If you are involved with a business that operates in a variety of locations, chances are that digital photos are an important part of your communications and documentation processes. In my experience working within the construction and real estate industries at Geedra, photos are a critical component for recording the conditions of a building and for reporting those conditions to a variety of audiences.
However, most organizations do not take the unique qualities of business photos into consideration when it comes to their internal strategies for managing and storing them. IT managers often choose from a variety of document management systems like Microsoft SharePoint or cloud storage solutions like Dropbox or Box to handle their organization’s photos. None of those solutions are designed with photos in mind. As a result, companies incur additional costs due to added photo management tasks or inaccessible data trapped within their ever-growing photo haystacks.
Here are five distinctions between documents and photos that you should take into consideration when planning a storage solution for your company’s visual assets. By incorporating these points into your photo management strategy, you will come closer toward tapping the full potential that photos offer to your organization
1. Stated vs. Intended Purpose
A written document states its purpose through its title or introduction. It then goes on to provide supporting information. A photographic record has an original intended purpose, but that can be repurposed many times over.
Example: Construction contractors often take weekly photos of their projects to document progress. The intended purpose of these photos is to meet a contractual requirement. However, they can also provide critical evidence later on when it comes to investigating disputes over subcontractor performance or construction defects. A building owner can refer to the same photos years later when planning a renovation.
What this means for your business: Filing and referencing documents based on their stated purpose is straightforward and justified. However, filing and referencing photos in the same way limits the value that a photo can provide to your organization. Provide your users with multiple ways to identify photos and visually review their contents.
2. Refutable vs. Irrefutable
Documents deliver the unique perspective of the author(s). No matter how clearly the author states her perspective or provides supporting facts, a document is subject to refutation by others (e.g., responses to a blog post or peer reviews of scientific articles). A photo can offer irrefutable evidence.
Example: An attorney recently shared with me a story about a defendant who claimed no prior knowledge of a construction defect. There was no document from the project to counter that argument–until the plaintiff produced a photo taken during construction of the defendant pointing at the defect in question. A settlement followed shortly thereafter.
What this means for your business: Don’t take photo storage lightly. Accessibility to visual data is critical and should match the accessibility of documents.
3. Searchable by Nature vs. by Eyeball
Documents are collections of character strings, making them relatively easy to search en masse. Digital photos are collections of colored pixels that can be arranged in infinitely more combinations than characters, which makes them much more difficult to search through without additional context.
Example: Identifying the people in a group shot at a party is much easier if you knew the people before the party. Imagine looking at a photo of a stranger’s birthday party and then being asked to identify the partygoers.
What this means for your business: Without keywords, business photo searches are limited to one type of search (usually by date). This leaves you with two choices: either (1) incur the costs necessary to assign keywords to your photos and/or organize and file them, or (2) incur the costs of a visual search of photos to identify the desired images.
4. Grape Kool Aid vs. Fine Wine
Kool-Aid delivers the same taste experience seconds, months or years(!) after its formulation because the sugar and coloring in the foil pouch do not change much over time. A fine wine like Bordeaux, however, starts its life as grape juice and then continues to transform over time as its sugar and coloring change their chemical structure. The taste of a 10-year old Bordeaux is full of complexity and subtleties that are a far cry from simple grape juice.
Unfortunately, photos behave a lot like Bordeaux. If their supporting information is not properly preserved in order to capture the context and non-visual elements associated with the original image, they will transform into something very different over time. Returning to the above analogy, if your goal is to retain the taste of the grape juice, it’s best to freeze the juice right after you stomp the grapes.
Example: Supporting information such as location, associated process details and personnel present at the time of a photo make an individual image easier to locate and more informative.
What this means for your business: Make the process of logging photos and accompanying information as easy as possible, then incorporate the same components into your photo retrieval tools. Doing so will ensure the “freshness” of the photo whenever your business needs it. Beware: Cumbersome logging procedures can be worse than no process at all, because they lead to inconsistency as people ignore the procedure or seek shortcuts. Keep it simple to ensure maximum compliance.
5. Slow Build vs. Instant Capture
Documents are assembled, piece by piece, in order to achieve a desired outcome. Photos are “snapped” in an instant, to capture a moment in time. The photographer often doesn’t realize the full extent of the information that he is capturing, but instead recognizes what might be important. Without much regard for relevance, the photographer shoots with reckless abandon to capture as many moments in time as possible, because the window of opportunity to capture these moments is short and digital photos are free (at least it feels that way).
Example: Photos are ubiquitous in recording the details of construction because most of the construction work is exposed for physical inspection for a short period before being enclosed in a wall, covered in concrete or some other permanent covering. A complex building, like a hospital, can generate over 10,000 photos for every 12-months of construction from the general contractor alone. This total does not include photos taken by others on the project like architects, consultants or inspectors.
What this means for your business: Your photographers (e.g. inspectors, project managers, service reps, salespeople, etc.) are out in the world shooting first so that somebody can ask questions later. Your organization risks wasting their efforts if information that they capture is rendered inaccessible because it becomes buried in the sheer volume of data generated by “free” digital photos. A photo lost is more costly than a photo never taken with the same result.
Managers need to stand up for their precious visual assets and demand better solutions. Just because your IT director can guarantee that your photo files are secure, doesn’t mean that they can offer you the same assurances about accessibility to the vital information contained within the images. After all, burying your family fortune in Mason jars seems like a pretty secure way to store your cash. That is, until you need to buy some groceries.
Thumbnail image created by: Brock Builders