Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden

“Due to the image and media management with Cumulus our digital assets are much better structured and traceable. Useful and efficient workflows emerge with the bidirectional linkage to the collection database Daphne.”

Michael John
Chief Technical Officer

The challenge

Over one million collection objects are held by the fourteen different museums of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden (SKD). From the world famous Grünes Gewölbe (Green Vault), Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (Old Masters Picture Gallery) and Galerie Neue Meister (New Masters Gallery), through graphic and applied arts collections, ethnographical, and scientific colections to archives, almost everything expected in a museum is represented. Accordingly the requirements for a central administration system for the group’s various image and media data are equally complex and sophisticated.

The initial impetus for developing a Digital Asset Management system (DAM) was the exponential increase in data storage capacity required, mainly caused by duplicates of various image and media files. For this reason, one of the most important challenges for the project was slowing down the increase in data storage required as well as largely eliminating duplicates among existing digital assets. The intention was to achieve this through a strict single sourcing. The project began in December 2011. A further goal was the configuration of a complex user access management system suited to the requirements of the various individual institutions as well as those of the group at the same time. SKD uses the robotron*Daphne collection database to manage their collection. Thumbnails of collection objects are linked to the relevant records in the database.

In order to access the high resolution images out of the collection database and at the same time make use of the DAM output functions necessary to enable single sourcing, the DAM system had to be integrated with robotron*Daphne. On the other hand, a variety of object metadata of the collection database needed to be available in the DAM system, used by Public Relations also for other digital assets not related to the collections (e.g. exhibition photos, lectures, reports, videos etc.). In this context it was crucial to indicate author and copyrights to the image and media files clearly.

The solution

The key to meeting these kinds of complex requirements was a detailed planning including input from those who will use the system. Due to the large number of users, a well-thought-out structure was needed. This applied both to the layout as well as to user rights.

Content development and day-to-day maintenance are carried out by editors in the individual museums. Group and museum admins take care of technical requirements. This general structure of labour enables a variety of different end users to get the most from the DAM system. Editors and admins hold regular monthly meetings to address any queries that arise and make competent decisions about further developments. Having started with three museums, others have been added gradually. Before starting this kind of project, research had be done on which tools would be suitable and able to meet the challenges. Traditional collection databases are object-orientated and their add-on modules for the management of image and media data are limited in their suitability for asset-orientated data management following the priciples of single sourcing. Particularly for these specific requirements Digital Asset Management (DAM) systems are available on the market, constantly challenged and upgraded to ensure long-term use by as many users as possible worldwide.

The DAM chosen had to fulfil the following criteria:

  1. Standard DAM functions
  2. Ongoing adaptation to new operating systems, new hardware and changing demands
  3. Scalability for future needs
  4. Integration capability
  5. Reliability
  6. Long-term suitability
  7. Effective tools for access control


After detailed consideration, SKD chose the DAM system Cumulus of the German firm Canto GmbH and the support of CDS Gromke e.K. from Leipzig. Already before this project started, CDS Gromke e.K. possessed extensive experience of Cumulus in museums, especially in the integration of Cumulus with collection databases.

Each museum and the public relations team has its own Cumulus catalogue at its disposal at all times. All image and media data (digital assets) are ingested by the relevant editors. This can be done one by one or in batches, with Cumulus automatically adding records for each asset, generating thumbnails for the light table view, extracting embedded metadata (IPTC – author rights, image title and description; EXIF – camera data etc.) and recording further metadata such as copyright information from predefined templates if required. These assets, catalogued with the least routine effort, function as the sole data sources for all further applications.

The resulting datasets can only be used by the museum in question at first. For group-wide searches by any internal SKD user, editors select and tag specific records to be automatically available to all those with the appropriate permissions. A further selection of media files, to be accessible to the public in the internet, is also tagged accordingly. Cumulus ensures they are always available and up-to-date via an external server. Additional manual updating of the website is superfluous. In order to ensure assets are available to all users as needed, a hierarchical schedule of access permissions was introduced with the following user groups:

  1. Users with single museum access: for searches only and with limited download rightsSubgroup: additional permissions forhigher resolution downloads
  2. General users: read-only access to all internal records within SKD
  3. Editors with read-write privileges for single museum maintenance: no privileges for deletion or category structure (hierarchy, thesaurus)Subgroup: additional permissions for category structure
  4. Single museum admins: additional admin permissions for deletion and category management
  5. Super admins

Cumulus login takes place via SSO (Single Sign On) using a link to the domain server. Users authenticated on the network don’t need to log in to Cumulus separately. The major advantage of using Cumulus as the single data source for digital assets is that any necessary amendments are made in only one location before automatically being allocated across all linked systems instantly, without the need for making further changes elsewhere. To achieve this, the full functionality of the DAM system must be utilized and integrated with other systems.

Individual assets serve a variety of purposes: Cumulus instantly produces working copies on demand for a range of uses, e.g. for web, for print in various sizes, watermarked copies, etc. These can be deleted immediately after use since they can be easily reproduced at any time. With this in mind, users no longer tend to keep separate backups on additional storage media, thereby creating unnecessary duplicates.

Website connection: by linking Cumulus with SKD‘s CMS, image data is automatically kept updated on the group’s website. In addition, high resolution digital versions are provided for web searches. Before fulfillment of an order, the customer must indicate both usage (from a range of options) and circulation to receive a price for digital rights. Delivery and invoicing take place in the conventional manner for security reasons.

Integration with the collection database: Daphne is an object oriented database, holding and interlinking metadata of collection objects. Cumulus manages all high res images and media data files relating to objects, as well as event photography and other digital assets not directly related to the collection. Each of these has its own asset-specific metadata (e.g. author rights, copyright, image title and description etc.). Integration facilitates direct access from Daphne to the assets in Cumulus and its search and output functions.

In order to facilitate the databases working independently from each other, the most important details of collectionrelated assets must be accessible within both systems.

To this end, Cumulus provides Daphne with optimized thumbnails once an appropriate selection has been made. At the same time, a range of metadata is automatically synced to Cumulus from the corresponding records in Daphne. A very interesting feature of the Cumulus database in SKD is the automated coloured tagging of assets indicating publication ability. This simplifies the work of experts as well as public relations professionals. Using a combination of technical data of images and pre-existing as well as agreed rights, colour tagging is facilitated by a custom algorithm, enabling users to immediately see within Cumulus’s digital lightbox which files may be used for which purpose.

Outcome and Benefits

At the time of production of this case study, the first museums are already experiencing a drop in the number of duplicates. Data cleansing of digital asset stocks and their copies will take some time, and will need to be carried out on a regular and sustained basis. In the long run, however, the investment will pay for itself many times over.

The speedy location and use of assets from Cumulus and Daphne is already resulting in significant time-savings. With little effort, digital asset requests can be fulfilled considerably faster than before. Scholarly searches for high resolution image files are conducted faster and simultaneously present new possibilities such as image comparisons etc. Group-wide collaboration has become far easier and has therefore intensified.Alongside collectionspecific assets, all other digital assets now have their own clear place in the DAM system, simplifying the work of museum public relations professionals in particular.