On our last trip to Berlin we’ve had the chance to talk to Jan Winkelmann, who is the CEO of ArtEngine, a cloud-based art inventory management for collectors.
How did you get the idea of creating an art inventory management system?
In summer 2012, a good friend of mine asked me for advice. He is an artist, working with four galleries, and he wanted to organize his works independently. Which works are consigned to which gallery, to whom is sold what, which works have been shown in which exhibition? Up to that point he used a book to keep track of all his works. He wanted to move away from the written book and asked me for help to find some software. I recommended some existing software. He looked into them and got back to me, saying that those solutions would be much too complicated to use and furthermore much too expensive. Most of them are downloadable apps that need to be purchased. He asked why didn’t I develop something much smarter, very lean, not too expensive? I thought, well, this could indeed be a market niche. So I talked to our developers and they said, no problem. That was the beginning of ArtEngine.
What does the name ArtEngine stand for?
What intrigued me from the beginning with the name ArtEngine is that it has an analogue element within a cloud-based and thus completely virtual service. We imagined software that would function as a kind of machine room for handling all the information that comes with organizing many artworks. The more we thought about ArtEngine the more we liked the ironically twisted aspect of the name.
The better you know your users, the better you are able to develop a successful system. Could you tell us more about this process and your research?
When we seriously started to consider the long road to developing a software from scratch, we of course started to talk to many people in our potential target group: artists and collectors. It turned out that many artists leave the work up to their galleries. But collectors reacted extremely positively. And many galleries were happy, too, since they are often asked by their clients, “We would like to get some order into our collection. Can you recommend us some easy-to-use software that helps us keep together the information related to the artworks in our collection?” So in the end, it turned out that collectors were our main users.//
For many readers it will be surprising to hear that there are just a few similar products on the market. Even if this is a niche, there are many collectors, galleries and institutions who need to manage their art works. What are the benefits of ArtEngine compared with other systems?
Many of our competitors want too much, i.e. would like to please everybody. We made hard and clear choices when it comes to features. We looked at every single feature from different angles: Do we really need this? Does it help the user or does it give him or her another choice that he needs to consider and make a decision about? We put lots of energy into creating an awesome user experience. Starting with a great, minimalistic and unobtrusive design, continuing with an intuitive way of using ArtEngine that doesn’t require reading a manual or watching an explanatory video in order to get started. We deliver a minimum feature set, but with a maximum of possibilities.
ArtEngine is a cloud-based service and optimized for all kinds of display. You can use it everywhere and it’s always up to date. That is great! And I am sure that this is a big advantage for galleries, too, when they participate at art fairs.
You are right. ArtEngine is responsively designed, which means it looks great on smartphones, tablets and notebooks as well as on 27″ screens. That obviously helps a lot and is part of the great user experience. Many galleries use ArtEngine at art fairs since they have all the data they need at their fingertips. It is possible to mark a work as sold with one click, and colleagues who are in the gallery and not at the fair can see that right away since ArtEngine is cloud-based and all users are connected to the same database. It is even possible from within the app to send details of a work – images and all related information – to a potential client within seconds./
Our daily lives are characterized by the Internet and we manage most of our data online. That’s quite useful but on the other hand we want to keep our data safe. ArtEngine is cloud-based – so how safe is the cloud?
Many discussions were sparked by the NSA scandal. And we are also facing a certain uncertainty about a pure cloud-based service. ArtEngine runs on the SSL certificate, which means all communication between the user’s computer and our servers is encrypted. SSL is the common industry standard for Internet banking worldwide. So ArtEngine is as secure as Internet banking.
Signing up to ArtEngine does not mean buying software. It means using the inventory management system and paying by the month – depending on how many artworks you need to manage. What happens to the data if, for whatever reason, you stop paying?
As I mentioned before, we spent lots of time creating a fantastic user experience. Until today, none of our users felt the need to cancel. We are working hard so that this stays the case, listening carefully to feedback from our users and implementing new features over time. If, despite all this, a user wants to cancel, he or she can of course do that and will get all their data in a common digital format that can be used with other databases.
At the moment you are not only working on an extension to encourage exchange between collectors, but there will also be a Pro Version for galleries. Please tell us more about how you will be further developing ArtEngine.
We have lots of fancy new features and enhancements on our agenda. Some of our competitors have already reacted by copying features from us – and I am flattered by that, because it is a great compliment. But since we are observed in such a way, please forgive me for not wanting to go into detail about that question.//
How do users respond to ArtEngine?
We get lots of positive response from our users. They love ArtEngine, and, as I mentioned, so far no one has canceled their subscription. We are doing our best to keep it that way.//
Thank you for your time!
Interview by Sabrina Möller
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