Goodbye CXM. SDL Reboots to Focus on “Taking Digital Content Globally, Faster”


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A couple of weeks ago I attended SDL’s annual user conference, which emphasized the company’s global capabilities to manage content and localize (translate) languages.

I call this a “reboot” because it’s quite a dramatic change from pushing SDL as a holistic Customer Experience Management (CXM) provider. In 2013, then-CEO Mark Lancaster unveiled a strategy to provide an array of solutions for CXM, which he defined as, “a strategy and practice for managing experiences online and offline to acquire, retain, and turn customers into satisfied and loyal customers.”

You Can’t “Focus” on CXM

The problem, of course, is that CXM is an incredibly broad category. So broad, in fact, it really isn’t a category at all, but rather an ecosystem. SDL attempted to become one of the major digital CXM platforms with an ambitious development and acquisition strategy. It didn’t work.

Adolfo Hernandez, SDL
Adolfo Hernandez, SDL
Faced with disappointing business results, the board reversed course in late 2015, sold non-core assets, then appointed Adolfo Hernandez as new CEO in April of this year.

The quote in my post title — “Taking Digital Content Globally, Faster” — came from Hernandez’ conference remarks. He made it crystal clear that the company would focus on two fronts relentlessly:

  • Globalizing content via a Web Content Management System (WCMS).
  • Language translations via human and automated means.

Making the Business Case

These are key issues for major global brands like NetApp, a long-time SDL customer. Anna Schlegel, Sr. Director, Globalization and Information Engineering, spoke about the need to make content distribution both fast and personalized — meaning presented in the language that local users/prospects/customers want. Schlegel says that SDL’s WCMS capabilities helped save 500 FTEs annually and improve time to market.

Sr. Director, Globalization and Information Engineering, NetApp
Anna Schlegel, NetApp
Equally important, but harder to justify, is presenting information in the right language — known as localization. This is a key strength of SDL vs. its WCMS competitors (which includes Acquia, Adobe, Oracle, Sitecore) because it has over 1,000 in-house linguists and translators in 38 countries, and can translate 970 language pairs. Humans translate 100 million words per month, while rapidly growing machine translations now account for 20 billion words per month. Wow.

Schlegel says proving the ROI is “tricky” and spends time with her localization colleagues discussing approaches to get funding for what some CEOs may view as nice to have but not essential. Getting CEOs to travel and spend time with sales people, employees and customers can help build more of an emotional case for not pushing English on everyone worldwide.

“The Opportunity is Huge”

For his part, Hernandez says there’s no need to evangelize global content management. Global brands know they need to do it, and are seeking solution providers to help them get it done. There’s no need to pursue an all-singing-all-dancing CXM strategy because SDL “is in the right place” to capitalize on a “huge” opportunity.

Over the next few years, SDL’s cloud-based solutions (the choice for 9 out of 10 new customers) and ever-improving machine language translation capabilities will open up opportunities in larger SMBs.

Getting back to the here and now, you can see SDL’s digital content focus in these recent announcements:

  • SDL Global Digital Experience Solution™, which provide a number of enhancements to make it easier and faster to create and deliver digital experiences, including localization
  • SDL Global Knowledge Delivery Solution™, which focuses on technical content management and translation management capabilities.

What’s Next?

For what it’s worth, I think SDL’s reboot makes a lot of sense. Over the years I’ve seen quite a few failed attempts of vendors trying to expand from a point solution to a full suite. About 10 years ago, RightNow attempted to shift from a customer service solution to a full CRM suite, but couldn’t pull it off. After deciding to double down on customer service (packaged in CX messaging), the company prospered and eventually was sold to Oracle for $1.5 Billion.

I think the same outcome is possible if not likely for SDL. A successful shift to cloud-based solutions and automated translation will be key, along with better execution in the field. It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next few years.

Disclosure: SDL invited me to this event, gave me a free pass, and paid my travel expenses. This post is part of my independent coverage of industry trends and is not meant as an endorsement of SDL or any other company mentioned.


  1. We are definitely hearing a more positive message about SDL and its new focused offering from our existing SDL Web (formerly Tridion) customers in the field.

    SDL Web has always been very good at handling and allowing the reuse of large amounts of localised content. Pairing this more closely with SDL’s excellent language offering seems like a very sensible move.


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