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Ex-SAP exec steers Episerver CMS toward digital experience market

Alex Atzberger discusses leaving the helm of SAP's CX platform to become Episerver CEO. Now, Episerver looks to reinvent itself as a digital experience platform provider.

NEW YORK -- The Episerver CMS is morphing into a digital experience platform, led by CEO Alex Atzberger, the former SAP C/4HANA customer experience platform lead. He departed SAP in October and joined Episerver last month.

We sat down with Atzberger at NRF 2020 Vision: Retail's Big Show to discuss recent Episerver acquisitions such as Insite Software, future acquisitions, how digital experience and customer experience differ, why he left SAP and his vision for Episerver's acquisition and product roadmap.

How did you end up at Episerver? Things happened kind of fast after you left SAP.

Alex Atzberger: It happened very fast. When I desired to leave SAP, I looked for a cloud company with triple-digit [hundreds of millions of dollars in] cloud revenue. I was looking for something in CX, the most exciting and fastest-growing part of enterprise software. And I was looking for something that had the right strategic mindset.

Episerver CEO Alex AtzbergerAlex Atzberger

[Episerver] had been acquired by Insight Partners, which had put money into the business, so they're at an inflection point. They are the leader in what is still king, which is content. Even if you look at commerce-centric businesses, content matters a lot. And how do you marry content and commerce together? There are very few companies that have both of those embedded, and Epi is one of them. It worked out well, and the timing was perfect, very fast.

You've only been at Episerver for a month, but how would you describe your vision for the company and the product roadmap moving forward?

There are a couple of trends that continue to be very important: One, understanding everything about your customer, and two, serving up the next best action.
Alex AtzbergerCEO, Episerver

Atzberger: We have an untold story. People are really, really happy with this technology. One big part of the strategy, going forward, is expansion in North America, and telling the story of Epi.

Because of the size of the U.S. market, we have to decide on which specific verticals to focus on. There's a large part of the economy that is not digital, that is somehow forgotten. These companies will not work with [platform vendors] that are too large; they need [vendors] that are large enough to serve, but small enough to care about the results. ... Ultimately commerce and content are the face of so many brands, the heart of your business. ... We're going to focus on that market, and bringing automation to content, using AI and automation to scale [digital operations].

Do you feel like you're competing with your old company SAP, since Episerver CMS is now on its way to being a full-featured digital experience platform with content and commerce clouds?

Atzberger: When I built the SAP CX platform, we built it under the notion of connecting supply chain and demand chain. It was really a relevant message for very large companies that were looking at one platform. Epi is much more focused on the digital experience, truly understanding the digital customer, and doing it in such a way that companies between, say, a million and a billion, are the sweet spot. It's 80% or 90% whole different [market].

What happened at SAP? Bill McDermott left [in October], and you weren't far behind. It was all very quick.

Atzberger: If you look at the big picture, it was 15 years [at SAP]. We all want to be CEO of a company. At one point it becomes harder, and you basically end up being part of a company for life.

There's too much innovation going on, too much excitement going on that I wanted to be part of as well. Ariba and CX are a massive part of SAP. I'm very proud of that and I'm proud of what SAP has done as a company. With the CEO change it was a natural point [to depart].

DX vs. CX

Digital experience is a subset of customer experience, according to Atzberger.

He defines customer experience as "the holistic connection of every touch point of every customer, across every channel of a journey that begins with being unknown, to being known, to sales, commerce and, ultimately, customer service interactions. CX is the umbrella term."

Digital experience is everything that happens online with the customer, everything that has been done with a digital attachment, he said.

How do your past experiences at SAP and SAP Ariba color what you'll be doing at Episerver?

Atzberger: Those involved transformation, and I think it's going to be a bit of the same here, rallying people around a common cause and a common brand.

The acquisition of B2B e-commerce company Insite Software, which caters to manufacturers and distributors, happened within days after you joined Epi. The deal probably was in the works before you started, right? Did you have final sign-off on the acquisition, or was the deal finished before?

Atzberger: Yes, it was in the works. The strategic direction was important in speaking about it with [Epi's private equity owners] Insight Partners. There's a huge B2B commerce opportunity.

When the acquisitions of Insite and [product content tagging automation technology] Idio were discussed with me, not only was I supportive of them but also it attracted me to Episerver as a company. The acquisitions made it so much more compelling to be at this place, at this time. I went to Minneapolis and met [Insite Software CEO] Steve Shaffer, and saw how well they executed against their goals. It left me inspired. I left Minneapolis thinking, 'This is part of the future of Epi.'

What can you tell me about how you're thinking about future acquisitions? You're growing, you're flush with cash. You can't be done. What's next?

Atzberger: We're not done. Our focus now is the integration of Idio and Insite. What's interesting to me is that there are a couple of trends that continue to be very important: One, understanding everything about your customer, and two, serving up the next best action. Everything that we do in the foreseeable future will be focused on the digital experience, and helping our customers get better and more informed data about their customers so they can make better decisions.

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