North Plains and Interwoven offer DAM SaaS service -- or do they?

Software-as-a-Service has an especially strong case in the area of Digital Asset Management, where the buyer is often a marketing manager or creative team with a fixed monthly budget and little to no IT support. But not all SaaS is created equal. Granted, we've pointed this out before, but after my experience on the analyst panel at Henry Stewart's DAM Symposium last month, I can't help but warn again that this term means very different things depending upon who's using it.

On the panel, during a discussion regarding the value of SaaS-based DAM, one analyst cited Interwoven's MediaBin as a SaaS option. I immediately retorted that Interwoven didn't offer MediaBin (or anything else) as SaaS, as a member of Widen's marketing team shook his head simultaneously in the audience. Still, there was continued disagreement on the matter, thus I went straight to MediaBin's product manager after the panel to make sure I hadn't missed this as an offering. In fact, Interwoven offers 3rd-party hosting and management of MediaBin, if you'd like. Sure, that I knew. But I'd never, ever call that SaaS, and to their credit, neither does Interwoven.

Why? To quote my colleague Tony Byrne, "contracting with a supplier simply to host and customize traditional software is not the same thing as working with a well thought-through, 'native' Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solution that was built from the ground up by a company dedicated to providing such a service. There is a case to be made for outsourcing application hosting and support, as well as a case for true SaaS. Just make sure you know the difference -- and know what you're getting in either case."

Widen, a pure SaaS vendor through and through, had a right to be shaking their heads in the audience. Like WCM vendors Crown Peak and Clickability, Widen's philosophy is that service is just as important as technology -- an attitude that very few software vendors seem to have. Most software companies are out there to simply sell licenses, and it shows in the poor customer service ratings that many vendors receive in our reports.

The latest DAM vendor to jump on the SaaS bandwagon is North Plains, which debuted a new SaaS/"OnDemand" service that same day at the Symposium. North Plains' new service is closer to Interwoven's under-the-covers offering than it is to Widen's, as there's 3rd-party hosting involved (from NaviSite). North Plains says its client support team has been "fully trained on serving the needs of TeleScope OnDemand clients," and that additional support resources have been added to meet the 24x7 demands of true SaaS. But one has to wonder how many, and if more SaaS-based support will be a cause or an effect of people choosing the new service.

As we point out in our Digital & Media Asset Management Report, ClearStory is one of the few vendors that's seen success with both approaches. Still, I remain skeptical of traditional software vendors jumping into SaaS, mostly because I've found such a significant difference in the corporate culture of the pure SaaS vs. non-SaaS companies I've watched over the past several years. It's not that one is necessarily better than the other, but just be sure to know which is right for you, and understand what a vendor is really offering when that term "SaaS" gets thrown around.

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