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SDL Surprises with Cloud & Connectors

Posted on 11.17.2016



If there were two words SDL was sure to represent at its annual user conference held this week in Palo Alto, Calif., it’s those (with some footnotes). Under the direction of its new, motivated CEO, Adolfo Hernandez, SDL changed its look (debuting a new asterisk-clad logo, see below) and found its focus: content and language. Where SDL stood to improve was unifying the two. SDL has always had both, of course, but they were different, Hernandez says, coexisting under the same language. There is no value, however, in the language piece without the content piece so what SDL is building is “the deepest possible integration.”  How is SDL accomplishing that overdue goal? What is scalable, secure and can significantly reduce costs all over? The cloud, of course.

It’s a new day for SDL, and the cloud is the company’s best shot (in its own words) of future-proofing. 

SDL Global Digital Experience Solution is a unified offering SDL is taking to market now - and the demand for a unified product is there. Betsy Fallon, EVP of global client services, says a lot more customers are using multiple SDL products, and so the company has had to respond to how customers want and need its solutions to work together. The cloud-based solution includes Web content management, translation management, machine translation (2 million words) and human translation (package is worth the translation of an average website into eight languages).

Product Marketing Director Arjen van den Akker listed the offering’s benefits as: 

Go global faster

Simplified onboarding

Saves costs

Pre-integrated technology

Process improvements

Attractive price point

The challenge is getting the “majority” (by a show of hands in a conference room) of SDL’s customers to migrate from versions that are three, four, five years old – and to buy into SDL’s self-described “restart” as a brand, in what is a very, very competitive market. Other vendors – providing pretty incredible technology themselves – are looking to take that existing business and new business, too. 

In terms of Web experience solutions (or content management systems for the rest of us), SDL is competing against the likes of Adobe, Oracle, SAP Hybris, Acquia, DNN, Sitecore, Episerver and others. Website Magazine has always ranked SDL, however, a top player (#15 on our recent list) in this market – and for good reason. 

As each CMS vendor releases features that empower marketers to personalize experiences and deliver content that is relevant to customers in the moment they need it (in many cases without developer intervention), SDL’s value proposition holds up against them. This is particularly true for organizations with very complex content needs (managing and delivering marketing, technical and customer support content on myriad channels, across multiple languages and brands). This is where SDL has historically lived – large enterprises. A July 2016 hire, however, is possibly expanding that target. 

Thomas Labarthe, EVP business development for SDL, is sponsoring initiatives to reach small and medium business. And, why not? With SDL’s focus on offering a unified, cloud-based solution for content and language the company has a lot more flexibility to sell to this market that needs agility and speed and craves support. Since SDL is founded in service (even announcing the launch of a traditional consulting service this week) and software, it’s uniquely positioned to offer strong support to the smaller business if that’s the road they do in fact go down. The execution will come down to pricing, and that structure may be changing at SDL for SMBs that are growing accustom to paying for services as they go and be able to predict costs thanks to the software-as-a-service model, which is “definitely something we are looking into” said Labarthe. 

Surprised? Don’t be. In nearly every conversation had with executives in Palo Alto this week, big, company-changing ambitions were discussed. 

CEO Hernandez (shown), on his 214th day with SDL today, has learned very quickly and has made decisions equally as fast. While he feels the weight of the responsibility – to do right by a lot of people (customers, colleagues, investors) – he’s an admitted adrenaline junkie and loves all of this “action” saying there’s nothing better than doing a transformation: the ability to look at what you have, define where you are going and where you want to go, and identify that transformation plan. In many ways, Hernandez, SDL and their 4,000 employees in offices everywhere from San Jose and São Paulo to Seoul to Sydney are on the same transformation journey as many of SDL's clients – businesses that are looking for that digital edge. 

To get that edge, brands are exploring their software options, of course, and SDL is under no pretenses that it can sell everything to everyone. By combining its content and language offerings though, it's a strategy that makes it a bigger player in the former, as it has already cornered the market in the latter. In the same breath, the industry might be surprised by how willing SDL is now to an open environment even if it means building connectors with head-to-head competitors like those mentioned previously.

At SDL Connect, the company announced connectors for the likes of Sitecore, Episerver, hybris, Salesforce, Oracle, etc. (see image). Labarthe even said SDL wants to be the, “most connected and most open player in our industry.” The reason? Customer demand. 

That thought certainly makes sense when connecting with software that provides customers functions that SDL does not, like for e-commerce connecting to Oracle Commerce (or NetSuite) needs to happen as SDL does not own any orders, inventory, etc. On the other hand, connecting to direct competitors is a strategy that addresses the fact that competition is part of SDL’s business. This thought is in stark contrast to SDL of years past when the company was much less open because of the competitive tension factor.

Today, however, Hernandez tells Website Magazine that he doesn't mind co-existence, but is not giving up the aspiration to replace competitor products. 

What do you think of SDL's "restart"? Let us know in the comments below.  

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