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Cloudinary's cloud-based, API-centric DAM brings visual engagement to online channels

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright April 8, 2021
As enterprises turn to visual content to make their online presence more engaging, adoption of Cloudinary's cloud-based, API-centric DAM is on the rise

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Restrictions on in-person contact this past year have seen businesses turn to increased use of images and video to boost engagement via online channels. This has placed demands that traditional Digital Asset Management (DAM) systems are ill-equipped to serve, leading web and mobile developers to seek out more responsive solutions. One of the beneficiaries has been Cloudinary, a cloud-native DAM that's been built to dynamically manage, optimize and deliver visual assets for use in today's digital experience platforms. Sanjay Sarathy, Cloudinary's VP of Marketing, explains how enterprise needs have changed:

I think 10-15 years ago, digital asset management and even media libraries were seen as a storage mechanism, as a way of collecting all this information, [with] search and discoverability built into it. I think what's happened now is it's become much more dynamic — how do you essentially deliver these assets on the fly into different situations?

If you've got the need to provide responsive delivery across both mobile devices and desktop and tablet, then you need to be able to provide the ability to auto-crop for those different device resolutions. You can't sit there and ask a developer to create four different variations for each of your different assets that might span millions of assets ...

Whether you're an engineering organization [or] a marketing organization, I think one of the key elements is that this notion of dynamism — to be able to respond to what's occurring in the outside world, and in real time — your media management platform has to support that. It almost doesn't matter what the asset is, whether it's an image, a video, a 3D asset, what have you, that flexibility is critical.

The Santa Clara-based company's almost 7,500-strong customer list includes well-known brand names including Atlassian, Hilton, Levi's, NBC, Nintendo, Peloton and Under Armour. On diginomica, we've written about how and Bloomsbury Publishing use the platform. Cloudinary entered 2021 on an $80 million run rate, despite steps it took last year to pace its growth as the pandemic hit. But the privately-held company is unusual in Silicon Valley in being bootstrapped since launch, only taking a small VC investment from Bessemer Venture Partners and Salesforce Ventures to allow employees to sell some shares.

Founded in Israel in 2011, the business came about because of frustration with the difficulties of managing images and video on websites the founders were building for other startups. Since then, the company's revenues have been sufficient to fund growth. Sarathy explains:

The premise was never originally, 'Oh, we will never take outside funding.' It happened to be that we could grow rapidly without it, and created a mechanism for us to be fairly independent around the ways in which we chose to invest that money for the long term.

Enterprises turn to visual engagement

The past year has been notable for an uptick in enterprise enquiries from more conservative industries such as government, manufacturing and financial services. Sarathy says, "We're finding that the big enterprises are recognizing the relevance of media engagement." He elaborates:

There's a light being shone in this area to the value of using media to engage more dynamically and in a more relevant fashion with whoever their customer may be ...

We certainly see how 'traditional' enterprises are starting to see the value of visual engagement, even if you don't necessarily think of manufacturing or government entities as 'Oh, we need to think about visual engagement.' But it's still relevant. They're still trying to be nimble and agile in a digital-first world and I think that's lending themselves to ask the question, 'What's out there for us to investigate?'

Naturally, this type of prospect also has traditional enterprise concerns that Cloudinary is ready to answer. He continues:

It's not just about 'Oh, how do we create digital engagement with our consumers?' It's, 'What security is built into this? How do you provide role based access control to these assets? How are you providing authentication to specific parts of the media library?'

The appeal of a platform like Cloudinary is the ability to automate processes that otherwise become too long-winded or unviable. An extreme example is a pilot put together by digital agency BCG using Cloudinary in tandem with Salesforce Marketing Cloud and BCG's own AI-driven analytics platform to serve hyper-personalized content in dynamically generated marketing emails and mobile messaging — what the agency calls an atomic approach to content personalization. For most enterprises, the requirements are more mundane but still valuable. Sarathy says:

I think a huge part of our value-add is the automation of the use cases that people think about, whether it's user-generated content, whether it's speeding up the photoshoot-to-web process, whether it's, 'How do I create easy collections to share with our partners or our dealers?'

Those are all business processes, essentially, that the use of media can help strengthen, but Cloudinary in a way automates that in favor of the business.

Bringing JAMstack to the enterprise

Having grown up with the evolution of APIs, continuous delivery, serverless functions and front-end Javascript frameworks, Cloudinary has found itself in technology terms to be "a natural component of the JAMstack architecture," says Sarathy. The JAM acronym stands for JavaScript, APIs and Markup and is characteristic of 'tierless' website and application architectures that are built to use a variety of best-of-breed components and engagement channels. Doron Sherman, the company's VP Developer Relations, explains:

With the JAMstack, you get everything served to you as a blueprint, that is a prescription of how to take very powerful front-end development frameworks, then be able to guarantee that as soon as you finish development, it also performs, and then you have full access to all the functionality that you have in the back end, and you have choice of best-of-breed services. One of them, of course, being Cloudinary ...

So you're able to get this flexibility through composition of best-of-breed services, which used to be a pipedream back in the enterprise software days. But now, with JAMstack, it actually became a reality.

Cloudinary also works with other environments found in the enterprise, such as server-side Java, Perl or Python. This allows organizations to start with Cloudinary where they are and migrate to newer architectures at a later date, as Sarathy explains:

Independent of what happens with how you use Cloudinary, you have the flexibility to use it in both an 'old environment' context as well as the new frameworks. So as you evolve, the abstraction layer isn't broken.

It's typical for larger customers to adopt Cloudinary over a number of years, starting with one limited project and gradually expanding over time. The ability to do this is another advantage of the API-centric architecture, as Sherman explains:

The reality is that legacy never completely goes away. You can find, especially in the big organizations, things that were supposed to completely disappear, but they're still there. But there's ways to always tap into the functionality in those systems. Use the power of the API to expose the functionality and then to free-architect the interfaces and the layers that come on top of that.

My take

The rise of video is a phenomenon I'm watching closely this year and I suspect we'll see some big changes in how businesses use video for more engaging interactions in customer service, sales and marketing. But that's a huge leap ahead of where most businesses are today, with many corporate websites still shockingly lacking in image assets — the only exceptions are consumer-focused e-commerce sites where images are an essential sales tool. But shouldn't that be true in B2B too? The move away from in-person sales this past year to more remote selling is inevitably going to demand better access to both images and video clips on corporate websites — at which point the limitations of old-school DAM libraries for serving fresh, dynamic content will become abundantly clear. Expect to hear much more from Cloudinary as these trends accelerate.

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