May
24
2018
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InVision design tool Studio gets an app store, asset store

InVision, the startup that wants to be the operating system for designers, today introduced its app store and asset store within InVision Studio. In short, InVision Studio users now have access to some of their most-used apps and services from right within the Studio design tool. Plus, those same users will be able to shop for icons, UX/UI components, typefaces and more from within Studio.

While Studio is still in its early days, InVision has compiled a solid list of initial app store partners, including Google, Salesforce, Slack, Getty, Atlassian, and more.

InVision first launched as a collaboration tool for designers, letting designers upload prototypes into the cloud so that other members of the organization could leave feedback before engineers set the design in stone. Since that launch in 2011, InVision has grown to 4 million users, capturing 80 percent of the Fortune 100, raising a total of $235 million in funding.

While collaboration is the bread and butter of InVision’s business, and the only revenue stream for the company, CEO and founder Clark Valberg feels that it isn’t enough to be complementary to the current design tool ecosystem. Which is why InVision launched Studio in late 2017, hoping to take on Adobe and Sketch head-on with its own design tool.

Studio differentiates itself by focusing on the designer’s real-life workflow, which often involves mocking up designs in one app, pulling assets from another, working on animations and transitions in another, and then stitching the whole thing together to share for collaboration across InVision Cloud. Studio aims to bring all those various services into a single product, and a critical piece of that mission is building out an app store and asset store with the services too sticky for InVision to rebuild from Scratch, such as Slack or Atlassian.

With the InVision app store, Studio users can search Getty from within their design and preview various Getty images without ever leaving the app. They can then share that design via Slack or send it off to engineers within Atlassian, or push it straight to UserTesting.com to get real-time feedback from real people.

InVision Studio launched with the ability to upload an organization’s design system (type faces, icons, logos, and hex codes) directly into Studio, ensuring that designers have easy access to all the assets they need. Now InVision is taking that a step further with the launch of the asset store, letting designers sell their own assets to the greater designer ecosystem.

“Our next big move is to truly become the operating system for product design,” said Valberg. “We want to be to designers what Atlassian is for engineers, what Salesforce is to sales. We’ve worked to become a full-stack company, and now that we’re managing that entire stack it has liberated us from being complementary products to our competitors. We are now a standalone product in that respect.”

Since launching Studio, the service has grown to more than 250,000 users. The company says that Studio is still in Early Access, though it’s available to everyone here.

May
12
2018
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Adobe CTO leads company’s broad AI bet

There isn’t a software company out there worth its salt that doesn’t have some kind of artificial intelligence initiative in progress right now. These organizations understand that AI is going to be a game-changer, even if they might not have a full understanding of how that’s going to work just yet.

In March at the Adobe Summit, I sat down with Adobe executive vice president and CTO Abhay Parasnis, and talked about a range of subjects with him including the company’s goal to build a cloud platform for the next decade — and how AI is a big part of that.

Parasnis told me that he has a broad set of responsibilities starting with the typical CTO role of setting the tone for the company’s technology strategy, but it doesn’t stop there by any means. He also is in charge of operational execution for the core cloud platform and all the engineering building out the platform — including AI and Sensei. That includes managing a multi-thousand person engineering team. Finally, he’s in charge of all the digital infrastructure and the IT organization — just a bit on his plate.

Ten years down the road

The company’s transition from selling boxed software to a subscription-based cloud company began in 2013, long before Parasnis came on board. It has been a highly successful one, but Adobe knew it would take more than simply shedding boxed software to survive long-term. When Parasnis arrived, the next step was to rearchitect the base platform in a way that was flexible enough to last for at least a decade — yes, a decade.

“When we first started thinking about the next generation platform, we had to think about what do we want to build for. It’s a massive lift and we have to architect to last a decade,” he said. There’s a huge challenge because so much can change over time, especially right now when technology is shifting so rapidly.

That meant that they had to build in flexibility to allow for these kinds of changes over time, maybe even ones they can’t anticipate just yet. The company certainly sees immersive technology like AR and VR, as well as voice as something they need to start thinking about as a future bet — and their base platform had to be adaptable enough to support that.

Making Sensei of it all

But Adobe also needed to get its ducks in a row around AI. That’s why around 18 months ago, the company made another strategic decision to develop AI as a core part of the new  platform. They saw a lot of companies looking at a more general AI for developers, but they had a different vision, one tightly focussed on Adobe’s core functionality. Parasnis sees this as the key part of the company’s cloud platform strategy. “AI will be the single most transformational force in technology,” he said, adding that Sensei is by far the thing he is spending the most time on.”

Photo: Ron Miller

The company began thinking about the new cloud platform with the larger artificial intelligence goal in mind, building AI-fueled algorithms to handle core platform functionality. Once they refined them for use in-house, the next step was to open up these algorithms to third-party developers to build their own applications using Adobe’s AI tools.

It’s actually a classic software platform play, whether the service involves AI or not. Every cloud company from Box to Salesforce has been exposing their services for years, letting developers take advantage of their expertise so they can concentrate on their core knowledge. They don’t have to worry about building something like storage or security from scratch because they can grab those features from a platform that has built-in expertise  and provides a way to easily incorporate it into applications.

The difference here is that it involves Adobe’s core functions, so it may be intelligent auto cropping and smart tagging in Adobe Experience Manager or AI-fueled visual stock search in Creative Cloud. These are features that are essential to the Adobe software experience, which the company is packaging as an API and delivering to developers to use in their own software.

Whether or not Sensei can be the technology that drives the Adobe cloud platform for the next 10 years, Parasnis and the company at large are very much committed to that vision. We should see more announcements from Adobe in the coming months and years as they build more AI-powered algorithms into the platform and expose them to developers for use in their own software.

Parasnis certainly recognizes this as an ongoing process. “We still have a lot of work to do, but we are off in an extremely good architectural direction, and AI will be a crucial part,” he said.

Mar
30
2018
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As marketing data proliferates, consumers should have more control

At the Adobe Summit in Las Vegas this week, privacy was on the minds of many people. It was no wonder with social media data abuse dominating the headlines, GDPR just around the corner, and Adobe announcing the concept of a centralized customer experience record.

With so many high profile breaches in recent years, putting your customer data in a central record-keeping system would seem to be a dangerous proposition, yet Adobe sees so many positives for marketers, it likely believes this to be a worthy trade-off.

Which is not to say that the company doesn’t see the risks. Executives speaking at the conference continually insisted that privacy is always part of the conversation at Adobe as they build tools — and they have built in security and privacy safeguards into the customer experience record.

Ben Kepes, an independent analyst says this kind of data collection does raise ethical questions about how to use it. “This new central repository of data about individuals is going to be incredibly attractive to Adobe’s customers. The company is doing what big brands and corporations ask for. But in these post-Cambridge Analytica days, I wonder how much of a moral obligation Adobe and the other vendors have to ensure their tools are used for good purposes,” Kepes asked.

Offering better experiences

It’s worth pointing out that the goal of this exercise isn’t simply to collect data for data’s sake. It’s to offer consumers a more customized and streamlined experience. How does that work? There was a demo in the keynote illustrating a woman’s experience with a hotel brand.

Brad Rencher, EVP and GM at Adobe Experience Cloud explains Adobe’s Cloud offerings. Photo: Jeff Bottari/Invision for Adobe/AP Images

The mythical woman started a reservation for a trip to New York City, got distracted in the middle and was later “reminded” to return to it via Facebook ad. She completed the reservation and was later issued a digital key to her room, allowing her to bypass the front desk check-in process. Further, there was a personal greeting on the television in her room with a custom message and suggestions for entertainment based on her known preferences.

As one journalist pointed out in the press event, this level of detail from the hotel is not something that would thrill him (beyond the electronic check-in). Yet there doesn’t seem to be a way to opt out of that data (unless you live in the EU and will be subject to GDPR rules).

Consumers may want more control

As it turns out, that reporter wasn’t alone. According to a survey conducted last year by The Economist Intelligence Unit in conjunction with ForgeRock, an identity management company, consumers are not just willing sheep that tech companies may think we are.

The survey was conducted last October with 1,629 consumers participating from eight countries including Australia, China, France, Germany, Japan, South Korea, the UK and the US. It’s worth noting that survey questions were asked in the context of Internet of Things data, but it seems that the results could be more broadly applied to any types of data collection activities by brands.

There are a couple of interesting data points that perhaps brands should heed as they collect customer data in the fashion outlined by Adobe. In particular as it relates to what Adobe and other marketing software companies are trying to do to build a central customer profile, when asked to rate the statement, “I am uncomfortable with companies building a “profile” of me to predict my consumer behaviour,” 39 percent strongly agreed with that statement. Another 35 percent somewhat agreed. That would suggest that consumers aren’t necessarily thrilled with this idea.

When presented with the statement, Providing my personal information may have more drawbacks than benefits, 32 percent strongly agreed and 41 percent somewhat agreed.

That would suggest that it is on the brand to make it clearer to consumers that they are collecting that data to provide a better overall experience, because it appears that consumers who answered this survey are not necessarily making that connection.

Perhaps it wasn’t a coincidence that at a press conference after the Day One keynote announcing the unified customer experience record, many questions from analysts and journalists focused on notions of privacy. If Adobe is helping companies gather and organize customer data, what role do they have in how their customers’ use that data, what role does the brand have and how much control should consumers have over their own data?

These are questions we seem to be answering on the fly. The technology is here now or very soon will be, and wherever the data comes from, whether the web, mobile devices or the Internet of Things, we need to get a grip on the privacy implications — and we need to do it quickly. If consumers want more control as this survey suggests, maybe it’s time for companies to give it to them.

Mar
30
2018
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IoT devices could be next customer data frontier

At the Adobe Summit this week in Las Vegas, the company introduced what could be the ultimate customer experience construct, a customer experience system of record that pulls in information, not just from Adobe tools, but wherever it lives. In many ways it marked a new period in the notion of customer experience management, putting it front and center of the marketing strategy.

Adobe was not alone, of course. Salesforce, with its three-headed monster, the sales, marketing and service clouds, was also thinking of a similar idea. In fact, they spent $6.5 billion dollars last week to buy MuleSoft to act as a data integration layer to access  customer information from across the enterprise software stack, whether on prem, in the cloud, or inside or outside of Salesforce. And they announced the Salesforce Integration Cloud this week to make use of their newest company.

As data collection takes center stage, we actually could be on the edge of yet another data revolution, one that could be more profound than even the web and mobile were before it. That is…the Internet of Things.

Here comes IoT

There are three main pieces to that IoT revolution at the moment from a consumer perspective. First of all, there is the smart speaker like the Amazon Echo or Google Home. These provide a way for humans to interact verbally with machines, a notion that is only now possible through the marriage of all this data, sheer (and cheap) compute power and the AI algorithms that fuel all of it.

Next, we have the idea of a connected car, one separate from the self-driving car. Much like the smart speaker, humans can interact with the car, to find directions and recommendations and that leaves a data trail in its wake. Finally we, have sensors like iBeacons sitting in stores, providing retailers with a world of information about a customer’s journey through the store — what they like or don’t like, what they pick up, what they try on and so forth.

There are very likely a host of other categories too, and all of this information is data that needs to be processed and understood just like any other signals coming from customers, but it also has unique characteristics around the volume and velocity of this data — it is truly big data with all of the issues inherent in processing that amount of data.

The means it needs to be ingested, digested and incorporated into that central customer record-keeping system to drive the content and experiences you need to create to keep your customers happy — or so the marketing software companies tell us, at least. (We also need to consider the privacy implications of such a record, but that is the subject for another article.)

Building a better relationship

Regardless of the vendor, all of this is about understanding the customer better to provide a central data gathering system with the hope of giving people exactly what they want. We are no longer a generic mass of consumers. We are instead individuals with different needs, desires and requirements, and the best way to please us they say, is to understand us so well, that the brand can deliver the perfect experience at exactly the right moment.

Photo: Ron Miller

That involves listening to the digital signals we give off without even thinking about it. We carry mobile, connected computers in our pockets and they send out a variety of information about our whereabouts and what we are doing. Social media acts as a broadcast system that brands can tap into to better understand us (or so the story goes).

Part of what Adobe, Salesforce and others can deliver is a way to gather that information, pull it together into his uber record keeping system and apply a level of machine and learning and intelligence to help further the brand’s ultimate goals of serving a customer of one and delivering an efficient (and perhaps even pleasurable) experience.

Getting on board

At an Adobe Summit session this week on IoT (which I moderated), the audience was polled a couple of times. In one show of hands, they were asked how many owned a smart speaker and about three quarters indicated they owned at least one, but when asked how many were developing applications for these same devices only a handful of hands went up. This was in a room full of marketers, mind you.

Photo: Ron Miller

That suggests that there is a disconnect between usage and tools to take advantage of them. The same could be said for the other IoT data sources, the car and sensor tech, or any other connected consumer device. Just as we created a set of tools to capture and understand the data coming from mobile apps and the web, we need to create the same thing for all of these IoT sources.

That means coming up with creative ways to take advantage of another interaction (and data collection) point. This is an entirely new frontier with all of the opportunity involved in that, and that suggests startups and established companies alike need to be thinking about solutions to help companies do just that.

Mar
27
2018
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Adobe wants to be your customer experience record keeping system

For years, the goal of marketers was to understand the customer so well, they could respond to their every need, while creating content specifically geared to their wishes. Adobe Cloud Platform has long acted as a vehicle to collect and understand customer data inside the Adobe toolset, but today Adobe took that a step further.

The company hopes to transform Adobe Cloud Platform into a company’s experience record keeping system, a central place to collect all the data you may have about a customer from both the Adobe Cloud Platform and external data sources.

Suresh Vittal, vice president of platform and product at Adobe Experience Cloud says tools like CRM were intended to provide a record keeping system for the times, and they were fine in a period when entering and retrieving data was state of the art, but he thinks there needs to be something more.

“A lot of investments for past generations of software evolution have been around batch-based operational systems. While they were necessary back then, they are not sufficient where these brands are going today,” he told TechCrunch.

Adobe Systems world headquarters in San Jose, California USA Photo: Getty Images Lisa Werner / Contributor

Over time, as companies gather more and data, Adobe believes they need something that centers around the dynamic interactions brands are having with customers. “We believe every customer needs an experience system of record, a central [place to record] where the brand brings together experience data, content and a unified profile to power the next generation of experience,” he said.

To achieve this goal, the company is doing more than creating a new construct, it has built a new data model along with tools for data scientists to build custom data models.

Of course where there is data, there needs to be some machine learning and artificial intelligence to help process it, especially in a case where the goal is to pull disparate data into a central record. Adobe’s particular flavor of AI is called Sensei and the company is giving developers access to the some of the same AI algorithms it uses in-house to build its platform.

Any time you start pulling data together from a variety of sources to create a central record keeping system about a customer, there are huge privacy implications, and even more so with GDPR coming on line at the beginning of May in the EU. Vittal says the company has built in a governance and compliance layer into the toolset to help companies comply with various regulations around sharing data.

“You cannot turn all of this data into something useful without safeguards— semantics and control.” He says this involves creating a data catalogue, labeling data in the record and associating rules with each type. That way, data emanating from the EU will need to be handled a certain way, just as any personally identifiable information needs to be safeguarded.

This is where the machine learning comes in. “When you create data across the experience system of record, the data catalog recognizes [certain types of] data and recommends labels based on types of data using machine learning.”

All of this is very likely an attempt to compete with Salesforce, which provides sales, marketing and customer service stitched together with their own artificial intelligence layer, Einstein. The recent $6.5 billion MuleSoft purchase will also help in terms of pulling data of disparate enterprise systems and into the various Salesforce tools.

The tools and services announced today give Adobe a fully intelligent, machine learning-driven solution of their own. The whole notion of a customer experience record, while a bit of marketing speak, also serves to help differentiate Adobe from the pack.

Feb
08
2018
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Adobe brings more AI smarts to its Experience Manager

 Unless you’ve ever used it, chances are you’ve never heard of Adobe’s Experience Manager. Inside of large enterprises, though, it’s among the most popular cross-platform content management systems for marketing teams and those who have to manage large online stores. Today, the company is launching an update to the Experience Manager that brings a number of new… Read More

Dec
15
2017
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Adobe had a record quarter, but still has substantial untapped potential

 Adobe announced a record quarter yesterday with $2.01 billion in revenue for Q42017. That represents a healthy 25 percent year over year increase for the company, but about half of that continues to come from Creative Cloud. Experience Cloud, which includes Adobe Marketing Cloud, Adobe Analytics Cloud and Adobe Advertising Cloud in many ways represents promise for even greater revenue in… Read More

Nov
07
2017
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Why Adobe’s Advertising Cloud is (mostly) a private cloud

 Adobe likes to talk about its public cloud partnerships with Microsoft and others, but it doesn’t often talk about its private cloud strategy. It’s no secret that there are plenty of good reasons for using a private data center and Adobe manages a few of these around the globe. For most businesses, opting for a private cloud comes down to cost, but for Adobe’s Advertising… Read More

Nov
03
2017
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Adobe and Microsoft expand partnership with Adobe Experience Manager and Dynamics 365 integration

adobe Adobe and Microsoft expanded their continuing partnership today when they announced that they are making it easy to share data between Adobe Experience Manager, a website marketing tool and Dynamics 365, Microsoft’s CRM tool.
For a sales person that means seeing the latest sales activity and customer interactions from the company website right in the customer record. From a customer… Read More

Nov
01
2017
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InVision picks up $100 million Series E

 InVision, the design collaboration tool based out of New York, has today announced the close of a $100 million Series E funding round. The financing was led by Battery Ventures, with participation from existing investors Accel, Tiger Global Management, FirstMark and ICONIQ Capital, along with new investors Spark Capital and Geodesic. InVision launched back in 2011 as a tool that would simply… Read More

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