White car with "SDL" on the license plate. SDL is driving toward a focus on language and content.
SDL is driving toward a focus on language and content. PHOTO: Jordan LAB

Language and content management technology provider SDL continued its renewed "organizational focus" this week at the SDL Connect user conference in San Jose, Calif. with the launch of the SDL Tridion DX digital experience product.

The launch is only half of the story though. With the new offerings, the Maidenhead, England-based company sees an opportunity to regain some of the ground it previously lost in the web content management and digital customer experience markets by pushing these functions as complementary to its language translation and technology products.

"Where companies that have language and WCM disconnected, we are a key differentiator," Arjen van den Akker, SDL's product marketing director, told CMSWire Wednesday in a phone interview from SDL Connect. 

"Companies don't recognize that value until they have the problem. They go for a shiny, sexy CMS. Tridion is also a very good CMS with a decent user interface. ... What we are offering is very effective at managing large amounts of content," van den Akker said.

What's Inside SDL Tridion DX

For anyone thinking the Tridion name rings a bell, it is a throwback to Web CMS provider Tridion, which SDL acquired in 2007

SDL Tridion DX brings together SDL Web, its web content management offering and SDL Knowledge Center, which combines WCM and Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA)-based structured content management underneath the new names SDL Tridion Sites and SDL Tridion Docs.  

The new offerings are designed to let users manage marketing content and structured product information along with content stored in third-party ecommerce, DAM and PIM systems, SDL officials said.

Translation Is Key to SDL Future

Rebranding aside, SDL recognizes it has to do more work to regain its leader status in the web content management and digital customer experience market, although the company still appears in digital experience and Web CMS analyst's reports today.

SDL is in the second year of a three-year "organizational focus," as CEO Adolfo Hernandez said in the company's first-half earnings report released in August. It's renewing "sales and productivity engines and investing in innovation, particularly cloud services and machine translation," the CEO noted. 

The refocus on its language translation services and technology products is a key part of this change. SDL now views its Global Content Technologies (GCT) — composed of WCM and documentation products — as complementary to the language suite.

Trimming Off the Software Fat

SDL Executive Chairman David Clayton admitted last year the company failed to gain significant wins with its customer experience management suite because it put the "wrong salesmen" in "wrong opportunities." Its messaging was too heavily orientated toward a suite approach rather than going to market with point-focused CXM solutions, Clayton said.

As a result, SDL decided to sell its Fredhopper (ecommerce optimization), Social Intelligence and Campaign & Analytics businesses, which it deemed to be non-core. Those sales were completed this year with a profit of $27.1 million, according to SDL's financial filings.

SDL didn't make the profit it expected in the first half of this year though. It had a before-tax profit of $1.2 million in the first six months this year, which Hernandez called below expectations. He cited "higher costs of delivering on new initiatives and planned investment."

"If 2016 was the year of analysis and preparation, 2017 is the year of execution and implementation," Hernandez said in the earnings report. 

Multinational Digital Publishing Victories

The refocus seems to make sense, according to Tony Byrne, founder and CEO of Olney, Md.-based Real Story Group, which helps enterprise technology users select Web CMS technology. Byrne told CMSWire that SDL's alignment around multilingual digital "makes a lot of sense, given the product’s core history and the vendor's other capabilities." 

Managing global content is a real-world challenge.

SDL Connect attendee Melissa Burns, a B2B marketer for Newbury, England-based Micro Focus, is interested in Global Content Operating Model (GCOM) technology. 

“It could potentially help with the ability to deliver consistent brand message and global content, removing silos,” she told CMSWire. 

"Doing global and localized digital at scale remains a hard problem," Byrne added. "SDL might have fallen behind the marketing-feature horse race to the likes of Sitecore and Adobe in the WCM market, but some of our enterprise subscribers with highly complex, multinational digital publishing operations still prefer what Tridion can bring to bear on their content challenges. So strategically, I think this is a good move."

Smart Rebrand, API-First Approach

Dominic Cronin, principal consultant at Amsterdam-based Cronin Technology has handled multiple SDL Tridion implementations. He told CMSWire he likes Tridion coming back to the brand because "many people associate this name with technical and functional excellence going back to the beginning of what we used to call web content management."

Cronin lauded SDL's API-first approach it discussed this week: SDL Tridion DX’s new Data Integration Framework provides access to backoffice solutions, from analytics and marketing automation to product lifecycle management systems, SDL officials announced.

Headshot of Dominic Cronin, an SDL Web CMS implementer.

"It's always been one of the strengths of the product: having great APIs to integrate with whatever other systems you want to or need to," Cronin told CMSWire. "That lets you let Tridion take care of the things it's very good at, and have it communicate directly with your other systems where that makes sense. And these days, it's much more likely that people want to have their content consumed directly via an API. Tridion's already good at this, and I think we'll expect to see more."

Ron Grisnich, author of above Tweet and co-founder of Amsterdam-based SDL implementer Trivident, was an employee of Tridion before it was acquired by SDL. He told CMSWire that SDL, among other areas of improvement, "should catch up on the editor experience side of things, which is much more than just offering WYSIWYG."

"SDL Tridion's UI could definitely use a revamp," Grisnich said. Version 9 of SDL Tridion Sites is due out next year.

Upgrade, Integration Challenges

SDL has had upgrade challenges with Tridion, Cronin added, because it sits across a "variety of different platforms in the enterprise and has so many integration points."

"It used to be a real challenge to do an upgrade," Cronin told CMSWire. "To be fair, customers quite often wanted to do a complete set of platform upgrades at the same time, but you'd end up with a huge project. What we've seen with recent releases is that with the move to modern architectures, the dependencies between the different parts are much softer, meaning that you can take a much more measured approach to staying up-to-date."

With a new release coming out, customers can take advantage of this and opt for a phased roll-out instead of the traditional big bang, Cronin said.

"It might not sound like much," he added, "but down in the trenches, that's a huge win."

Headshot of Arjen van den Akker, SDL's product director of marketing.

SDL's van den Akker told CMSWire that upgrades are "never a walk in the park" with multiple systems integrating with CMS. However, he added, SDL's new decoupled nature allows independent upgrades between the front and back ends, which reduces complexity, he said.

You can also automate system extensions deployments. Van den Akker also cited SDL Tridion Sites DXA for website implementations using open source frameworks and toolkits. DXA is available in both .NET and Java versions.

Third-Party Connector Framework

Jonathan Williams, a Tridion MVP and implementer for digital agency Stage Two in Manchester, England, said SDL's connector framework is a good idea. SDL’s new Connector Framework for language provides access and connects to third-party platforms and applications, including Microsoft OneDrive, Microsoft SharePoint, Google Drive, Box, Zendesk and others.

Williams cited SDL's greater focus on integrations with its SDL Tridion Sites CMS platform — such as third-party solutions for ecommerce, marketing automation, CRM and DAM, for example.

"There are lots of Tridion implementations out there that integrate with other best-of-breed solutions," Williams added, "but the new connector framework will help to strengthen the integrations and encourage better reuse. With the ship now pointing in the right direction, I just hope that SDL gives enough backing to ensure best-of-breed quality in the areas they’re focusing on."