What the SDL acquisition of Alterian means for customers

  • 6-Dec-2011

It took a bit of financial courting, but we have another market match: the struggling Alterian has agreed to sell out to SDL for an all-cash, 110p-a-share offer for a total sum of £68.4 million.

To give you a bit of a historical perspective, SDL’s initial offer of 80p-a-share was rejected by Alterian in October, citing “undervaluing the company’s position and its future prospects.” While SDL was busy upping the offer, the struggling Alterian, in the meantime, announced workforce cuts from over 400 people to around 260, attempting to pretty up for the acquisition and reduce annual expenses by about £10.6 million.

Now, SDL has a Web CMS product called SDL Tridion (via an earlier acquisition). Alterian has a Web CMS product as well: Alterian Content Manager, having downsized from three CMS products, killing the Morello and Immediacy brands. The WCM collision, however, is not the most beguiling part of this romance.

In early 2011, SDL has stepped onto the path of what it calls "Pervasive Engagement Management" (a flavor of Web Engagement Management) with the release of SDL Tridion 2011. The release included integration with Netbiscuits (for mobile websites and apps production and delivery) and a new product developed internally called SmartTarget (based on the acquisition of Fredhopper technology). In addition to that, SDL Tridion piled on another new product – the Online Marketing Explorer – and yet another interface to master. All in all, SDL Tridion boasts a hodge-podge of tools that -- even once mastered -- still may not provide a rounded offering of value to customers.

What is most interesting to SDL, then, is Alterian’s marketing suite -- social media monitoring, marketing analytics, and campaign management.  More services to add to the stew.  So the first reason for concern for any current and future customers is that SDL Tridion as a web content management system runs a big risk of turning today's small whale into full-blown bloatware.

The second risk falls to Alterian's WCM customers. The two vendors' web content management businesses are not complementary, if only from a perspective of slightly different customer segments that they can serve.

Let’s just hope that both parties will handle product overlaps more gracefully and transparently than Alterian’s earlier approach: quietly taking their two more junior offspring behind the barn and strangling them. Customers looking for a less gruesome outcome should explore carefully whether SDL follows a clear strategy in words as well as deeds, evolving product maps in a manner that doesn’t send licensees of either CMS product into swirls of panic attacks amid lingering rumors.

On the other hand, there’s also the fact that SDL and SDL Web Content Management division have been trying to expand its partner channel for quite some time now, and licensees still struggle to find qualified implementers of SDL Tridion 2011, let alone prior versions of the product. Alterian boasts a network of approximately 150 marketing services partners, systems integrators, and agencies, which SDL may use to provider greater coverage of services -- assuming they can ramp them up in any reasonable timeframe.

The acquisition is not expected to close until early 2012.