Content Systems Designed To Outperform And Outlast – Interview

Ramon Forster, Picturepark CEO

Ramon Forster

On 15. February 2019 the new Picturepark Content Platform was released. We sit down with Picturepark CEO Ramon Forster to find out more about the new product: its features, why being build API-first is so important, crossing industry categories, personal insights gained along the way and much more.

 

Picturepark originated in the DAM space but now there is this new product. Does this mean that you will no longer deliver solutions for DAM use-cases?

Digital Asset Management will remain a primary market, and the Content Platform performs extremely well as a scalable single ‘point of truth’ for all file-based content. Yet the Content Platform also goes beyond just files, extending out into managing fileless content, something we refer to as ‘virtual content’.

The Content Platform goes beyond just files, extending out into managing fileless content

Virtual content and the lists that we use to accompany them are extremely well suited for many uses, e.g. storing product data – things you usually find in PIM use cases, or structuring all types of content sent to a digital signage terminal, something you’d see Headless Content Management or other specialized systems used for.

So what makes makes you different from a DAM?

We’re definitely not going down the MRM/MOM/Creative Operations development path – which so many other DAM vendors have recently chosen to focus on. As a consequence, we will also no longer offer ‘show-off’ features such as our Adobe CS Connector or the Review Manager because Dropbox, Google and Adobe own this space – just see what Adobe released with Asset Link last week. That said, anyone can build or integrate if needed, and we’ll team up with customers and development partners whenever they have interesting ideas.

We’re also experimenting with limiting our support for enhanced image and video format conversion tools, this is because it is another area where CDNs such as Akamai and Fastly, or proxy systems such as Cloudinary, are much better addressing this further downstream in the digital content delivery chain.

We also don’t intend to reduce ourselves to a regional DAM niche player and then divest, only after having milked the remaining customers over time. And instead of playing catch-up with features most don’t need, we’ve just invested huge amounts of money along our vision into future decades, and developed the Picturepark Content Platform.

What sets Picturepark apart from the competition?

Our long-term vision and the way we commit to doing things:  developing products that are designed to outperform and outlast.

It’s the unique blend of versatile capabilities that cross common industry categories that make the Picturepark Content Platform unique

With regard to the new product: it’s the unique blend of versatile capabilities that cross common industry categories such as DAM, PIM, MDM and Headless Content Management that make the Picturepark Content Platform unique. It’s the consequent focus on modelling content and metadata that can go from simple to highly complex, whatever fits your goal best – for both today and tomorrow. It’s the freedom given to our customers and partners to lever all of these capabilities for integrating systems, building microsites and coming up with their own solutions or products – all using the Content Platform as their underlying technology foundation.

But aren’t there are many systems that look gorgeous and claim to be all that?

There are many systems out there and I’d even go so far to say that some might look more appealing on first sight. However, if you look closer then you’ll soon see that they provide a lot of ‘bells and whistles’ you don’t actually us – especially when it comes to carrying out the essentials. All of these added-on gimmicky features can actually start limiting you when things get a bit more sophisticated or load-intense. You’ll likely find that all you’re left wanting to do is focusing on the essentials: to properly deliver and integrate content, in a fully scalable and automated way.

I know of very few systems that can be described as modern and versatile in the same way as the Picturepark Content Platform. Especially those which could also be described as nimble, perform as well or don’t cost ridiculous amounts of money.

All of this, I think, is also nicely summarized in the Picturepark Manifesto.

You emphasize “API first”. Does this mean the Content Platform isn’t built for humans?

No! The Content Platform has a well-designed user interface. Users can harness it to create and export content, share content via email or embeds, model content and metadata – all while administering the platform. And humans don’t need to use the API at all: they can use the Content Platform as a fully-functioning content system without writing a single line of code.

Much more can be done via the API – actually many thousand times faster than humans ever could

But all this and much, much more can be done via the API – actually many thousand times faster than humans ever could once it has all been brought into place. Granted, it requires some development which is greatly eased due to our how well documented we have made our API and SDK.

We do expect that automated and integrated solutions will play an ever-increasingly decisive role in the future, so these small investments in time for developments are tiny compared to the countless hours and hours that will be saved in the long-term.

The Picturepark Content Platform had originally been announced for release in 2017. It’s 2019 now – what happened?

Some key people in the product teams left and we had to set-up anew, finding the right matches and reorganize. This took a considerable amount of time because developing enterprise software like the Content Platform is very complex, so we’ve been very picky in making our final selection.

We also changed our scope over time, which meant additional estimation bias was added on top of all that already in play, as is usually the case for software development. After a certain time, you also start to update core technologies and refactor code – which again adds more time.

Keep in mind that we also have an existing product used by demanding customers which you have to maintain and improve which results in additional spillovers.

That’s the trap we were caught in for quite some time. I believe no one will ever entirely master the timely delivery of complex software development but we’ll continue trying – and have a better stab at succeeding than ever before, with the team of great senior developers that we have today.

Four years of development is expensive – do you think it’s been worth it, given the potential?

I do think so. Look: there is more and more content (and data!) constantly coming into existence, all of that needs be managed and routed to more and more different places. Such content all too often lacks context, or in other words: it lacks rich metadata and the connectivity it needs to be useful and insightful, can be found and accurately published.

Content all too often lacks context, or in other words: it lacks rich metadata and connectivity

Such content is also often badly structured. But structure is needed for automation, cross-media publishing and API exchange – which in turn speeds up time-to-market, yields efficiency gains and frees-up valuable human resources for doing more creative things.

To seize the potential, take “Artificial Intelligence” (AI), which I believe is a real game changer, as an example. In order to do its “magic”, AI needs structured content management systems with flexible content modelling capabilities for retrieving, storing and exchanging structured data – via highly scalable API.

As a result, I’m very sure we’re headed in the right direction. But of course: now we have to prove it all pays off – it’s all part of an adventure that I regard as the most exciting of my entire professional career.

Could you share what you would do differently, what’s your personal personal challenges have been and what you’ve learned along the way?

Firstly, I don’t think there will be another foreseeable time to literally ‘start from scratch’ because the new Picturepark Content Platform lays a very solid foundation for generations to come.

It’s all about having the right people being determined to do the right things, and then focus on doing it right

Yet of course the last years has without doubt been challenging on a personal level: maintaining an overarching vision over a long period of time is not at all simple; especially doing so while keeping existing business growing, with increasing levels of pressure applied from all sides – this all naturally leads to goal conflicts and doubts. Remaining disciplined, candid and focussed on a vision is important but it doesn’t keep you motivated all the time. Here, maintaining a strong loyal team spirit alongside support from family and friends is of tremendous help in sustaining oneself in such situations.

I have learned many lessons along the way. One that instantly comes to mind is that it’s all about having the right people being determined to do the right things, and then focus on doing it right. These people need to share a common culture and goal for being personally engaged, and they need to be frank at the same time for naming those not so nice things no one wants to hear. Only this enables us to create outstanding products for customers that are looking for a long-term sustainable solution, not just another quick win.