Based in Soho, the lively creative hub of London, Tapestry is an independently owned multi-disciplinary creative production agency that prides itself on both its staff and its client retention; some of the latter group have been with the company for nearly two decades.
Tapestry’s history with DALIM SOFTWARE stretches back that far too. In the mid-1990s the company was the first UK site to install the DALIM LITHO artwork make-up system, and with four seats, was one of the biggest users of that dedicated production system which offered capabilities and performance that Mac-based alternatives of the time could not match.
“It was a huge investment at the time but it supported our work for News International and Express Group newspapers,” recalls Tapestry managing director Tony Garrett, adding, “DALIM SOFTWARE was a huge part of that operation, producing all adverts for both groups.”
Growth in work for publishing clients such as Dorling Kindersley led Tapestry to add DALIM TWIST to automate workflows. “The success of LITHO meant that buying TWIST was a matter of course. It went into use on ads and publishing work and was crucial for us,” confirms Garrett. TWIST’s ability to automate production tasks right through to the final deliverable was key, and it is still very much part of Tapestry’s production suite today.
Although the newspaper work declined, DALIM LITHO remained in use until the mid-2000s, producing packaging for Marks & Spencer. “LITHO was brilliant for this,” says Garrett. “It could handle cutter guides, special colours and transparency so we used it for artwork make-up. We then won Marks & Spencer’s point-of-sale (PoS) work and were producing up to two thousand pieces of artwork a week. We wouldn’t have got by without DALIM SOFTWARE tools.”
Over time, however, the prevalence of Mac-based artwork and files being sent into the organisation meant that LITHO had to be retired and Tapestry went all-Mac as part of moving its packaging operation to the Frith Street, Soho site in 2003. The packaging operation, with it DIALOGUE Engine soft-proofing and clients Playstation manufacturer Sony and games developer Electronic Arts.
Knowing the score
Growth in workload at Tapestry meant that by 2007/8, a more advanced asset management and approval tracking system was needed to book and track jobs for the Marks & Spencer PoS work.
“The number of assets had grown, more people were involved and we were handling work for global territories,” explains technical director Mark Saunders. “We needed a client-facing tool but there wasn’t a great deal of choice, so we chose best-of-breed solutions for digital asset management (DAM), soft-proofing, a web front-end and a database back-end.”
The components that were selected were Xinet’s WebNative Suite for the DAM and client-facing portal, DIALOGUE Engine for soft-proofing and FileMaker for the internal job database. Knitting these together was done in-house by Saunders and his colleagues, and the resulting system was called Symphony.
“We fused the different software together and created a bit of a beast,” jokes Saunders. “The DALIM SOFTWARE and Xinet elements fitted each other well and security was not such an issue then.”
However, continued strong growth in the Sony and EA accounts meant that by summer of 2016 the Symphony system was becoming increasingly discordant.
“We were handling creative work for each Sony game title, which had to be rolled out across multiple platforms and in multiple languages, plus ‘bundle box’ variants that included the game and additional peripheral hardware items” explains Saunders. The EA work was predominantly digital and so did not include box packaging but software download cards, marketing and PoS items; all these items were also tracked within Symphony.
“Each item was in a separate approval cycle and they were all different,” says Saunders. “We were hitting the limits, trying to do things Symphony wasn’t initially designed for. The workflows were getting so complex that we couldn’t do what our clients wanted and were having to put manual steps back into the workflow.”
Further pressure was added by the fact that all games developers work to the same annual cycle, with peak production between August and November in time for the Christmas season. Tapestry’s in-house team were self-trained and were struggling to resolve the issues that the burgeoning workload was generating. Because of the bespoke nature of the system, it was also difficult to get external support.
In an increasingly online world, security was also becoming a significant concern. “The system is penetration tested regularly by our larger clients. As more sophisticated vulnerabilities were found, our remediation time was becoming longer and longer, due to the resource strain on our development team,” explains Saunders.
There were also usability barriers: “Passing authenticated users between the Xinet DAM software and DIALOGUE Engine soft-proofing was hard enough, but keeping granular permissions between different software packages was nearly impossible. This led to constantly patching security flaws and ultimately having to strip functionality from the system in order to make it as secure as possible,” he adds.
User management and system scaling were also problems, while maintenance and support costs were spiralling because of the multitude of contracts needed to cover all the components of the system. Producing accurate client reports based on usage of Symphony was also rather a hit-and-miss affair.
There all the time
As matters came to a head during the 2016 production peak, Tapestry arranged what turned out be a pivotal meeting with DALIM SOFTWARE integrator IO Integration to look at what steps could be taken.
It turned out that the answer had literally been there all along. Tapestry had bought an early version of DALIM ES in 2011 to provide flatplanning capabilities in support of a pitch to a prospective publishing client.
“We had looked at ES again as versions 3 and 4 were released, but we still saw it as a flatplan tool,” recalls Saunders. “In our meeting with IO, it became apparent that ES could provide a solution. It was the best meeting I’ve ever been in, as we sat there ticking off the list of key components.”
Having realised that ES could do everything that Tapestry needed, and continue to provide the familiar DIALOGUE Engine and TWIST capabilities, it was a case of effectively building a new system around it. The next challenge was whether this could be done in time to be ready for the next production peak.
From the October 2016 meeting, the system was built and implemented in time for key Tapestry clients to be testing it by the end of January 2017, with jobs being booked in to the new ‘Symphony ES’ from mid-February.
“It’s been incredibly fast, IO helped us enormously,” comments Saunders, adding, “Initial client meetings have been very positive, we’ve focused on the speed of the new system, showing how asset filtering and searches that used to take a significant length of time are now achieved in seconds.”
In the new configuration, ES takes on the task of the DAM and online portal, plus handling interaction with DIALOGUE Engine for soft-proofing and TWIST for production automation. The load on FileMaker is consequently reduced as its role reverts to that of version logging, and updating job statuses for internal purposes.
The system is now based in a highly secure data centre, meeting the security requirements of Tapestry’s clients and providing easy scalability. The TWIST server located in Soho will also be transitioned to the data centre in coming weeks.
While the user interface that Tapestry’s client see for soft-proofing via DIALOGUE Engine will change slightly, Saunders is confident that the dramatic increase in speed and security will more than offset any resistance to change.
Another benefit for Tapestry is that the company now feels able to use its in-house asset management system as a sales tool rather than keeping it behind the scenes. “We never actively sold Symphony”, explains Saunders, “but due to ES’s scalability, putting extra strain on the system is less of a concern and the sales guys are certainly interested. It’s a tool they’ve never had in their armoury.”
While Tony Garrett is holding the sales team’s enthusiasm in check for the time being, pointing out that it’s important to gain the confidence of their existing users first, he can already see how several other Tapestry clients could benefit. He says that DALIM SOFTWARE has been central to the company’s continuing success:
“DALIM SOFTWARE has been a big thing for us throughout the company’s history. We’ve been users of its four major software solutions – LITHO,
DIALOGUE Engine, TWIST and ES.”
Saunders agrees that the strength of the enduring relationship has been key to the most recent developments. “Knowing DALIM SOFTWARE was a big factor in our decision. The future of our business hangs on this working properly, we had to put our trust in them.”
After more than 20 years working together, that trust looks justified.