Templating meets asset management: Silicon Designer for AEM

We just presented a webinar about our Silicon Designer for AEM software, and the recording is below.

Digital asset management in a nutshell

Digital Asset Management (DAM) has become an essential component of creative workflows. DAM software, such as AEM Assets (the asset management component of Adobe Experience Manager), gives organizations a central location to manage graphic and content elements critical to marketing communications. Assets can be versioned, and reviewed / approved for compliance and brand guidelines, tagged with metadata for efficient search and navigation, and rendered in different formats for efficient multi-channel publishing.

In the most basic use case, graphic assets created with desktop software such as Adobe InDesign, Photoshop, or Illustrator are saved into AEM Assets. The original art file, as well as multiple renditions, (for example different sizes and different formats), are stored in AEM Assets, along with metadata allowing for rights management, review and approval workflows, as well as publishing automation and analytics.

AEM-assets-splash

They say a good DAM does 10 things with assets:

  1. Ingest
  2. Store
  3. Secure
  4. Transform
  5. Enrich
  6. Relate
  7. Process
  8. Find
  9. Preview
  10. Publish

AEM Assets facilitates all of these core functionalities, yet because it's also part of the greater Experience Cloud platform, it adds features such as:

  • Web content management
  • Workflow 
  • Analytics

When we integrate online editing with AEM Assets, the workflow functionality tends to add really fantastic value.

Workflow

AEM lets you define workflows, then apply them. You can, for example, set up a review and approval process that distributes a document in the creation phase to all stakeholders for review, before triggering appropriate steps, based on their feedback. Automating this can save time and money, while reducing errors and enabling brand control.

Online editing with Silicon Designer

So, we've seen what a DAM is, and that AEM Assets offers very robust functionality for asset management. What about online editing? Since its founding in 2000, Silicon Publishing has focused on editing documents online, and in 2009 we released our product, Silicon Designer, to tackle just this challenge.

SD

Why would you want to edit online, when Adobe InDesign provides the ultimate creative control? Organizations find online editing valuable because it enables a broader set of users to directly engage with content, rather than overwhelming one lone designer with 300 requested changes via fax, email, phone, and carrier pigeon.

When only the designer can make changes to a document, they are quickly inundated with requests for changes, which takes time and can introduce error.  The result is a designer who has become a bottleneck.designer-edit3

With Silicon Designer, instead of emailing the designer to request a change, business users can simply make changes themselves. They do this through an easy-to-use web interface, without having to master the fine arts that designers understand: typography, layout, geometry, color spaces, bleeds, die cuts, etc. Silicon Designer separates content from presentation, letting mere mortals make changes to documents which, under the hood, are still complete (and complex) InDesign documents.

RealEstatePostcard

This is possible because of our favorite product from Adobe, InDesign Server. The server flavor of InDesign lets the user turn a template into an editing experience, then save it back to InDesign, allowing output to any format that it supports, including: print-ready PDF, web-ready PNG, etc.

Integrating Silicon Designer with AEM Assets

Iudex Tech created an integration between our Designer and AEM Assets, and it creates an absolutely seamless experience. Users work in AEM, and even when they are accessing Silicon Designer, they never realize that they are using an external module.

Flow

With the integration, users create a special class of AEM asset: an editable InDesign document. Users can "create new from template" to make a new document, within the Silicon Designer editing experience. When they are done, the resulting document is saved back into AEM Assets.

The entire solution is extremely extensible, which is crucial as we see very different use cases: sometimes the users are all internal, with access to the entirety of AEM. In other cases, content managed in AEM is exposed to external users through a portal. Just as AEM is very flexible, the integration with Designer is built to be configurable, accommodating the most common use cases.

An example implementation

At the webinar, we described a specific implementation that demonstrates the value of Silicon Designer for AEM. A charity has event sponsors, who in turn plan events - for example charity golf tournaments. To do this, they manage numerous pieces of collateral (letters, flyers, posters, invitations, web banners, etc.) that are associated with an event.

The challenge

Before using Designer, this was an involved and expensive process, due to three challenges. The charity has to maintain their brand, manage the rights associated with assets, and remain legally compliant. While it would be easier for them to let the sponsor design and produce collateral, the charity assumed most of this responsibility. Therefore they hit the classic issues with a desktop workflow: many edits and changes coming across the desks of the over-worked design team. A change as simple as correcting a phone number, or re-ordering a list of sponsors on an invitation, could require back-and-forth by email, phone, or even fax, just to get it right.

The solution

By deploying Designer in conjunction with AEM Assets, the charity streamlined communications, dramatically improving speed and productivity. Now, sponsors enter information through a portal, and they select approved templates created by the charity. Content is entered directly online, with constraints that protect the charity's brand. When the sponsor completes a document, it simply moves into an automated workflow managed by AEM, in which the Charity reviews and approves documents for adherence to brand standards and legal compliance, before delivering the sponsor ready-to-publish content through the portal.

Benefits 

This saves time and money, while improving the quality of output. Designers are able to focus on template creation, while sponsors can directly edit content through an easy interface, neither having to learn InDesign, nor needing to explain document changes to the charity's design team.  Rights management and legal compliance are supported by a combination of Silicon Designer's fine-grained control of the editing experience, and AEM Assets' management of asset metadata and workflow functionality.

The future of Silicon Designer for AEM Assets

Adobe was the first client of Silicon Publishing, and has been our partner for 20 years. As with technology itself, the only constant is change. Both Silicon Designer and AEM Assets have been evolving as technology has advanced. In several aspects, they move in a similar direction.

Adobe Experience Manager as a Cloud Service 

AEM is moving to become a truly cloud-native application, and its latest incarnation is known as "AEM as a Cloud Service." This means:

  • AEM now enjoys a modern, cloud-native, microservices architecture.
  • Scaling and updating is automatic, managed by Adobe.
  • AEM is always on, at scale, current, and evolving.
  • Developers can focus on extending more than deploying.

Silicon Designer trends and roadmap

Silicon Designer has had a microservices architecture for years, and we've deployed many solutions, recently implementing our own robust cloud. We can use an almost identical approach to integrating the new version of AEM with Designer that we used with AEM 6.5 and earlier, and it is even more elegant. Still, the end-user won't know they left AEM, as the two applications interoperate so seamlessly.

Silicon Designer is also continuing to evolve, with several exciting new features coming this year:

  • Real-time collaboration.
  • Annotations, playing nicely with Acrobat, InDesign, and AEM.
  • Integration of pagination and variable data publishing features.
  • Continued move to long-document support.

We are thankful to have amazing partners like Adobe and Iudex Tech, and we look forward to deploying Silicon Designer for AEM for more organizations in the coming years.

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