Widen Integrate With Silicon Publishing InDesign Plug-In

One of our featured DAM vendors, Widen, have announced that they have agreed another partnership tie-up with an ancillary tool vendor.  This time it’s with Silicon Publishing, who produce web-to-print InDesign automation software.  The Widen plug-in essentially links digital assets held inside Media Collective (Widen’s DAM solution) with InDesign documents so that updates are automatic and seamless to end users.  The key features include:

  • Drag and drop image assets from Widen into InDesign
  • Linked files so there is a direct association between Media Collective and InDesign
  • High or low resolution workflow
  • Automatic packaging of linked files

As seems to be common these days for vendor press releases, there are some quotes from Widen’s customers to explain what the point of it is:

Early adopters of the integration, Sub-Zero and Promega Corporation, have been able to reduce the manual steps in the creative process with the plugin.  “In terms of quickly concepting a layout, the plugin has dramatically reduced the turnaround time,” said Jake Sikir, Graphic Designer at Sub-Zero. “We no longer wait to download a set of images. Instead, we place multiple images, and then download when we find the right fit.”  “The InDesign plugin with the Widen DAM system has really opened the eyes of our designers to the power of the DAM,” said Sara Sarow, Marketing Services Operation Supervisor at Promega. “Instead of treating it as simply an archival system, they are seeing DAM as a tool they can use in their day-to-day work.” [Read More]

In terms of functionality, I don’t think this is particularly revolutionary as there are quite a number of DAM systems that integrate with InDesign in similar ways to those offered by the Widen/Silicon offering.  However, as we have discussed a number of times on DAM News, the opportunities to create innovative new features for DAM systems are narrowing now (certainly those where the value of them can be easily explained to end users).  Also, the role of solutions is becoming more about creating media management hubs that other technologies can be easily plugged into, rather than the vendors trying to implement everything exclusively in-house and wasting large sections of their development budgets in functionality replication exercises.

I can see Widen’s strategy here, which is to create a best of breed platform with the dual benefit of not only saving costs (because they don’t have to do everything themselves) but also to allow them to leverage their visibility in the market and encourage ancillary vendors to get their components to work with their platform.  The value of their product increases not only because of features, support, branding, market positioning etc but due to all the other associated applications you can get their system to work with.  In other words, their partnerships are used to provide a competitive advantage and anyone who wants to go up against that has to spend at least time (and probably some money) to reproduce it, or they are required to take the slower route of self-building it.  As with any accelerated growth strategy like partnerships or acquisitions, that might produce a few unexpected side-effects later, but they might not be serious ones and in the interim they may have significantly added to their customer numbers to help acquire a war-chest to pay for any architectural modifications that might become necessary later.

Obviously, Widen are not the only people in DAM pursuing this strategy, many others have the same idea, but as they point out in their press release, they have made a specific point of seeking out these kind of deals with AtTask and ProofHQ so far this year and you would expect a few more to come along in 2014 and beyond.  One further point of interest with this tie-up was that Silicon developed this specifically for Widen.  They sent us a link to a blog post written by Max Dunn from Silicon Publishing about who they have chosen to partner with (and why).  The article is well worth reading as it offers some useful insight into the mindset of ancillary vendors, how they view the DAM system market and the methods they use to get their products working with a cross section of them in an efficient manner:

We are not DAM-centric: we focus on InDesign Server automation and in most cases we integrate this with whatever asset management the client has running. Only quite rarely do we encounter clients at the point they are contemplating a new DAM. So we have made pretty much every popular DAM out there work, at least to the point of serving assets to our publishing applications…In 2010, we added a product to our suite called Silicon Connector. This product provides a very direct and efficient connection between Adobe InDesign and web-based assets. While this product works with very generic web servers, most of Connector’s users are interested in very specific, Enterprise-class, DAMs. We have thus chosen one DAM at a time to make specific Connectors for (and to).” [Read More]

Max makes a number of good points about DAM, not least of which is his observation that a few ‘home built’ DAM solutions (or ‘concoctions’ to use his expression) are ‘quite powerful’.  That would concur with my experience and lends further credence to the theory that the DAM systems market is highly fragmented and lacks a clear market leader whose products stand head and shoulders above everyone else.  Also of note is that they include Box in their list of DAM solutions, even though they fully acknowledge that it isn’t really a DAM system  and describe it as ‘the Accidental DAM’

Unlike our Silicon Connectors for MediaBeacon, AEM, and Widen, where you drag and drop assets directly from the existing DAM interface, with Box we built a plugin into InDesign that handles navigating through the assets of your Box accounts. We intend to extend this to be more robust over time. As we contemplate features, we’re finding something of a slippery slope, if we go really far with the Connector for Box we may end up creating our own DAM.” [Read More]

To borrow their phrase, it sounds like they might end up becoming ‘accidental DAM vendors’ and this is perhaps the critical point to why they realise they need to partner up with a few intentional ones instead.  An observation about the ancillary vendor market which I have made before is that they seem to be more aware of their own limitations and the necessity to focus on what they do best than many DAM vendors are.  In soccer terms (to use a topical metaphor) lots of DAM vendors seem to wear themselves out by running around the pitch chasing after the ball and leaving huge gaps for competitors to walk into unchallenged where they can get into potential goal scoring positions.

If there is ever going to be a group of system suppliers that acquire greater traction than everyone else in DAM, it seems fairly clear to me that it will be those who are best connected in terms of integration and interoperability with other products.  This is the opportunity for the more forward-thinking and tactically astute ones to get ahead of the competition in a way that will be  increasingly harder to counter.

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