Adobe Experience Manager DAM – Another Missed Opportunity To Define The DAM Value Chain?

Earlier this week, Adobe released Adobe Experience Manager which also included their Digital Asset Management offering (which appears to be the Scene 7 product they bought back in 2007).

There is a data sheet about it with some more useful detail than the analyst fluff they have filled out the main product pages with.

It maybe a little too soon for sober reflection on the DAM component of Adobe Experience Manager but I cannot say that I am overwhelmed by it thus far and among competing DAM vendors it may raise more moderate concern rather than blind panic – some will have more to worry about than others, however. Adobe seem to have re-packaged Scene 7 and bundled it with some other tools. They have now integrated it with Creative Cloud also which gives them an opportunity to position themselves across the digital asset supply chain – but it may not be the royal road they were hoping for (as I will discuss)

For those who don’t know, Creative Cloud does not mean using web based versions of Photoshop, Illustrator etc. These are offered as downloadable applications which need to be installed. So the part where users do creative work is still via a desktop app.

The Adobe Experience Manager suite, by contrast, is web based and includes some WCM and social media tools as well as a re-modelled Scene 7 to provide DAM. The capabilities of the system are good but not exceptional. The product includes features which most other mid-range tools possess and does not appear to be lacking anything significant. Here is an incomplete summary I deduced from the datasheets:

  • Asset commenting and mark-up
  • Filter/tag based search
  • Batch operations
  • Global asset distribution (which I guess is achieved via some kind of CDN integration)
  • Group access controls
  • Workflow designer
  • Read/write embedded metadata support*
  • Unicode support
  • Sub-asset extraction (e.g. getting images out of InDesign or PDF documents)

* This is quite comprehensive and the product supports XMP, IPTC as well as ID3, PLUS and a few others.

I could not find much on the API and integration capabilities, but the few words at the end of the brochure suggest the ability to extend proxy generation via plug-ins, JCR (Java Content Repository) compatibility and the usual REST based HTTP stuff that most DAM apps have now. As well as the SaaS option, it can be installed and is J2EE/Java based so should be safe for use within corporate IT environments .

I can’t find much to fault in the overview, although a proper evaluation would clearly be required. Equally, I cannot find anything outstanding either. While it probably ranks a above the lower tiers of the many competing DAM products on offer, it is trading a lot on the Adobe name and the horizontal market integration opportunity that end users will single source their software from the same supplier.

Some of the larger competing vendors who focus on the enterprise market are unlikely to be that concerned about this, despite the Adobe brand backing. There are a number of small or mid-range providers who might need to get a bit more worried (at least in private) such as DAM SaaS vendors especially and anyone whose client-base is composed predominantly of mid-market or department level DAM users.

Adobe DAM’s big advantage is a ready-made sales channel. If they are able to persuade their traditional desktop application users to convert to Creative Cloud subscriptions, they can be pushed their DAM tool via that route as well. I do not know how the pricing works, but my expectation is that cheap or free accounts will be made available. Since many designers and creative pros need to be reasonably IT literate anyway, one can foresee many experimenting with the Adobe DAM product themselves. Rather than waiting for a new or updated DAM system to be provided as part of a wider programme, they may persuade colleagues and department managers to invest into it. Adobe DAM does offer a ready-made platform they don’t need to call in IT managers or consultants etc to set up for them. This is exactly the sales technique employed already by many DAM SaaS vendors – that there is an opportunity to get a creative/marketing oriented DAM up and running without needing to wait for IT to set it up for you.

For on-premise or dedicated hosting DAM implementations, Adobe have a tougher job on their hands. Many of these products are sold through corporate procurement processes where rounds of demos, RFPs etc are required. Adobe will need to rely on VARs and channel partners to go after that market for them to gain traction in enterprises. Adobe’s DAM has limited USPs compared with competitor enterprise products although being able to claim direct integration with many design/creative tools like Photoshop might help (but that’s hardly unique these days and lots of DAM systems do this already).

Overall, I am somewhat unimpressed by this latest sub-plot in the on-going commercial soap opera that defines the DAM system market. When one strips away the marketing gloss, the sense you are left with is that this is another Adobe bag of bits that they have bought and failed to understand how to make work properly within their wider stable of products.

In my view, rather than competing with the multitude of DAM software vendors, they have missed a big opportunity to make a lot of money selling the shovels in the DAM gold rush rather than trying to dig for it themselves – which is what they seem to be trying to do now. If they wanted to make it big in DAM, they should have got to work on the marketing front about six or seven years ago when they first acquired Scene 7. They appear to have spent all that time sitting on their hands, wasting the advantage they had with Flash (and web video especially) and obsessing over pointless distractions they subsequently abandoned anyway (e.g. Flex).

By contrast, Amazon, who as my co-contributor pointed out earlier this week, are busy monopolising protocols for workflow (among many other Cloud standards) appear to be better placed to really take advantage of the opportunity in DAM. All this without even needing to lift a finger themselves and with little support overhead to worry about either. They don’t even really need to think about DAM specifically, someone else will do that for them when they use their services to implement DAM end user interfaces.

What Adobe could have done was provide a range of services that would give third party vendors to gain access to media processing capabilities, embedded metadata, media hosting or batch operations. These could have been branded using the same applications which they are already well known for, e.g. “Photoshop Cloud Services” or “Premiere Server” etc. Even though the server technology would have been different to the desktop applications, some cross-fertilisation from both product teams would have been feasible to reduce their development cost rather than having yet another product platform to worry about. Like Amazon, they could have used the same ‘dollar & dime’ charging method where the end users end up paying more – but with some illusory control over the expenditure incurred.

They could have left the hard parts of DAM (developing the UI and end user support) to channel or integration partners who would then fight each other like cats and dogs to secure customers – with Adobe getting paid whoever won. Other vendors who have probably willingly paid for the option to use their product as part of their own DAM service – especially with all the brand benefits described. Some ancillary vendors like ConceptShare must be hugely relieved also that this particular elephant has lumbered off to go and trample others in a different room to the one they currently occupy. The same no doubt goes for cloud based media manipulation services providers too.

Adobe are now going to be the ones thrusting their hands into the hornet’s nest that characterises the highly competitive modern market for DAM systems. Their opportunity to back-track and start to offer these DAM value chain services later will be curtailed as few of their DAM system competitors will now be willing to leverage Adobe services with any degree of trust or confidence.

Adobe appear pathologically incapable of thinking out of the software box. They have now left the door open for others to walk in and exploit the DAM value chain market opportunity instead – at their expense.

You will no doubt hear much about Adobe DAM for at least the next few years, but I remain unconvinced they made the best decision in respect of their strategy for the wider market. Given the number of mistakes they have made in the past and the recent debacle over Flash, one has to wonder whether they can survive in their current consolidated form over the longer term without the more profitable parts being sold or spun-off.  Will Adobe DAM be among those choice cuts?  I suspect not.

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