North Plains outlines DAM vision following Vyre acquisition

By Simon Nias, Thursday 20 December 2012

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North Plains chief executive James Christopher has outlined his plan to build a hybrid "best in breed" digital asset management (DAM) platform in the wake of the Canadian firm's latest acquisition.

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North Plains chief executive James Christopher

In an exclusive interview with PrintWeek, Christopher said that North Plains would continue to expand its reach into sectors outside its traditional print DAM background, with a view to "serving multiple markets in a very deep way".

"Two other markets that are really important to us are media and entertainment, and publishing [and] we believe that there’s an opportunity to deliver workflows that are really similar to marketing in both those industries," said Christopher. "So we’re looking to expand our reach more deeply into those markets and serve the needs of those customers in a more comprehensive way."

His comments follow a busy year for North Plains, which acquired Xinet to form "the largest pure-play DAM vendor" in the print industry back in April, before buying UK-based marketing resource management (MRM) and brand asset management (BAM) provider Vyre earlier this month.

Christopher said that the company would continue to sell both Vyre's Unify and On Brand products and Xinet's WebNative Suite, although North Plains has dropped the WebNative brand and is now calling the product Xinet.

"We’ll continue to sell and invest in the Xinet product line and we have no plans to integrate it into Telescope," said Christopher. "We bought Xinet because it’s a production asset management system and we don’t do that with our other products. We intend to continue to build on it being the industry-leading solution for that market.

"The same is true of Vyre in terms of marketing asset management. There are two things they bring to the equation. One is their On Brand marketing resource management and brand asset management solutions and the other is Unify, which is a rich media content management system.

"Unify supports video and has a file transformation engine built into it that gives you the ability to convert a file into different formats or resolutions. It’s rather a unique product and it makes the process of building rich media for websites and things like iPads a lot easier."

Christopher described Unify as Vyre's "core architecture" and On Brand as "a set of marketing applications that are built on top of Unify". He added: "Together with Xinet these are all very complementary applications to what we do and I think this gives us the strongest suite of products that really make up a marketing or media automation platform when put together."

Of North Plains' four DAM products, three are available on a software-as-a-service basis, including Telescope, Unify and On Brand, although the first two are also available on a licence basis; Xinet is only available on a licence basis due to the fact that it needs to sit on a LAN or a server close to the content creators.

Christopher said that he did not think it would be practical to offer Xinet on a saas basis, but added that North Plains is focused on developing cloud-based applications.

"We’re thinking a lot about how we can move production asset management into cloud-based solutions – which could be saas or a private cloud – but the number one objective that we cannot sacrifice is the user experience," he explained.

"Xinet is very targeted at the creative user and unless we can find a way to make that check-in/check-out process to some remote service seamless and not interfering with their work in any way then I think it’s going to stay very close to where they are."

This has led to the development of ConnectR, a so-called interoperability layer that aims to make it easier for different locally installed and cloud-based DAM platforms to share assets, thereby doing away with time-consuming and potentially costly configuration of multiple pieces of software.

"Vyre products can be configured to work with Telescope or Xinet today but what we’re talking about is adding product functionality that does that as a feature as opposed to a configuration. All these products can work together and they do work together in customer environments but it just takes too much configuration to get them there – we’d like to make it smoother," explained Christopher.

The first iteration of ConnectR was unveiled this week to add the ability to send assets from Xinet to Telescope, although that is just the first step on the roadmap for what could become the central piece of the DAM puzzle.

"ConnectR connects Xinet and Telescope together so if you have a hybrid environment, you will be able to work in the production asset management system, Xinet, and you will be able to select an asset and push it to the DAM system and it will move the original content, it will move the meta data, it will move the previews, and it will make it all available in the hosted solution," said Christopher.

Eric Courville, vice president of marketing and corporate development at North Plains, added: "We don’t believe in a single size fits all; your creative needs to have a solution that is tailored to them, which is Xinet; your librarian needs to have a solution that is about protecting the assets, governance, etc, which is your Telescope; and then you have your marketing people that need a tool that is tailored to their needs, which is Vyre with Unify and On Brand.

"So we believe in best of breed solutions but with ConnectR connecting those solutions together and also with third parties. The first version of ConnectR is only Xinet to Telescope but as a future roadmap it is our intention to connect other modules, whether it is our own product or third party, using that technology."

If the future of DAM is, as Christopher believes, to have a hybrid system comprised of multiple DAM organs, then ConnectR would be the heart that ensures the flow of information to all parts of the system.

"What we saw when we looked at the broader marketplace is that for most organisations to really solve their media management issues or their marketing automation desires, they need to buy multiple solutions and bring them together in order to accomplish the results they're looking for," he explained.

"So, we’re buying and building the best in breed components to solve a broader set of problems than I would classify as traditional asset management. We’re solving marketing resource management, content management in rich media websites, brand asset management and digital asset management.

"We’re broadening the definition of how customers have to solve problems because the solutions are far too threatening and as a result of that we’re hoping that we help customers get to value very quickly – they don’t have to buy bespoke systems and configure them and integrate them together; they should be interoperable and they should work as close to out of the box as possible."

In addition to helping North Plains expand into new sectors, its acquisition spree has also served to broaden its geographical reach, with Xinet being strongest in Europe and Asia Pacific and Vyre having the majority of its customers in Europe and the Middle East.

"That really dovetails well with North Plains because 80% of our business has been North America, so this gives the ability to really provide a pan-North America, European and Middle Eastern strong coverage in our business that we feel is important," said Christopher.

From a sales perspective, North Plains intends to continue with its mix of direct sales and channel partners, of which it has around 40 following its latest acquisition.

"We don’t really see any need for any consolidation in that but we want to offer them a broader product portfolio to work with," said Courville. "So if you were in the past a successful Xinet partner and you’re investing and you want to learn and invest in the Vyre solution suite, we will make that accessible to them."


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