According to Common Sense Advisory, the global translation industry is set to grow by a staggering $10 billion by 2022. As of 2018, the industry is estimated to be worth $46 billion. One of the world’s oldest language-related business domains is in the midst of a revolution.

Technologies like cloud computing, AI, and machine learning have vastly expanded potential translation volume and changed the way content is produced and consumed. Despite advances in automated translation sophistication and availability, most of language service providers (LSPs) have been struggling to keep up with the massive increase in demand.

Source: CSA Research

For those among us poised to take advantage of the opportunities of the new language services universe, these are exciting times. Others will be fighting the rising tide. Trying to tweak or adjust old models may be akin to trying to fit a round peg in a square hole.

Trying to tweak or adjust old models may be akin to trying to fit a round peg in a square hole.

The Content Economy

The content economy is an emerging paradigm for how modern businesses drive growth in the digital era. Content has become the lifeblood of both sales and marketing. The sheer amount of content that companies generate to stay relevant is growing at an unprecedented rate. It is fair to say that these days every successful business is, to one degree or another, a content creation business.

Every successful business is, to one degree or another, a content creation business.

Where is this new content coming from?

The tsunami of online content we’re witnessing in the digital boom era should be good for language service providers, right? It certainly presents a whole host of fresh new opportunities for the prepared.

To ride the crest of the content wave we need the mindset and tools necessary to make the most of the upsurge. First, we must be aware of where most content is coming from in the content economy:

  • Social media. Start with the most obvious. Every company with an online presence — that means basically any company — posts on social media regularly to remain relevant.
  • Online gaming. In 2018, the gaming industry generated a record $35 billion. Online gaming is accounting for an increasingly larger share of the total.
  • User reviews. The amount of online reviews is growing exponentially. Moreover, surveys show that buyers read, on average, 11 user reviews before making a purchasing decision.
  • SaaS platforms. There are thousands of software-as-a-service platforms. Each of them represents not just a product, but also a tremendous amount of content creation.
  • E-commerce. Translations of Alibaba product descriptions might make you chuckle, but the fact is that Alibaba translates 100 billion words every single day!
  • Online education. A booming industry, the volume of content generated by e-learning companies is growing daily, with the industry expected to reach $325 billion by 2025.
  • Media platforms: Whether it’s blockbusters on Netflix or vlogs on YouTube, video content is rocking the world and is forecasted to take 80–90% of all web traffic by 2022.
  • Mobile app ecosystems: App Store, Google Play, and the likes each feature millions of app descriptions.
  • Content management platforms, where the whole content story begins: Wordpress, Drupal, Joomla, and so on.
  • Traveling and hospitality platforms such as Booking.com, TripAdvisor, and Airbnb.

What does the content emanating from these sources have in common?

First of all; size. Each piece of new digital content is comparatively smaller than the content of the past. Whether it’s a user review or a batch of strings for a video game or a mobile app, you’re unlikely to see chunks of more than a few hundred words at a time.

Secondly, the new content arrives in continuous flow. Gone are the days of software providers’ twice-yearly update cycle. The same applies to mobile apps and e-commerce product descriptions. In the content economy, the flow of information is consistent, constant, growing.

In the content economy, the flow of information is consistent, constant, growing.

Last, but certainly not least, is urgency. At the breakneck pace of today’s world, a time-to-market delta of one day can mean the difference between success and failure, whether we’re talking about a marketing campaign or a new product launch.

The old paradigm is holding you back

The old types of content language service providers are used to handling seem bulky and cumbersome in comparison to the dynamic flow in the content economy.

The content of yesteryear came in large batches with long delivery intervals. From a workflow standpoint, managing this kind of content was cumbersome but straightforward. You would receive a ton of files by the client, usually via email. Then you had to find the right translators for the job. Once translated it was handed over to the editors before you delivered it back to the client.

Even with “old content”, this antiquated methodology was inefficient, almost guaranteed increased human error and had the potential for a plethora of other critical problems to rear their ugly heads at any moment. But for “new content”, it’s deadly.

The old content-flow zeitgeist was built around a unidirectional channel, or a “one-way street” if you will. Marketers’ audience engagement method was somewhat dictatorial by our modern standards. Information could effectively flow in one direction only — downstream, pushed along the advertising channel to the awaiting audience.

Thankfully, this model is going the way of the dinosaurs. The wonders of modern technology have delivered the tools we need to streamline the process, directly into the palms of our hands.

Today, the interaction between content producer and content consumer is a cyclical feedback loop. Both creators and consumers are interdependent, simultaneously validating and driving the cycle. Most sectors that the language industry serves have moved with the times in the way they manage original content. But the language industry itself hasn’t and still keeps the same old approach to managing multilingual content.

Most sectors that the language industry serves have moved with the times. But the language industry itself hasn’t.

Customer expectations in the content economy

Customers’ expectations have evolved in-step with tech innovations in the market today. If a client updates their app, they want to be able to push all the strings for translation via an API and pull it back when they’re ready. They don’t reminisce about the “good old days” of the slow, inefficient, time-consuming process. They want the “click-a-button, forget about it” experience.

Predictability and transparency are increasingly in demand. Workflow visibility functions offered by new platform solutions mean that the customer can keep an eye on job progress from their browser and access tasks when it works for them.

In the content creation and publishing market, shiny new tech-tools have evolved how companies get their message out there. Unfortunately, the language services industry mindset is yet to catch up with the shift in market demands. If the lens through which we’re viewing this exciting new world hasn’t yet evolved either, then how can we reasonably expect our endeavors to reach our goals?

Obstacles: adapt and overcome

The steady forward-march of technology has been kind to those who realized quickly that the paradigm needs to evolve alongside it. Many of us can be slow to recognize old thought patterns and ways of perceiving that no longer serve our purpose.

It boils down to one thing: human mindset inertia. Inertia is the number one obstacle to overcome should we wish to position ourselves at the vanguard of digital evolution. We’ve all been guilty of the deadliest business-sin of modernity at one time or another. However, the reality is now painfully obvious. We can no longer continue making such a lackadaisical mistake.

The rigid mindset of many service providers won’t allow them to embrace new developments. On the other hand, agile vendors with a growth mindset such as Unbabel, One Hour Translation, or Translated are evolving their thinking to capitalize on gaps in the market opened up by the former’s inertia. If those are to overcome a stagnant mindset, it’s time to revisit first principles. Customers demand LSPs get with the times. Heed the call, reap the rewards.

Agile vendors with a growth mindset are evolving their thinking to capitalize on gaps in the market opened up by our inertia

Not all obstacles fall within the domain of LSPs. Another blockage to development is the obsolete licensing model in use by many tech vendors. Almost all charge a per-user fee. Many even charge extra for access to APIs. What’s needed is a less cynical approach to opportunity maximization. New AI cloud services offer a plug and play user experience. Accepting progress and leaving inflexible licensing models behind could mean almost any amount of content can be delivered continuously, in any language.

The time is now

In the past, it could take weeks or even months to research and plan new market entry. Nowadays we’re more likely to hear a CEO say something like “hey, let’s launch our app in India” during the Monday morning meeting, then expect that by Friday, at the latest, five new Indian language versions will be ready to launch.

Our tools and delivery methods are advancing at an unprecedented rate. The time to market window is shrinking fast. No one can wait. They can’t afford to. Essentially, it’s survival of the quickest.

So, what can be done right now to ensure you don’t get left behind, struggling to stay afloat in the swell of the rising tides of change?

When we place tech innovations and new methods firmly within the context of the content economy paradigm, a much more transparent, connected picture of the future begins to emerge.

Connected Translation

A single, key concept underpins the new philosophy taking shape to address the challenges LSPs face in the content economy. Connection. On multiple levels, in real time.

The 21st-century customer wants a simplified workflow. They want collaboration made easy. They want mighty AI and machine learning software to provide high-quality automation. They want immediate access to translators and editors. They want the ability to hire freelancers, keep an eye on job progress, manage their projects and pay vendors in one place, at the touch of a few buttons. In short: connected translation.

As we’ve seen, time is of the essence in today’s world. The sooner we can connect these needs and bring them closer to the customer, in a single-loop delivery system, the better.

The connected translation model is made up of five interlocking concepts:

  1. Connectivity. The idea is to connect the user to all necessary resources on as many possible levels simultaneously. For example, the ability to push and pull content automatically, without the need to bother colleagues, would be a significant advantage to any LSP.
  2. Translation. Depending on the project, LSPs need to be able to pick the best-fitting workflow from among MT post-editing, purely human translation, transcreation, and everything in-between — all powered by up-to-date features such as translation memories, glossaries, and QA checks.
  3. Scalability. This is key. If you want to get in on the action, then you better hope your systems are ready for the tidal wave of content on the way. Imagine a single point solution that can handle any workload according to customer expectations.
  4. Management. Increasingly challenging to perform effectively. The redundancy of last century’s systems is now apparent. Ideally, any sound project management system should be capable of delivering a transparent and predictable workflow, allowing the customer to keep an eye on the progress of individual project elements and a macro-view of the project as a whole. In the future, the number of micro-projects will be growing exponentially, and managing them manually at any adequate cost will become impossible.
  5. Automated payments. The content economy means that LSPs have to work with more vendors than ever before. Transacting large amounts with a small number of vendors is out of date. The services of the future will need the capacity to make many times more transactions with multiple outsourcers scattered around the globe, at any time.

If you build it, they will come

The language services industry as a whole has been slow to address shortcomings caused by the lack of thought leadership over recent years. So how did the biggest brands fare in the face of the largest multilingual information boom in history? Are they sitting on their hands right now hoping a new solution will fall out of the sky? Not quite. They built their own connected translation experience.

Brands are not sitting on their hands hoping a new solution will fall out of the sky. They build their own connected translation experience.

Early adopters of the connected translation ethos haven’t skipped a beat. After the turn of the last decade, many of the world’s most well-known companies saw the mindset, workflow and tech obstacles on the horizon and got to work in earnest.

Among the noteworthy names first to the party (albeit behind closed doors) were Evernote and Airbnb. These innovators saw what was coming from a mile away. They made hay while the sun shone. Both companies simplified the translation process by relying on custom-built in-house workflow systems to deal with the spike in demand.

Then there’s Amazon, one of the few mega-brands to understand the need for connected translation. They joined the dots successfully and rolled out internal systems to fit. Building lucrative product niches around these concepts may have even played a pivotal role in their meteoric rise to global market dominance.

Where do we go from here?

The reality is, it’s up to you. You can take action today — open your eyes to the new world of opportunities once hidden by the outgoing dogma of the old way of doing things. Or you could just stick with the systems of the past — after all, the way you’ve always done things has “worked” just fine for years, right?

But if customer footfall has ever been a barometer for which way the wind is blowing, then it won’t be long before the rush toward the language services leaders of the future becomes a stampede.

It won’t be long before the rush toward the language services leaders of the future becomes a stampede.

The old-world’s industry leaders who sat on their hands will be swept away by the tide of irrelevance. Those who act now will be ideally positioned to glide effortlessly past yesterday’s obsolete competition to ride the crest of the wave.

Would you rather enjoy the view from the top or the bottom?