Interview: How Cumulus Helps the German Maritime Search and Rescue Service

No company is like another – organizations use Cumulus to match individual needs and requirements. In our interview series, we introduce you to different solutions our customers have adopted. Antke Reemts, PR expert for the German Maritime Search and Rescue Service DGzRS (the German NGO for sea rescue operations in the North sea and Baltic sea), told us how her organization uses Cumulus, and how it helps them build greater awareness for their cause.


At what point did the German Maritime Search and Rescue Service decide to adopt a digital asset management solution?

Photo: DGzRS
Photo: DGzRS

We want to tell people about what we do and why it’s an important job. Images are key to that mission. For us, they are of great value, because the work of the DGzRS is funded entirely by donations. But the work of rescue crews happens out on the sea without publicity. Photos show donors what their money enables us to do, and what our maritime search and rescue services can do thanks to these donations.

We have used Cumulus since 2004, because we realized that we needed an efficient management system to use these valuable files properly. It had become increasingly difficult to manage the large amounts of files we had amassed.

How many assets do you manage in your Cumulus catalog?
We now have approximately 70,000 assets in Cumulus. These are mostly photos that we use in our PR work. Images of rescue operations, of our employees — for use either in public relations or for our website. At the same time, we are growing a historical archives database. In addition, we also archive Mp4 video files and provide data sheets in PDF format.

How does your Cumulus solution work?
We’ve sorted our assets in several catalogs. Our PR experts officially manage the primary DAM catalog, but in general all employees have access to assets. In addition to PR support, we use Cumulus to archive pictures and media files that we need for internal training. We also document our organization’s history, such as when we make an upgrade to our fleet. These images have special value, because they record the technical development of the DGzRS. To sort these different materials, it is convenient for us to use several Cumulus catalogs.

We almost exclusively use our own imagery, not stock photos, so basically only images that we have either made ourselves, or which were made available to us, and photos taken by our maritime personnel. Sometimes these photos are sent to us directly from the sea. The upload functionality of Cumulus is very helpful for that.

Metadata quality is very important for us. When using images, we must be able to verify when the photo was taken, who took it and who can be seen in it. For direct submission to editors, IPTC data must be carefully maintained – Cumulus is a very clean solution for that, because this information is easily maintained in it.

Sometimes, the press wants to revisit a daring rescue operation that happened ten or fifteen years ago. In our Cumulus catalog, I can find the right photos with just a few clicks, and I can also clarify immediately whether we can re-use this material with the press again.

What does a typical workflow look like? Which departments / employees are involved?

Rescue crew in action. Photo: Per Kasch@Severin Wendeler
Rescue crew in action.
Photo: Per Kasch@Severin Wendeler

Many photos are sent to us on a storage medium, or via a sharing platform or even by e-mail. Depending on who provides the files, and how much data they contain, we sometimes load them directly via the upload link in our Cumulus catalog.

After sorting photos into what we want to keep and use, we upload them into the catalog. When time pressure is high, and we must act quickly, we will sort the records later, when already in Cumulus. Of course, it can be a challenge to make selections – but that is a fundamental problem with digital photography, since the image sets are often huge. The selection process is still a thing that you need to do as a user.

How many people work with Cumulus on a daily / regular basis?
This ranges. Colleagues responsible for selecting images for journalists, and for our own publications, work intensely with Cumulus. But even colleagues who conduct training in the rescue service, or work closely with our volunteers on land, use Cumulus regularly.

How is your experience with Cumulus? Was it worth the investment?
Definitely. Images, as stated earlier, are of fundamental importance to us. It’s crucial for our work to have a system to store, archive, and use these files efficiently. Cumulus is a complex system that requires planning and continuous development. A well-functioning installation is, of course, an important precondition. If everything is set-up how it should be, then the system quickly becomes irreplaceable.

It is important to note that continuous development is very important in these kind of business systems: software systems can be deserted over time and no longer updated. Once this happens, you face the problem of having to buy a new system and migrating large amounts of data – a nightmare. Cumulus is developed continuously. It gets new features and incorporates or adapts to new technologies and trends.

Photo: DGzRS

What is the biggest advantage of Cumulus for the German Maritime Search and Rescue Service?
Customization is very important to us. With Cumulus, anything is possible: employees, journalists and photographers who work with different systems, programs and operating systems – they all are connected to a central media platform.

If Cumulus is well maintained, you can literally find everything, and extremely fast. Even with 70,000 records it is just a few clicks to find the right image. Even if a journalist requests a photo which none of us remember, we can provide it on short notice. This of course requires that the system is maintained continuously.

A very practical feature for us is the ability to store information individually with pictures. This is an enormous efficiency. For example, if someone, who no longer works for us, is shown in a photo, or when the technology of a rescue cruiser has been modernized in the meantime, we note this in an internal data field. This way we can guarantee that journalists are receiving current images and relevant information.

Do you have further plans for Cumulus?
We want to strengthen Cumulus’s integration into our ongoing work processes. We envision managing InDesign layouts with Cumulus from early draft status onwards. An advantage is that all who are working on the file can see the history and keep an overview. This would prevent duplicate versions of the same working file on different computers, and stop people from working on older versions of the layout.

Whether we are able make this integration real depends on how we organize our workflows with graphic designers in the future. That’s the nice thing about Cumulus: if a workflow changes, Cumulus can easily adapt – and not the other way round.

Thanks for the interview, Ms. Reemts!