How is the translation industry evolving for LSPs?

If the year 2020 has taught us anything, it is that our world as we know it can change very quickly, both personally and professionally. Predicting how the future looks right now is of course very difficult, what will change for good and what things will return to normal, no one really knows. What we at SDL can offer though, is at least some narrative from extensive research we conducted earlier this year, which may offer some key pointers for the future.

To provide some context, in 2016 SDL released its first Translation Technology Insights (TTI) report, effectively taking the pulse of an industry already under pressure. In 2020 as part of our ongoing research activities, we decided it was time to conduct another survey. Comparing results has given us great insight into how the industry is evolving and has also given us an idea as to what is causing all this pressure.

The survey received great interest with over 3,000 translation professionals participating from 111 different countries, over 300 of which were LSPs.

One of the first things we noticed was the relative maturity of the respondents, with 53% of LSPs having spent more than 10 years in the industry, and 73% with 5 or more years. This tells us that many of the respondents are well versed with the challenges our industry brings.

The full TTI report provides a vast array of data points and provides a narrative that confirms many of the discussions we are already having day to day with our customers. I would like to share some of our top line findings with you.

  1. 83% of LSP respondents stated that they need to improve their ways of working

Pressure is a word synonymous with the translation industry and is a word we hear frequently when talking with LSPs, but what does it really mean? We wanted to understand more.

We discovered that this increasing industry pressure is caused by a number of interrelated challenges, including:

  • increasing number of project files being submitted for translation,
  • the number of words per project,
  • the number of customers submitting jobs, etc.

That’s not forgetting the growing pressures on price and turnaround times, whilst maintaining quality. And this is really how the pressure builds up.

For LSPs, the next step is figuring out how to respond. Can they better use their existing technology, should they invest in new technology, can they alter their processes, or maybe they should look at a combination of all three?

  1. 69% of LSPs plan to invest in more translation software

Our next set of questions probed deeper to learn how LSPs plan to tackle the increasing pressure. 69% of respondents feel that technology may be the answer, which is not unexpected. Our results show that LSPs stand out for their greater technology usage in general; for LSPs, the top three technologies respondents plan to invest in over the next 12 months are:

  • Machine Translation (MT) (50%)
  • Collaboration tools (49%)
  • Terminology Management (46%)

Seeing machine translation at the top of this list is interesting; as technology advances, machine translation results are becoming more accurate and reliable. Neural machine translation is the latest development in this area and now offers users unparalleled results, which LSPs are clearly starting to realise. We saw evidence of this in our survey- LSPs adoption of machine translation has increased by 15% between 2016 and 2019.

  1. Technology alone is not enough

While many LSPs are in fact gearing up to invest in more technology, the TTI survey we conducted back in 2016 showed us that only 50% of respondents felt that they knew how to get the most out of their existing translation productivity tools.

In our latest survey, we also learnt that users are looking for greater levels of support and training and that they need help understanding what products would best suit their needs. So whilst we already place a focus on the users’ experience, there is clearly more we can do.

This is why there are more and more calls for ‘humanised technology’ – technology that makes life easier for translators, technology that works with us and not against us. Translation technology can be considered humanised when it conforms to these four principles:

  1. It’s empowering

Great technology empowers people to achieve their goals more quickly and effectively, however, not every user has the same needs and requirements. That’s why it’s important for technology providers to offer their customers choice.

Let’s take cloud technology for example. When we asked our survey respondents what type of CAT tool they would prefer, LSPs stood out for their interest in the hybrid model (a combination of cloud and on premise) at 65%.

LSPs have to deal with a variety of different customers, each stipulating their own unique requirements, so it makes sense that they would find the most value in this flexible way of working.

  1. Technology should be easy/intuitive to use

No one has time to spend weeks learning how to use a new tool, which is why ease of use is often a deciding factor when it comes to purchasing new software. When we asked our respondents what support they required from us as a software provider, 62% of LSPs stated that technology needs to be easier to use and 55% felt that they required greater levels of product support.

  1. It’s accessible/understandable

There are many factors that could determine how accessible a tool is for your company; the level of support and training available, the languages the product and support is available in, the number of translation professionals already using the software, etc.

For those LSPs that participated in the survey, we found that the most important considerations were the degree of support offered by the vendor (73%), as well as the current level of usage by translation professionals (71%).

  1. It’s trustworthy

79% of LSPs feel the most important factor to consider when purchasing a new software is how much you trust the vendor.

As a software provider, we understand that building good, strong relationships with your customers is of the utmost importance- after all, employees are an extension of the brand. But we also know it’s more than that, when you place your trust in a vendor you have confidence that the provider will keep up with technological advancements, they will continue to offer high levels of training and support and that they will remain committed to improving your user experience.

So with technology at the heart of every LSP, how can you cultivate a human-centric business?

One of the main things we have learnt throughout this study is how reliant the translation industry is becoming on technology, but equally, you can see just how important the augmented product is- for example, the level of vendor trust and the support and training a provider can offer.

This should serve as a reminder, you can offer the best product or service, but that may not be enough- sometimes you have to look beyond the tech. We’ve identified three recommendations for users of translation software, which we hope will help you to make the most out of your translation technology choices.

If you’re interested to learn what these are, you can find them in the TTI e-book