SDL innovation

Developing Partnerships, Nurturing Talent, Advancing Technology—It’s In Our DNA

Self-congratulation isn’t really in SDL’s DNA. This is not an organization that’s comfortable basking in the glow of past achievements, or even today’s in many cases. We have to make a concerted effort to “blow one’s own trumpet,” and I’ve personally been guilty of preferring to focus on what’s next, rather than what’s been achieved.
SDL is instead a group of people that looks for ways to continually improve the customer’s experience and ability to succeed. This has never been more true than through the course of this year where I witnessed (and participated in) the ‘work-from-home’ mobilization of the entire SDL workforce across 39 countries take place in less than two weeks. Two weeks! This is clearly a testament to the capabilities and agility of our people and technology. We set out to provide a crucial business continuity capability to businesses large and small across the world through the most challenging of circumstances that any of us have seen in our lifetime, and we focused on doing that by helping our customers communicate with their audiences worldwide, whatever the language, format, channel or touchpoint. And just like that I managed to back myself into celebrating something we’ve done. Let’s see if I can keep it up.

Innovation seeds our future 

The alchemy of SDL’s culture is rooted in our investment in talent, technology and process. This mix has enabled us to hold a leading position in a £25bn per annum global marketplace. It’s no mistake or happenstance that SDL is one of the top three Language Service Providers and a leader in the Language Technologies and Structured Content sectors. This was the goal and we backed it up with solid strategy and execution. In terms of technology alone, our 2019 R&D cash spend was £28 million, 89% of which was focused on new features and platform developments that have enabled both SDL itself and our customers to address new market opportunities and sustain growth year-on-year.

The seeds of this began in what now seems like the incredibly distant year of 2016, with the decision to address higher value market segments and increase business effectiveness and efficiency to improve financial outcomes. The strategic decisions taken back then have allowed us to grow our premium services and introduce a significant range of product innovations, particularly in Machine Translation. There’s only a small number of Language Service Providers than can provide the full-service, global capabilities of SDL, and even fewer still that have made the required investments to successfully tackle and integrate AI, Security, and Cloud capabilities into their offerings. There’s a lot of serious intelligence, investment, and teamwork that goes into being able to deliver a marketing tagline such as “90 of the world’s top 100 brands work with SDL.”

Bringing together language, tech and people

One of the most significant technology milestones in the last 18 months was the launch of SDL Language Cloud. This is a new translation management platform that is a native cloud offering and the beneficiary of our incredible depth and breadth of translation management knowledge, neural machine translation capability, AI innovation, and even seamless SDL Trados Studio integration – still the most widely adopted translation productivity tool in the world. I would be remiss not to point out the incredible achievement that has been the release of SDL Trados Studio 2021 and Trados Live featuring intelligent translation memory, autosuggest predictive tying, and neural machine translation capability with access across any device and seamlessly cloud synced.

But back to Language Cloud, it’s now one of the world’s leading language technology platforms and is subject to ongoing innovation with a focus on the rapid and continuous delivery of new features. It’s fair to say our marketing colleagues face a daunting challenge in keeping everyone up to date. Anything you knew a week or so ago about Language Cloud is probably already out of date.

I mentioned Machine Translation earlier as another significant innovation proof point for SDL, and the progress we’ve made in Neural Machine Translation has exceeded even our own expectations. SDL Machine Translation also finds itself in a market where open source and DIY MT are credible options, but proprietary advancements in elements such as adaptive language pairs, quality, AI, and security make it the only possible choice for an increasing number of enterprise and government customers. The results have been very clear in that even within the context of a very challenging market, SDL Machine Translation has succeeded as a cost-effective, feature-rich and robust enterprise solution.

Language services and technology tie directly to content, and SDL Tridion is one of the world’s leading content management systems. Traversing the spectrum from structured content management to web experience management, SDL’s customers adopt Tridion to build a content ecosystem of the future for internal and external audiences. Here too we have focused on what’s next and where our customers’ need to be. Tridion investment continues to focus on providing a best of breed future-proof information foundation that provides intelligent content, explainable AI, and content as a service. Our enterprise customers have been reacting very positively to our developments focused on web delivery and search, contextual delivery, and document management.

I’ve lived through a number of hype cycles in my career in B2B organizations, but AI is one that has delivered more than others in both obvious and unseen ways. I won’t harp on here as many are want to do about their AI capability, but we have delivered AI innovation across our portfolio and within our own operations that has delivered immediate and measurable ROI to SDL and its customers. The type of AI we focus on is Linguistic AI, and we’ve achieved significant strides in natural language processing, natural language understanding, and content understanding and generation. To cover it all, even in summary, would require another blog, and I think we can agree that I’m already well over my allotted word count.

A relentless focus on the customer

Let me land this plane by briefly outlining some proof points. We’ve addressed some interesting challenges for customers, particularly across regulated sectors such as financial services, legal, health and life sciences, in addition to major industrial and engineering sectors. Our work with ‘Made-in-China’ required the translation of some 30 million product descriptions across over 100 languages. Most recently we have been working with RS Components, a leading international distributor of Electronic, Electrical and Industrial components, deploying SDL’s intelligent language solution to translate its entire catalogue of 600,000 products (containing 30 million words) into 12 languages—while producing a ten-fold efficiency gain in translation times for new products from 10 days to one. To say this is the tip of the iceberg is an understatement.

Whilst self-congratulation isn’t in the SDL DNA, and this entire blog has been a concerted effort to address that, what is easy for me is the gratitude I have for everyone that makes all of this possibleour people, our partners, and our customers. With that, let’s get back to the future. I think many of us can’t wait to get there.