Skip navigation
abstract composition of fractal elements, grids, and symbols Alamy

How Cloud-Based DAM System Solved Chocolatier’s Sticky Situation

Lake Champlain Chocolates faced a problem with inefficient image asset management. Learn how the IT team used a cloud-based DAM system to fix the issue.

Lake Champlain Chocolates, founded by Jim Lampman in 1983, started with a simple challenge to create a better chocolate truffle. Lampman, who owned a restaurant in Burlington, Vt., was dissatisfied with the quality of the chocolates he purchased to give out as holiday gifts. He tasked his pastry chef to develop a superior truffle, and the result marked the beginning of Lake Champlain Chocolate’s journey to produce premium chocolates.

Over the ensuing decades, the company grew to about 100 employees (140 during peak times). The staff works across various departments, including retail stores, wholesale, manufacturing, back-office operations, e-commerce, and sales and marketing.

As Lake Champlain Chocolate expanded its business, its integration of technology also grew. The expansion involved the implementation of three different enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems: one for wholesale, another for retail operations, and a third for e-commerce activities. To ensure data redundancy and backup, each ERP system was supported by a duplicate system located at a secondary site.  

Lake Champlain ChocolatesLake Champlain Chocolates retail store in Burlington, Vt.

Lake Champlain Chocolates retail store in Burlington, Vt.

While the front-end systems and data storage setup operated seamlessly, the management of back-end data, particularly images, was more haphazard. Images played a critical role in many parts of the business, including marketing, sales, e-commerce, and manufacturing.         

Image Asset Management Spins Out of Control

The main device responsible for storing images was a QNAP device located in the company’s data center. However, both the QNAP device and the ERP system itself lacked the management and organizational capabilities that the internal team needed.

Internal staff often couldn’t identify the ownership of image assets or the most up-to-date version of those assets, explained Lauren Plankey, IT manager at Lake Champlain Chocolates. The issue affected wholesale, retail, and e-commerce teams.

For example, when collaborating with a natural food co-op for a promotional campaign, staff members needed to exchange digital assets to create newsletters and marketing materials. Due to inadequate tagging and organization, team members would sometimes find the images on their own, unaware that they were using an outdated version from previous years, Plankey said.

Weaknesses in the approach became more pronounced when the workforce transitioned to remote work during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. File transfers also took longer as mailbox sizes weren’t big enough to send attachments. As a result, employees and third-party providers resorted to various alternative transfer tools and methods, including Dropbox, spreadsheets, and internal network drives. These workarounds further complicated the image asset management process.

One additional factor that influenced the need for change was the aging hardware in Lake Champlain Chocolate’s corporate data center. The QNAP device that stored the company’s images, for instance, had reached the point where the company either needed to replace the device or migrate the image data to the cloud. “If the hardware failed and the team didn’t have access to the images, it would be a disaster,” Plankey said.

Don Fluckinger, a senior analyst with Enterprise Strategy Group, noted that these challenges are not unique to Lake Champlain Chocolates. Many companies that rely heavily on images are facing similar obstacles.

“It started being a problem in the desktop publishing era, before the internet’s mass adoption, when sneakernetting and zip drives were the dominant ways of transferring images,” Fluckinger explained. “Then came on-premises digital asset management [DAM] systems, and then the cloud.” Modern DAM systems are designed to organize images in the cloud through tagging and search functions.

Implementing a Cloud-based DAM System

By 2022, Lake Champlain Chocolates’ situation had become untenable, and the company decided to transition to a cloud-based digital asset management system.

“It was a real opportunity to modernize our approach; fill the gaps in our operational processes; find efficiencies; and sort out how we tag, search, use, and store image data,” said Allison Myers, Lake Champlain Chocolate’s director of customer experience.

That meant that, at a minimum, the new system needed to be cloud-based. It also had to offer full governance, version control, and permissioning. The governance function would allow Myers to designate who could add images to the library, ensuring control over the content and that users work with the latest versions of the assets.

Based on these requirements, Plankey’s team decided to implement Image Relay, a system that marries DAM with project information management. Under the system, the company’s images are now stored in the cloud, while other data remains in the on-premises data center.

With the new system in place, designers and outside agencies can exchange files with Lake Champlain Chocolates by directly uploading them to the Image Relay site, eliminating the need for email, WeTransfer, or Dropbox. For example, a photographer can now upload photos of new packaging directly to the system. The photos are initially held in a temporary “waiting room” until an authorized manager approves them and links them to the appropriate locations.

Control and Confidence

Since the implementation of the new system earlier this year, Myers has seen an increase in productivity, especially for Lake Champlain Chocolates’ purchasing and quality assurance teams. It’s much easier to locate the right image and have confidence in it being the latest version.

“I would always say that we had a bunch of boxes in an attic and some of them had labels and many weren’t labeled,” Myers said. “When you were looking for something, you had to dig through boxes and maybe you would find something interesting, but it probably wouldn’t be the latest version. Now we know the latest version is in the system and it’s the [central] point of truth that gets served up when needed. And, we don’t need to tell everyone there is a new file and where to find it.”

In addition, the ability to set expiration dates for image access when sharing files has been a boon. It means a department can share images with third parties for a predetermined period, after which the image becomes unavailable to them. Also, administrators can configure the system to create an audit trail, which provides detailed information on where that image has been and whether any modifications have been made during that time.

Moving Ahead With Product Information Management

Now that the system is working well, Plankey now aims to use more of Image Relay’s product information management (PIM) features. Although it’s a new undertaking for the company, she has high hopes that the PIM features will help eliminate redundancies.

“Today, we manually create a specification sheet for production in our factory and just key data into an Excel sheet and some other places,” Plankey explained. “We’re hoping the PIM will become the central point of truth to help with that.”

Plankey anticipates using the PIM functionality will also enable employees to generate unique templates for different views of the same information. For instance, a sales rep and a manufacturer require different views of product information.

Furthermore, the plan includes integrating Image Relay with other products within the environment. The integrations would create the automatic delivery of the company’s product images directly from Image Ray, Plankey said. While still in the early stages of development, Plankey’s team is exploring the feasibility of this idea and its potential impact on search engine optimization and page load speed.

About the author

 Karen D. Schwartz headshotKaren D. Schwartz is a technology and business writer with more than 20 years of experience. She has written on a broad range of technology topics for publications including CIO, InformationWeek, GCN, FCW, FedTech, BizTech, eWeek and Government Executive.
Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.