Looking back over 2017 and ahead to 2018, Carsten spoke to vjoon CEO Andreas Schrader about market trends, vjoon's response, and what customers can expect to see next year.
C: Andreas, it's December, traditionally a time for retrospectives. Looking back at 2017, what kept you busy this past year?
A: The market didn’t spring any big surprises this year, so we concentrated mainly on major customer-centric projects. Of course, we also focused on driving vjoon K4's development and on long-term strategic considerations.
C: From customers' vantage point, the hottest topic has to be how vjoon K4 is evolving. It often seems that finding the time to cater to all their wishes while putting the company's ideas is like trying to square a circle. How do the product managers and the development team do it?
A: It's all about the magic triangle of time, quality and costs. That alone is enough to set some of our priorities straight. On the other hand, though, we love smart features, as many of our partners and customers are aware. We don't always follow the beaten path to get there. Often we take a different route that may take longer. But we'll go down that road when we believe that our customers will be better off for it.
We put a lot of ideas and wishes into practice, as version 7 of vjoon K4 rather impressively attests. So far, we've added around 20 major features, improved technical aspects and the UI in many ways, and fixed several bugs. The new features include the Approval Manager, an extended Web Editor, Single Sign-On and Twixl integration as well as the Storage Engine. The latter feature streamlines asset management with lean database size, automated snapshots and recovery processes. And it ports the entire publishing environment to the cloud. It's the only one of its kind on the market, which is also reflected in the sales figures. Many of our customers are already working with the Storage Engine, and new orders are coming in all the time. That makes it a real success story.
C: Speaking of success stories, vjoon K4 has been around for 18 years now. What's next?
A: Yes, it's been around for quite some time. After all, it was the world's first InDesign-based magazine publishing system. Of course, there's no such thing as an 18-year product lifecycle in software, so we rewrote vjoon K4 several times over the years. This constant reinvention has made vjoon K4 one of the leading and most fully-featured systems on the market today. It's always spearheading innovations. Take, for example, its support for Adobe InCopy and InDesign Server in the early years. The same goes for its task-driven workflows, Adobe DPS and AEM Mobile integration, and the way it manifests the Unified Publishing Process. It really does delight our customers, and they give it their seal of approval by calling it “rock solid”. The remarkable customer loyalty says it all.
We believe that there will be demand for that kind of system for a long time to come; for systems that provide smart processes and advanced options; systems that enable users to dive deep into the details when they're working. And we have many more ideas for new features that will make vjoon K4 even better and continue to delight customers.
C: There's one topic that needs to be addressed when we're talking about market demand—users want to design website layouts using an HTML editor. A lot of ads out there are promising to meet this huge demand ...
A: We've discussed this with many customers. The idea of being able to quickly create a designed HTML page using HTML authoring tools certainly is tempting. Similar to Dreamweaver and Muse in the past, a merely static standalone page is created. So it's very difficult and takes a lot of effort to connect this page with existing content in the Web CMS. If anything raises the hackles of people who are always talking about media-neutral content, it has to be the solutions that are available now.
C: What you mean by that?
A: Well, here's how a lot of these solutions work: I use my editor to build a static page and get a great preview of my results. Then I have to tear the layout and content apart and export the content to the Web CMS, which then feeds all this into its template and dynamically generates the page. Why should I go to so much trouble? It would be so much easier and faster to edit the data delivered by vjoon K4 directly in the Web CMS.
The solutions available on the market today aren't exactly rocket science. Developing a browser-based HTML authoring tool like this is fairly simple on a technical level, but it doesn't solve the problem that we're talking about here. We've also discussed this with the software giants, but couldn't come up with a viable solution for professional applications. Even so, if a breakthrough does indeed occur, I can assure that we'll provide the support our customers need to take advantage of it. Besides, vjoon K4 has been offering an HTML and ICML Web Editor for several years now, and it can be used to capture content in a structured way.
C: It's an open secret on the market that vjoon has been working on digital asset management for a while now. What's up with that?
A: In the past, we focused mainly on extending DAM functions in vjoon K4. Today, users can already manage image workflows, extensive metadata and all production-related assets in vjoon K4. The panels in the browser client or InDesign and InCopy provide many querying and filter options, including full text searches. They also let you preview the results for images and entire layouts. All images, videos, texts, etc. above and beyond the pure production data are managed by way of file servers or integrated third-party systems. The same goes for the final publications that are exported for archiving. Working with other DAM providers has been a good experience, so we'll continue to collaborate. On top of that, we want to make the most of our know-how to benefit our customers, so we also aim to offer an alternative to them – an optimally integrated solution of our own.
C: When are the first customers going to see this new product?
A: It will certainly take some time, but we started building a second development team a while back. The inceptive phase of sorting out the technology is already behind us, and we've started testing various prototypes. We will, of course, extend the testing to select customers at a later date so we can adapt the performance, feature set and UI to treat users to the best experience. The official unveiling will take place at the next vjoonity, where we'll present it together with a new version of vjoon K4.
C: It's essential to analyze market trends and developments before making strategic decisions about products. What trends have caught your eye?
A: We believe that there's demand for solutions that feel lighter and aren't geared strictly towards publishing houses. The young generation of content marketers and digital natives is at home in the browser, working content first. They drag and drop text, images and videos in from a database, link the team via Trello and/or Google Docs, and create workflows on the fly in Slack, for example, to distribute content via Hootsuite, Wordpress or HubSpot. We're talking about an entirely different approach from what the premise was for earlier systems. Established tools such as InDesign, InCopy and QuarkXPress really are being challenged. It’s about speed, flexibility and costs, of course. But more than anything, it's about easy handling. These days, no one has time for months of training. Incidentally, the same can be said for system administration and even the IT infrastructure.
The writing is on the wall – we're going to need an entirely new generation of systems. There's nothing like that available now, and what’s available is inadequate, to say the least. It doesn't take much to push many entry-level systems to their limits; their feature sets fall well short of what it takes to work in professional environments. Even established vendors are taking baby steps; they're still a long way off from what users really want. We're already factoring these insights into our efforts to develop our future DAM solution. Easy handling is a top priority for us, and by that we also mean ease of use in combination with other systems.
C: We started by looking back at 2017; now we're already looking to the future. What are your expectations for 2018?
A: The company is going to remain an independent and strong player on the market. Our highly qualified employees and excellent global network of partners provide the underpinning for that. Although we have been stepping up our direct contacts with customers for some time, we will continue to rely on our partners for sales, system integration and support. We have also made important forward-looking decisions that will change the face of our company to the outside world and sustain our growth. We're expanding our product portfolio and hiring the people we need to do that. This will clearly benefit both our partners and our customers – and not just in the year ahead.
C: Andreas, thank you very much for the interview.