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[A] Podcast: Intelligent Content Supply Chains

Interview With Adolfo Hernandez

Adolfo Hernandez, CEO of SDL, talks on the emerging use of machine learning, machine linguistics, and AI in this hyper-growth era of content.

Bio

Adolfo Hernandez is the CEO of SDL, joining in 2016. He has been in leadership positions at IBM, Sun Microsystems, Alcatel-Lucent, and Acision.

SDL is the global leader and innovator in language and content management solutions. With over 4,400 employees and serving 90 out of the top 100 Global brands, SDL has grown operations to 39 countries.

When he’s not at the helm of a global company, he’s undertaking adventures that demand those same qualities. In 2013, he and a crew of nine others sailed across the Atlantic in fourteen “very interesting” days.

Resources

Visit the Connect 2018 event website to view highlights and sessions from 2018.

SDL Connect 2019 will take place on October 9-10 at the San Francisco Airport Marriott Waterfront Hotel.

Transcript

Cruce
Welcome to Towards a Smarter World. This is your host Cruce Saunders and I'm here today with Adolfo Hernandez. He is the CEO of SDL. He joined in 2016 and has been in leadership positions at IBM, Sun Microsystems, Alcatel-Lucent and Acision. SDL is the global leader and innovator in language and content management solutions with over 4400 employees and serving 90* out of the top 100 global brands. SDL has grown operations to 39 countries. When he's not at the helm of a global company he's undertaking adventures that demand those same qualities. In 2013 he and a crew of 9 others sailed across the Atlantic in 14 very interesting days. Adolfo, Thanks for joining.
 
Adolfo
Thank you very much. Great to be here.
 
Cruce
What part of machine learning, machine translation, and artificial intelligence are we seeing take a role in today's enterprise?
 
Adolfo
Well, I think they will all play a big role. If you look at the changes that are taking place in today's enterprise from a content perspective, we're seeing changes in the content creation phase, we're seeing changes in the content translation phase, and we’re seeing changes in the content delivery phase. So artificial intelligence, linguistic AI, all the translation management systems, machine translation, they will play different roles in that. In particular we see machine translation to play a big role given as the super scale translation needs. If you think about the fact that only 1% of the enterprise content is translated by humans, so the other 99% is by machines, it's going to play a massive role and then linguistic A.I. is going to play a bigger role on the content creation. So, how are we going to get the processing down and the understanding of the generation of content? Then ultimately it is also going to play a role on the delivery side of it. Understanding what the experience has to look like, understanding personalization, understanding what needs to be delivered to what individual and what format and what touchpoint and in what language. So, everything is going to be playing a big role. And this is what makes this industry so interesting and fascinating.
 
Cruce
At SDL Connect there's been a lot of talk about the content supply chain. What is the state of that supply chain today and where does it need to go and how does all this M.L. technology play a role in that future?
 
Adolfo
Well, content supply chain sounds really sexy, but it really is doing to content what we've done to physical goods. So, throughout the second half of the 20th century, whether you were in retail operations or in manufacturing or you’re in any other industry, you would have a well-defined governed supply chain that made businesses successful.Somehow, we moved into the 21st century and we thought that chaos would work, and it doesn't. So, content needs a little bit of governance and it needs a sequence. It needs a sequence of what gets created by whom, and what source, and what tools. How is that going to be created, thinking about the subsequent translation requirements? As we’re creating content, we’ve got to think about how that’s translated, and we've got to think about the layout and the touch points, and the content supply chain is what is supposed to be articulated.

We've come out with a concept of a global content operating model. That is supposed to give that light governance but some structure as to how these things have to happen. Current state? Very varied by companies. So, some of them are still very siloed. Everything is done in isolation in different departments or different areas. All of these are starting to say well, yes, we are somewhat repetitive, so we now use some well-known recipes in different parts of the organizations.

Others are a little bit more advanced in what we call a “managed state” where things are sort of integrated and they make sense. And then over time the few very successful ones - more advanced - they’re in that sort of optimized stage where they really have processes that are really working well with each other - they're well-oiled and things have been thought through so you are creating content knowing that you are going to be translated and you're translating it in an integrated fashion and that it’s going to be delivered.

Over time, the next frontier where no business that I know of is there, is having ML and AI helping adapt. I think this is what we call autonomous state. How our content will create itself - content will start organizing itself and that's something we'll have to get to in the future and something we're working on.
 
Cruce
Exciting times for the change of content. I wonder what other trends in the overall space do you see that are not necessarily machine learning and AI related.
 
Adolfo
I think there is a phenomenon that may sound very mundane but is critical which is hyper-growth of content because the growth that we're seeing in the proliferation of the content assets that enterprises, large global enterprises, have to process it's going through the roof. And we've gone past the threshold where throwing humans at the problem was the solution. So, we're getting into that area where there is no way we're going to solve it with humans alone. And I think that has huge implications because you have to use a lot more technology. You've got to be able to do automation. So mundane things such as growth is generating a lot of operational challenges and opportunities.

The other thing that's happening is content is being originated in different parts of the world. So no longer is it being generated by native English speakers. So, the source content is changing because sometimes it's being generated in a different flavor of English, and sometimes it's being generated in another language. So that's introducing some interesting nuances and ultimately the growth of omnipoints, where the content has to get to, is really making the delivery phase more complicated. You know about detecting what device you're on and adapting to the resolution of the screen is way more complex. It’s car dashboards, it's TVs, some proprietary devices that some retailers might have. So that's sort of adding complexity, and for us we thrive in that complexity because we aim to simplify that for our customers. So good times to be in this industry.
 
Cruce
And the penetration of SDL within the enterprises is very significant. What parts of the enterprise do you see being affected by SDL products over the next five years?
 
Adolfo
Traditionally we've been quite close with the product owners, the product organizations at-large. Sometimes that would be the engineering groups and times that would be the product marketing group. That's sort of been the natural space. Obviously since we did the acquisition integration of Donnelley Language Solutions, that has changed. They have traditionally worked with different buying centers. They've been working more with the general counsel side of the organization, with the financial departments, so they've been working with different people. So, if you look at the suitability of the tools and the solutions that we build, they equally apply to the product marketing department, the finance department, and to the legal department. So, I think that's kind of where we're going to be engaged in in enterprises over the next few months.
 
Cruce
That's one of the interesting things I find about the SDL messaging and product suite.  The movement towards convergence across content sets and it seems to be very heterogeneous within the customer base. There's folks coming from marketing from technical communications from legal and compliance all over the enterprise. Where do you think the biggest sources of pain are right now within those enterprise buyers? What kinds of messages are you hearing from customers about what hurts the most?
 
Adolfo
In an extreme case we hear some customers saying,  “Our inability to repurpose and recreate and retranslate content quick enough is impacting our ability to do business in some jurisdictions.” So, some customers would directly link business performance or lack of business performance to inability to repurpose, recreate, and translate and deliver content. So, the very extreme cases, and you can think about some industrial companies where they're trying to bring some new goods they need from a new jurisdiction, well you can't do that without having the right documentation at the marketing level.

Of course, from the sales, contractual information, support information, manuals - so you can see how not having the content could stop some of these guys there and then. In other cases people will complain about the complexity and how do they manage the content supply chain and how do they find the right content and how do they make sure that they're not re-creating content that they already created somewhere else in the organization. They just don't know what it takes. So, they sort of talk a lot about inefficiency.

And then there are these others that are looking at quality; and quality could be the quality of the content that gets created, the quality of the content that gets translated, how we get delivered, consistency of experience, consistency with the visual presentation.  It’s  not the same to write something in long German sentences that would be presented in Kanji. So how do you make the layouts to be consistent but also consistency around terminology. How does a company always sound the same? We hear some customers talking to us and they want to talk about tone of voice because they want to always sound with the same level of formality, the same level of informality. So different customers, different problems. But I think the challenge for a content globalization a company like ours is we've got to be able to help them no matter what the problem is. And therein lies the beauty.
 
Cruce
There's a really interesting thread within SDL about the five future states of content talking about content being self-organizing and agile; secure and self-creating, and the best sales person for the enterprise. What's driving those changes and how is SDL enabling that shift?
 
Adolfo
So, when you are building a company's capabilities, like what we're doing at SDL, you need to know what you're solving for. And I think we will be doing a bad job if we were trying to solve for today's problem. So, what we did with these Five Future States of Content is we’re trying to sort of plot into the future what we think the future's going to look like. So, then we can A) tell our customers where we think they're going and why. And B) plan our investments, plan our research and development, plan our talent acquisition strategy, talent development strategy, our partnership strategy, so that we can deliver to that future. So, this is what's behind this Five Future States, and it's informing pretty much every decision we make. As we look at whether this is driving towards that agenda or not. And it’s given us an avenue to build our future. I think it's given us a good tool to discuss with our customers. Do they think that's the right place to be? And most importantly is where they think they are on that journey and what help do they need.
 
Cruce
The self-creating content was baffling to me when I first heard that. But as I've heard the story it actually makes sense and it was really triggered when I was hearing about the self-developing taxonomy. So, the idea that we need to align our taxonomies, which is something that works with our clients on is making sure that we've got unified taxonomy. But it's more than that it's like let's create machine learning layers that will graph that and create self-learning associations between content.  That's pretty exciting where content is helping to connect itself to other content.
 
Adolfo
I think there are two sides to that. So, you have the first side which is the self-creation. So, content will not create itself out of ether. It will create itself out of other existing content. Which is where we're bringing in AI into. We've got the linguistic AI that will use that. It will ingest some content that exists, and will just permeate and generate different form factors. Over time we may be able to change to a different tone of voice, using the same content. We'll be able to extract terminology. We'll get to extract key messages, to extract numbers and do a lot of things, so that's one side. The other side is the self-organization, which is taxonomy, and in a really simplistic term, it is about find ability, isn't it? It's about if you know what you've got and if you know where this, then you're able to self-organize; it lends itself to be found. And once it is found it can be either recreated, reused or repurpose. So, we've got those two avenues with AI,  one to create,  and the other one is to organize. And we believe to the two sides of the same coin.
 
Cruce
Really interesting. If machines being involved with both the content itself, and the semantics around the content itself for discoverability and for customer journey acceleration and customer personalization enablement, how do you expect customer journeys to change in the future? All of our users of these CMS platforms are all creating experiences for customers and those journeys are evolving - our customers’ customers. What is that journey changing into overtime?
 
Adolfo
I am hoping the journey becomes a more continuous journey. So, I know as a consumer when I go in and start doing my research of what I'm going to buy, maybe an exception, I like to go into the product reviews. I start with the product reviews, and then I want to get a true understanding what the product is, so I go into the product information. And then maybe I will go to marketing. So that journey today as a consumer is a rather frustrating one. There are very few brands that give me that journey in that way. And even if I started in marketing then I'll end up having to go to a very different place to go about product information. So, I think bringing continuity on the journey would be very important.

I would say that's even more important than personalization. And I thinkas an industry, we spend a lot of time on personalization, but we have personalized a lot of fragmented journeys. I would rather just have a continuous journey and then personalize that. I think that's what we hope and that it works. And then second thing is we're going to make sure that these journeys work across multiple languages and we understand that there is a cultural thing. So, when you're looking at a Japanese buying experience, there is a lot more than translation. It has to be a lot more zen looking like than a German site would be. And those things I think we don't build those integrated fully cultural-aware, fully-globalized customer experiences. 
 
Cruce
The mission: the universal understanding of content. Can you talk a little bit about that because this is this seems to be speaking to a deep need to create content experiences across channels as is an enabling factor in creating this vision and accomplishing this mission that I've been hearing about. Can you tell us more about that?
 
Adolfo
Yes, at the core of the vision is the belief in that universal understanding and I think the vision is kind of what each company is trying to do in the world. So what are you bringing? I think we're bringing in understanding. This is something we sort of coined and launched a company when we launched the company in 2016 is delivering that. And then you do that through a number of things; obviously language is a key one. We're also now doing accessibility because that's also a universal understanding. And then it is all about how do we humanize all of this digital content? And that humanization is making sure I understand that, and that it speaks to me, speaks to my values. And if it's something that is sort of a marketing thing, it really resonates with what we expect the consumer to do. And if you're in Japan or you're in France you’re addressed differently. It’s that sort of human subtlety that we feel is still missing in a lot of the digital world. Like a lot of very vanilla - saying for everyone. So, this is this is where we are. This is where we are operating as a company, and I think a quite exciting vision to have.
 
Cruce
I love it. It's doing a service in creating a smarter world. So, thank you for that. Last question, as a sailor can you tell us about the parallels you see between enterprise content and sailing?
 
Adolfo
Well they're both fun places to be. That's for sure they can cancel each other out because the more time I spend on content the less time I have to spend on the boat. But there is additional result that is always think - it is about life. So, sailing is a lot about taking a read on the conditions on the sea, on the wind, what's going to happen. And then you sort of have your plan; how you're going to sail, are you going to go up-wind, what sail configuration you have. And guess what? The conditions are never like in the forecast. So, you need to adapt - permanently. You got to adapt where you’re going, and you've got to change the tactics. You have to instruct the rest of the crew to change things, put different sail configurations up. The world of content is an element like that, and you've got to keep adapting and evolving. The other thing you've got an never total certainty of what's coming next. So, you've got to sort of take a leap forward and just say, “Okay. I'll act.” And then you've got to be courageous on that. If you’re doing a regatta, if you’ve ever been in a sailing regatta - a regatta is as close as you can get to super stressful because you see you're really fighting for seconds. And to get the first around a buoy, and that level of stress, I know we experience it in the content world permanently. We get all of this work that needs to be done - there there is translation, there is transcreation, there are initiatives to go live. So, they both good on adrenaline. That’s a good parallel between two of them.
 
Cruce
It's fun and I guess it's one league at a time.
 
Adolfo
So, one league and one leg.
 
Cruce
Thank you, Adolfo. I appreciate the time and again thanks for all you're doing to make the world a smarter place right now.
 
Adolfo
Thanks for having me.
 
Cruce
Okay, bye-bye.


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[A] Presentation
Video Keynote: The Future of the Content Supply Chain