As the initial dust settles on the announcement of SDL’s acquisition of Idiom, we noticed a couple of interesting trends — some anticipated, some surprising, and some just plain troubling.

Expected trends? A steady outcry from the translation community, bemoaning the loss of the “Switzerland” of translation technology. A logical assessment, given that Idiom built an enviable brand as a pure technology provider and posed no threat to neither Language Service Providers (LSP) nor ECM players. OTOH, the neutrality factor left the status quo in place, leaving room for translation and content management players to handle integration needs as partnerships and in some cases, fairly loose integrations. Also expected? Fear-driven reactions inevitable to consolidation in any software segment, summed up by the “what now” debate.

Our take? Consolidation happens. The ECM market has demonstrated it for over 10 years — the Search and BPMS market are well on their way. The platform players, i.e., the Microsoft, Oracle and IBM’s of the world, have eaten more than their share, by some analyst accounts. So, consolidation happens. It is not really “what now?” that’s the most important question; rather it is “what’s next?” Consolidation is not always positive; it’s disruptive, no doubt about it. In addition, technology mergers and acquisitions are notorious for the length of time they take to strategically integrate what’s purchased. Some never do. Others have a plan from the get-go.

However, there’s room for upstream opportunity and technology metamorphosis within disruption, both of which the translation industry is in need of. By all accounts, this industry is overdue for major change, requiring innovation from technology, service providers, pricing, and from our perspective, “the corporate champions,” currently struggling to raise the visibility of globalization as an enterprise priority. We’re not ready to predict that this acquisition will bring positive changes to any of these elements. That’s for the new product roadmap to lay out — and our advice to SDL/Idiom would be to tackle this sooner rather than later.

At the end of the day however, our take hardly matters.

Whose does? Well, THE BUYER, silly. In terms of translation as part of the global content value chain, the documentation world is ripe and I dare say ready, for innovation based on solid knowledge of single sourcing and multichannel strategies. Add the ferocious uptake of DITA over the past 2 years, and you have a situation where a language can be an output rather than an overdue afterthought. Over on the “other side of the house,” marketing is still trying to prove the value of geographically-targeted web sites as critical to brand and new revenue. Though these audiences may currently search for different solutions to their problems, they are today’s buyers of translation and localization technologies.

Surprising trends? A lack of concern about tomorrow’s buyer. You know, the corporate champions who already view globalization as an enterprise mandate, but can’t justify an enterprise cost yet. The technology industry would be wise to “get ready,” so to speak and by some accounts, they are. According to the BDO Seidman 2008 Technology Outlook Survey, 73% of CFOs at leading U.S. technology businesses expect to post increased sales revenue in 2008 over 2007. Over 39% cited consumer demand for innovative personal technology as the greatest growth driver, closely followed by 32% who cited international expansion as the main driver. Promising, yes. But what about the corporate CIO’s? Many corporate champions we talk to still describe cultures that perceive translation and localization as the “black box” at the end of a larger process.

Troubling trends? The lack of response from the large US-based ECM vendors. It would not have been surprising for us — and we dare say more “savvy” than surprising — to see an ECM or WCM best-of-breed pick up Idiom. Perhaps SDL understands that value, in light of the Tridion acquisition as well as the Trisoft investment. We’ve been on the integration bandwagon for some time; there’s opportunity to squelch the ad-hoc, siloed approaches to content and translation management as the norm. Trouble is, the “conversation” has yet to rise to a level where a departmental challenge transforms to an enterprise initiative.

Consolidation happens. It doesn’t mean the end of a market, but its reshaping. From our perspective, the time is right for vendors and users alike to collaboratively define the transformation.

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