Widen Release SmartImage 2.0 – The Ongoing Segmentation Of DAM Solutions

One of our featured DAM vendors, Widen, released SmartImage 2.0 earlier this week.  This is a kind ‘DAM Lite’  which is aimed at users who need a less sophisticated solution than a full Digital Asset Management product with a learning curve that is not as steep.  The main target market seems to be agencies, smaller companies and those who are more focussed on rapid asset distribution rather than the full management capability that more advanced options would provide (like their own Media Collective SaaS DAM system).  The features look reasonably versatile for a product of this nature, some examples include:

  • Fully brandable
  • Upload various popular image formats (including Illustrator and EPS) and also PDF
  • Embed YouTube or Vimeo videos
  • Tag based metadata system (with files grouped by type)
  • Drag and drop uploading
  • Password protected collections
  • Email links to files
  • Collections (aka ‘lightboxes’ or ‘favourites’ as they are variously referred to other DAM systems)

A forthcoming release is apparently going to include an API and various other permissions options.  Their blog entry has more.

There are some noteworthy trends when analysing not only this product but also some others from different vendors.  Some of the demand seems to be originating from agencies who need to provide their clients with some kind of rudimentary DAM for file distribution purposes but need it to be more versatile than one of these ‘drive by’ file distribution systems (with the attendant security risks that they pose).  My co-contributor has been scathing about agencies in the past (with partial justification it must be said) but I can see part of the appeal for them of this type of product if you have numerous other client requirements, getting down to serious business with a complex DAM product isn’t exactly an appealing prospect – even if you can bypass the whole complexity of hosting it.

I note that Widen promote Smartimage as an alternative to Dropbox (with a more specialist creative angle) and they have a mobile interface for it also.  The use-case for that becomes a bit easier to argue in favour of with this kind of solution, unlike regular DAM systems where most of the heavy users are going to be desk-bound anyway for the majority of the time.

By no means are Widen the only people having caught on to the demand from end users for more straightforward DAM services.  There is an ongoing fragmentation and/or segmentation process now in-play where vendors are needing to divide up their offers to address diverging needs.  There seems to be two methods for handling this (which are not necessarily mutually exclusive).  On the one hand there is building a separate application (which might be a simpler derivative of a bigger DAM system).  On the other, there are those who are extending the scope of their product to allow these ‘DAM lite’ options to be constructed using their core software.  Some of that latter group may also employ channel partner business models (or resellers in plainer terms) so the work of applying the capabilities can be farmed out to intermediaries like integrators etc.

In previous months, we have covered WebDAM (who appear to be taking the single product with portals route) and also Brandworkz who were offering a hybrid where their Showcase brand portal can be combined with their main DAM system or obtained separately as required.  There are some further techniques being used, for example. NetXposure wrote this blog post where they talked about their DAM system becoming a service provider platform for other applications (e.g. WCM).  I am aware that there is also one other major vendor who plan to announce a layer of abstraction between their core product service and the interface to enable a more diverse range of interfaces to be rapidly implemented.  On the open source side of things, I believe Razuna has features to allow users to embed assets and DAM functionality within other websites (which might include applications).  So, there seems a lot of momentum behind various techniques for vendors to segment their DAM systems according to multiple needs (as you would expect in a maturing market).

While these are all positive developments, I can’t see all vendors being able to keep their full quota of functional plates spinning across the expanding range of what you might call ‘DAM Channels’.  As anyone with some experience of software development will be well aware, computer programs usually work great until you let real people use them.  The interfaces are usually the hardest part of any development work because the range of IT experience, subject knowledge and patience varies enormously across all the prospective users.  From what I recall more time was spent debugging issues relating to interfaces because someone, somewhere, somehow managed to find an obscure error that neither myself nor my colleagues had thought possible.  That is just a reality of the software development process, however, as the vendor, you also have to pay the  wages of all the people involved from coders through to testers, project managers and ancillary staff like trainers etc.

I suspect many of the DAM developers reading this will want to tell you about various architectural techniques to minimise that problem and localise any issues to reduce their impact.  That might be the case, but they too can expect their conceptual models to be extensively put to the test and weaknesses uncovered in short order (also over medium and longer durations too).

As a DAM vendor, if you are planning to stratify your offer and cross multiple target market segments, either you need an extensive network of partners (and to carefully manage commercial relations with all of them) or if all of it is done in-house then you are locking yourself into a ‘must grow’ trajectory or you will not have the resources to keep building out these ever more complex and diverse interfaces.  As a potential customer or client of a DAM solution supplier, an issue to consider is how they will manage the traversal of this complexity curve without going bust.  As ever with buying software (or anything else) you can’t just trust the soothing words of the sales people and take them entirely on face-value, you need evidence of either a developed partner network or at least a clear and credible plan that will fund their growth and ability to continue to service your requirements.

I cannot realistically believe this is a trick that everyone in the market will pull off.  Each participant’s survival and growth prospects do not necessarily relate to how many clients they currently have either – or even their funding position (arguably VC funded vendors are at greater risk of being shut down with minimal notice if the money men decide they can’t wait for better financial results any longer).  Established vendors in the DAM market in 2013 have been a given a brief period to properly think through their long-term strategy and about their positioning within the wider sector – not just in terms of product features and sales numbers, but the whole delivery model and value chain that they are going to pin their colours to.  That doesn’t come along very often in any business sector and it is an opportunity that should not be squandered.

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  • Great article… a few notes about your hypothesis…

    Being a VC funded “DAM Lite” vendor, to use your terms, I want to say that our risk of being shut down by our investors is extremely unlikely. We are long since profitable and are growing at an astronomical rate, picking up customers across Media & Entertainment, Advertising and Retail Brands, all of whom are fatigued by large scale IT-driven DAM projects, and who want to switch to an opex model that allows them to experiment and roll out incrementally at low risk.

    Increasingly we see our customers circumvent their IT-mandated DAM and opt for Dropbox-type sharing workflows. This is our target market, as Dropbox can only get your so far with codec support, security, metadata and media-focused workflow functionality.

    I think we may even see Dropbox’s dominance of the file sharing market challenged by lite DAMs that can match them one-for-one on capabilities, yet fill in the preview, metadata and creative workflow gaps. Competing with Dropbox on price will still be a challenge, but cloud hosting costs are getting more competitive.

    If our success is any indication, then Widen have made a spectacularly good move here, and we look forward to competing with them and therefore making each other better in this exciting subsegment.

  • “I want to say that our risk of being shut down by our investors is extremely unlikely”

    I said ‘VC funded vendors are at *greater risk* of being shut down with minimal notice’, i.e. the decision to fold up the operation you represent is not completely in your own hands.

    If you want some examples of how investors can rapidly change their minds, see these links:


    My post was written from a longer-term perspective of about 3-5 years. I would take a guess that whoever has supplied your funding wants to either cash out before then or at least sell off parts of their stake. If they decide you’re not flavour of the month, you would have to find someone else to replace their capital in a short period of time which you might or might not be able to do.

    The point of the article is that if vendors want to offer full-service DAM across different ranges of products or interfaces (which an increasing number appear to wish to) then they will need to either get funding and/or channel partners (probably both) since the scope of what is required of them will increase. As described, getting funding is not without risk – but neither is running a channel partner network.

    The demand for DAM services is expanding at both ends of the spectrum, from the Dropox through to much larger projects across SaaS, on-premise and all points in between. Not everyone will be able to handle everything but many will attempt to (and some will go bust trying). As a vendor you need to have a strategy in place for how to handle this. Buyers need to be confident that their chosen vendors have thought their expansion plans through properly. The DAM sector is currently in a growth phase, but it won’t last for ever. So not only do you have to ‘make hay while the sun shines’ but you need to have a credible plan for bringing in next season’s harvest too when the weather may not be so clement.

    Just to emphasise, I’m not picking holes in any individual business model, I’m saying there is a challenge facing the whole industry and having funding doesn’t necessarily make it easier as the expectations about improved performance (in both financial and product feature terms) will escalate ever-higher.

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