints.
Finally, to improve creative workflows and project turnaround times, the system would have to tightly integrate with Adobe Creative Cloud.
Norfolk Southern decided that Webdam was the best fit for their requirements.
“We conducted a thorough, very data-driven evaluation process, and Webdam was simply the best option for us,” said Kenny Woyer, manager of the VisualCommunications team at Norfolk Southern .
Full Speed Ahead
Webdam is now the nerve center connecting creative services, media relations,corporate communications and NSTV with their outside agencies, collaborators and inside process partners. More than 3 terabytes of data are organized in the system. Webdam also helped Norfolk Southern eliminate its duplicate files, reducing the total number of assets by more than 30% – from 180,000 to under 120,000.
Norfolk Southern is now able to better monitor and manage their image requirements and rights. As a railroad, the company has to comply with important safety rules that are updated often and must be reflected in the pictures they choose. Each image file includes an expiration date in the metadata that prevents inappropriate use.
Perhaps the most important result so far is that creative development cycles are dramatically accelerated. Those week-long image turnarounds have been reduced to just seconds. Designers can find images that fit specific criteria quickly and simply by using filtered search. Webdam also streamlined creative workflows by eliminating steps that were formerly required to find, review, adapt and save image files.
Webdam also makes Norfolk Southern much more accessible to their fans. NS has a rabid following of train enthusiasts that eagerly wait for new locomotives to be rolled out. As soon as new photos are available, NS puts them into specially permissioned folders for the public. Permissions can even be set to open at specific times – to coincide with news announcements, for example.
Results so far have been great, and the Technical Services team feels they will be able to accomplish even more moving forward. Woyer said they plan to expand to new teams and support new use cases in the year ahead. “Webdam is helping us make better use of the incredible assets we’ve collected over 200 years. It’s allowing us to make them more easily available to our partners, and it’s making us a more effective Visual Communications team.”