North Plains Buys Xinet to Fill Several DAM Gaps

The North Plains/Xinet acquisition news this week weren't particularly shocking. DAM vendor North Plains has been steadily growing in the recent years, but there were (and still are) several holes in the product -- not to mention the company -- that needed to be filled.

In early 2011, Accel-KKR Capital Partners bought a minority stake in the Toronto-based North Plains, and it would be fair to say that NP is putting that investment to good use by buying the Berkeley, California, based Xinet, which has an established European office in Munich, Germany. And here are some of the reasons why North Plains is making a good move in this acquisition.

In the Digital and Media Asset Management universe, workflow capabilities have long been the Achilles heel of the majority of DAM vendors. North Plains is one of the vendors that suffers from the lack of a good workflow tool in its TeleScope DAM product. The best you can get for workflow is a messaging system on steroids. Our traditional recommendation for clients considering buying North Plains is to augment TeleScope with a third-party product if they require true workflow capabilities.

Now, Xinet's WebNative Suite is known not so much as a stand-alone DAM tool, but more so as a workflow tool for prepress activities. “Xinet is all about the workflow and automation,” stated one longtime DAM engineer whom we interviewed some time ago for our DAM research. Xinet does indeed have some bells and whistles: metadata-driven automations, approvals, version tracking, asset mark-up and annotations, among other workflow features.

On the product side, what North Plains is also adding with this acquisition is a more (in theory, for now) holistic approach to the entire lifecycle of managing assets. This lifecycle stretches from its very beginning (Xinet has a strong integration with Adobe Creative Suite) to work-in-progress, and up to distribution, archival, and compliance (where TeleScope’s database-centric approach and strength as a repository come in).

What else has been hurting North Plains? Its primarily North American presence (with some attempts to penetrate the UK market) and inability to truly go global. Conveniently, Xinet has access to the print publishing/prepress and advertising industries, where they have a strong historical foothold. As well as, an established partner and integrator channel in Europe and a bit of Asia (mainly, Japan). And this is very convenient for NP that has been struggling to build up those channels organically.

But North Plains is also gaining internal human resources in this deal – a consistent pain spot for the vendor. Many prospects and customers of North Plains often express concerns about thin resources on the ground, despite NP’s attempts to grow its Professional Services team. Many buyers want to work directly with NP, instead of going through a third-party integrator or reseller. As a result, NP is also staffing up with this acquisition and rounding up the employee count to approximately 110.

As far as the immediate integration plans go, it seems there are not many yet. As James Christopher, President and Chief Executive Officer of North Plains, told me, they plan to continue selling both products separately for now due to the “fundamentally different approaches” they serve in the marketplace. Both products will have separate roadmaps.  So don't look for workflow goodness in North Plains right away.

In the six month to a year period, North Plains claims it will invest in lightweight integration dealing with workflows, as well as establishing better paths for moving work-in-progress assets into repositories.

Ideally, both North Plains and Xinet customers would benefit from this acquisition if it brought better integrations and continued investment in improving feature sets of both products. But as the M&A history in the information management sector shows, this is not always done or done right. I would advise to exercise caution and carefully examine both products’ roadmaps before making your decision to invest in either.

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