Cambridge’s Imagen To Help Businesses Manage Video In The Cloud

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Exclusive Interview: CEO Tom Blake and Chairman John Pearson explain why Cambridge Imaging Systems is rebranding and how cloud platform can help businesses of all sizes

British video management specialist Cambridge Imaging Systems (CIS) is rebranding as Imagen – the name of its most popular product – as it seeks to increase awareness of its transition from an on-premise project to a cloud-based future.

Since its formation in the 1980s, Imagen has worked with a range of media companies and other clients like the Ministry of Defence (MoD), working on bespoke systems to archive and manage content, mainly videos.

The company is now targeting businesses with its cloud platform – a product created from the experience of creating these systems. The company hopes it can now become a technology partner for businesses of all sizes, relying on a steady stream of income rather than individual commissions.

Virgin Radio co-founder and former Shazam chairman John Person is on board to perform a similar role, and his new firm has moved into new, larger offices in Cambridgeshire to accommodate its planned growth.

Transition

Tom Blake Imagen“Every company is making video,” CEO Tom Blake (left) told TechWeekEurope in Imagen’s first interview since the rebrand, explaining that at the basic level, firms were using video for training, marketing and commercial activity. “Not all this can go on YouTube.”

At its most basic level, Imagen combines images with metadata, allowing companies to easily search and archive content, while allowing employees to work together on projects. The same service is provided to SMBs and larger clients like BP, with security deemed good enough for military intelligence.

It’s this desire to expand that has resulted in the rebrand, with Blake admitting not everyone will know what CIS is and what it does.

Origins

The firm traces its roots back to the 1980s, when its founders were dealing with seed packets, before the MoD decided it wanted a better way to manage visual intelligence during the first Gulf War.

“The British government got wind of what the founders of CIS were doing and asked them to come in and apply them to intelligence imagery,” said Blake, adding the MoD was previously sending negatives and images back and forth between the UK and Kuwait. “That was really the birth of what was to become CIS came from.”

Imagen also created tools to monitor every readily available news broadcast around the world for ‘strategic intelligence’ and the systems have been used by BBC Monitoring since 2001. However around the same time, British Pathé was awarded a National Lottery grant to digitise its archive of newsreels – a contract won by Imagen.

“That was the birth of the commercial iteration of our technology,” said Blake. “That was the first video library that was ever online. This was pre-YouTube.”

Cloud future

imagen 2A steady stream of projects followed – including Box of Broadcast (BoB), a television programme archive used by university students – but Imagen eventually decided to create a cloud product that could be easily deployed by any business, allowing its entire client base to use the same version.

“We realised we could deploy the software just as easily on the public cloud as we could on-premise for a large media organisation,” said Blake. “This has taken the shackles off and means we could get to a place where we could auto-deploy our enterprise video platform. We tend to use Microsoft Azure because we have a very strong partnership with them to the point we are entering into a co-marketing phase with them, but the product can be deployed on any public or private cloud.”

Other cloud platforms like Box are offer similar management products, complete with metadata, but Blake is keen to point out Imagen is an asset management system capable of handling documents, PDFs and other files. Blake notes the BoB archive comprises 1.3 million television programmes, with every subtitle included as metadata for easy search – a “massive” amount of data.

Expansion plans

Imagen used two examples to demonstrate the value of a cloud-based system. Firstly, the ATP men’s tennis tour can send highlights to media partners with a simple click rather than having to book satellite slots to transmit footage for news broadcasts – saving money and ensuring round the clock clips can be sent around the world.

The other is an upcoming partnership with Reuters that will see raw, unedited news footage uploaded to the system at the same time it’s being broadcast, providing university students with a wealth of content to work with.

Pearson (below) has come on board to help grow the company and plans to draw on his experience with Shazam – a fast growing, app and data company which he says is similar to Imagen.

John Pearson Imagen“When I joined Shazam, it had gone through a very disastrous period of spending lots of money and nearly going broke,” he explained. “We brought that business up to its current $1bn valuation.”

Imagen also hopes its new headquarters can continue to attract developer talent. Cambridge is increasingly home to a number of technology firms, which Blake said has its advantages and disadvantages.

“It’s a very competitive place to employ talent,” he said, adding that although the company has thought about outsourcing it is committed to staying in the city – despite there being “110 percent employment.”

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