Sarika Gulyani, Director, and Head-ICT,Digital Economy & FICCI-ILIA Division at Federation of Indian Chambers of Com at FICCI

In the parting issue of BITS and Pieces, we get together with Sarika Gulyani, Director, and Head-ICT,Digital Economy & FICCI-ILIA Division at Federation of Indian Chambers of Com at FICCI. FICCI is the voice of India’s business and industry and influences policy making in the country. Join us with Sarika Gulyani as she talks about Indian languages and their importance in the Indian economy.

The present government seems to give a lot of importance to Indian languages. What is the browser agenda?

The government has always had its focus on the Indian language technologies. We should remember that it is because of the Indian Government’s efforts that today, India has a number of Indic computing projects of international standards being executed in several academic institutions like IITs and IIITs. The Indian government has funded such projects for decades and these project resources are now being opened for usage by the Indian industry. Presently, the topic of India Language Computing is of high significance, as India is one the global giants in terms of digital economy. With low mobile data rates and second highest smartphone penetration, the vast untapped semi-urban and rural populations of ‘Bharat’ is experiencing the power of Internet. In the last 4-5 years, global tech giants have also been investing in the Indic Language Computing areas. But the real revolution is being brought by the Indian entrepreneurs, with innovative solutions and applications in Indian languages. These companies are stirring wide ripples across various sectors i.e.; healthcare, e-governance, Fintech. We at FICCI-Indian Language Internet Alliance (FICCI-ILIA) believe this industry shall carve its own niche in coming 5-6 years and shall be of vital significance for both India Inc and the Government. We also believe that the Indian Language Technology Industry holds the key to develop a truly “Connected Knowledge-based digital society for Indians across the globe”.

Can you tell us more about FICCI-ILIA and how is it involved in getting things moving?

FICCI being the oldest apex chamber of India has always been on the forefront to understand the needs and requirements of the industry and voicing its concerns to stakeholders. Understanding the growing imminent need from language technology industry and to have specific member driven alliance working towards the promotion of indic content and growth of language technology industry, FICCI-Indian Language Internet Alliance (FICCI-ILIA) was formed in 2017. FICCI-ILIA is a member driven alliance and currently we have 300+ members from the language technology industry, with more getting added every day. In our short span of operations, we have garnered the status of being named the only industry alliance for the Indian Language Technology Industry. This has helped us voice the concerns of this industry to important stakeholders and policy makers. Through our  activities, we regularly channel the needs of the industry and help policy makers to formulate favourable polices for the industry. With the constant support from our members, we hope to build a strong future for the Indian Language Technology Industry and FICCI-ILIA would continue to work with various state and central government departments to advocate for favorable policies for the development of the industry in coming years.

What do you think are the main problems that ail the language and language technology industry in India today?

There are many challenges that this industry faces, some of the prominent ones are non-unified nature of the industry, lack of awareness about the profitability of the industry and lack of standards when it comes to global standards of localization products and services. FICCI-ILIA since its operations have been working towards bringing all the stakeholders under its single common platform for the discussions. In our several meetings with members, the singular point that has been highlighted by all the stakeholders is the need for a comprehensive policy to support content generation and technological innovation in Indian regional languages both at the State and Centre. Also this industry has not received sufficient promotion and marketing like the IT and ITeS industry. This has led to a general belief that the industry is not profitable enough for investment, leading to low innovation in the area. FICCI-ILIA in its constant endeavor is advocating to the policy makers to device mechanism for promotion of indic languages especially in tier 2, tier 3 cities and Common Service Centers; awareness generation about the monetization aspects of the industry and the significance and importance it holds in the economic growth of the country.

What do you think are the measures that need to be taken to address these problems?

The Indian language technology industry needs major focus in areas of policy advocacy with Centre and State departments and bringing their efforts into alignment for the consolidated development and growth of the language technology industry. Also we believe that the government in its role as the incubator for this industry should invest heavily in the consumption of the language technology services leading to greater promotion of the profitability of the industry. Finally, India has a gargantuan appetite for digital content consumption in Indic languages. This opens a huge window for the industry to grow and attract investments, FICCI-ILIA is working with government departments for the formulation of favorable policies for the betterment of the industry and adoption of global best practices.

Do you see a huge earning opportunity for Indian language professionals going forward?

Innovation is the key for the entrepreneurs of this industry and shall be the USP for the Indian language professionals in the long run. We are currently in the era of Artificial intelligence (AI) based machine translation (MT) systems and technology shall keep upgrading but even with such technological advancements, human translators would continue to be important for this industry. The need for the professionals is to constantly upgrade themselves as the technology advances. AI and ML would be the front runners in the language technology business but with better equipped workforce the industry shall reap greater benefits impacting various other sectors like BFSI & healthcare. Also, in coming years we will see an explosion of Indic content on the web and this would lead to content monetization for both indic content developers and users. This would create not only new employment opportunities for indic language speakers of the semi-urban and rural areas but  shall push the technology to be more innovative and inclusive for the Next Billion Internet users. We believe that an industry grows because of its people and the efforts everyone puts in the development. This industry also calls for the development of the professionals of this industry in a collective manner.

Sandeep Nulkar – Founder, Chairman and Managing Director of BITS Private Limited

2019 has officially been declared as the International Year for Indigenous Languages by the United Nations. Perfect timing to do so when the entire world is awakening to the importance of its native languages. This is especially true in India – a country with one of the highest number of local languages – where the balance continues to tilt towards content in Indian languages. While we have been talking to experts from around the world about some of the tectonic shifts such as MT and Blockchain in the Language industry, it’s time to talk to our very own Sandeep Nulkar to get some insight on the changing nature of the industry in India owing to the rise of Indian languages.

Suddenly, the mainstream media is flooded with stories of startups in the language technology space as far as Indian languages are concerned. India has always been a linguistically diverse country and technology has been around in our country for over two decades now. So why this sudden focus on our languages? What changed?

Well, a seemingly routine event has had a huge impact on the way Indians are going to be served content. In September 2016, Reliance launched Jio making unlimited access to the Internet affordable to the masses. What it did is also bring about a significant reduction in the prices of smart phones. With the cheapest smart phone now costing merely two or three thousand rupees and access to the Internet costing as little as a couple of hundred rupees, millions of Indians suddenly got online.

However, the common man’s food became the eCommerce industry’s poison. Less than 1% of the content available online was in Indian languages, while more than 90% of the country’s population did not use English as their first, second or even third language. Language, for the first time, became a barrier, crossing which was no longer optional if the aspirations of millions of Indians needed to be converted into revenue for eCommerce companies. It was now mandatory to speak to Indians in their languages. Language technology companies started cropping up by the dozen to identify and address the many problems this created on the demand or supply side. Content in vernacular became the flavour of the season and the media lapped up the frenzy.

Wow, that almost sounds like the beginning of a content revolution of sorts! How is the language technology industry responding to this? What are some of the key problems that these companies are trying to solve?

There are many problems, as will always be the case when something is undergoing such a paradigm shift. The biggest problem is that there simply isn’t much content online in Indian languages. This leads to smaller problems on the content generation as well as the content translation sides. Language technology companies are therefore trying to identify and solve problems primarily in these areas. Facilitating data input, spelling and grammar checkers and voice-to-text tools on the content generation side and MT Engines, Translation Memories, multilingual dictionaries and tapping into the latent supply of translators and post editors on the content translation side are some of the problems that language technology companies are trying to solve. Then there is also the problem of digitising available content.

This looks like an uphill task. Something of this scale cannot happen without some support from the government. Is the government taking any steps to support language technology companies?

Thankfully, the government seems have identified this problem too and has a vision to create an ecosystem in which language and language technology can thrive. The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology launched this grand initiative with the Bhashantara Symposium in New Delhi in August 2018, bringing the industry, academia, government and language and language technology companies on one platform. The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and the Technology Development in Indian Languages (TDIL) have now taken it upon themselves to further this cause. In fact, the FICCI has dedicated an entire chapter to this cause by way of the Indian Language Internet Alliance (ILIA). Interestingly, even the Government of Maharashtra under the aegis of the Rajya Marathi Vikas Santha has been very active on this front. In March 2019, they launched a translation course aimed at creating more language professionals.

What about you? You’ve been an integral part of the translation and localisation industry ever since it came into existence in 1991-92. How are you contributing to this?

 On a personal level, I have been a part of the deliberations that have happened at the Central and State government levels through the various initiatives they have taken. I have also served on the Committee appointed by the State Government under the aegis of the Rajya Marathi Vikas Santha to draft a translation course that was finally launched recently. I am working closely with the FICCI to start various initiatives at the state level for Marathi as well.

On a company level, we started Vernac Language Technologies, a language technology company that is beginning to change the way Indians consume content. We have used technology to enable citizens, who know English and their mother tongue, to contribute to bringing more content online in Indian languages. People can work from their mobile phones from wherever they are and whenever they are free, in slots as brief as a few minutes. With billions of words needing translation into Indian languages, we are going to need every person we can reach to contribute to this momentous task.

Dilip Chenoy, Secretary General, FICCI

The ever-growing Indian economy is standing at critical crossroads and industries play a pivotal role in development. But where does the language industry stand in the scheme of things? To find out, we got together with Mr. Dilip Chenoy, Secretary General of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry. Mr. Chenoy is also the former Managing Director and CEO of the National Skill Development Corporation and talks about the important of languages in skilling professionals.

You have headed the NSDC for over 5 years. Was skilling people to become language professionals ever a part of the vision?

Language is always an important ingredient associated with skilling and directly or indirectly, it has to be an integral part of all skilling exercises. At NSDC too, we tried to ensure this. Many of the student training methods were heralded in different languages.  However, since the main programme that NSDC had to run focused on entry level jobs, this was parked for later.

While on the topic, why do you think the NSDC’s website isn’t available in all regional languages, especially considering that a majority of those accessing the site might not be well versed with English?

As start-up, we focused on two languages.  I am sure NSDC will be working on this.

Now as the Secretary General of FICCI, what is your vision for the industry?

The industry is standing at a critical crossroads with the animal spirits coming back. If we improve the investment scenario, for which the government and the RBI are taking measures regularly (reforms such as RERA, GST and IBC) we will certainly be able to attain a sustained 8-10 per cent GDP growth rate, going ahead. For this though, reforms will have to continue and the capital raising cost of industry must come down besides further improvement in the ease of doing business scenario in the country. I believe, on the basis of our continued efforts, favourable policies and reforms would be laid in the area of Indian Languages Technology industry because this industry has the power to impact the growth of all other allied sectors like IT, Telecom, Manufacturing, Health. Indian languages hold the key to unlock the deeper rural markets of India.

Do you see Indian languages being central to how business can penetrate deeper for a greater market share? Or do you think talking about the power of Vernac is merely the flavour of the season?

English is an important tool to handle business, but vernacular language tools are also important in a country like India to nurture business potential at the ground level. It is vital in the interest of both industries and government. Government has launched many G2C and G2B services, but the reach of those still remains low. One of the reasons for same is existing linguistic divide. A majority of the population for whom such services are important do not speak English, so I think in coming years integrating Indian Languages in business policies and government policies will be more important and doing business in native language will be very crucial for achieving inclusive growth.

For all the demand there is to go vernac, there is surely a supply side shortage. What are your views on how we could bridge this gap?

Yes, I agree. We need to bridge the gap by enhancing the current capacities of the industry workforce like translators. Also, we need to improve the language studies at middle and higher school levels so that students see opportunities in this industry. On the technology side, we are now seeing that many MNCs are understanding the power of Indian language tools and software, and are working to bridge the industry gap. I am confident to say, with our continued efforts, soon there would not be supply side shortage.

MeitY-FICCI have been taking firms steps to promote language technology initiatives. In your opinion, will language technology play a crucial role in opening up the supply side?

Understanding the sheer power of this Industry, we launched the FICCI-Indian Language Internet Alliance (FICCI-ILIA) which has many industry leaders and government bodies as its members. In our few months of journey, we have been successfully able to work closely with MeitY and Industry to take concrete steps in the improvement/ development of this area. The time has come to develop easily accessible and inter-operable technologies for Indian languages. FICCI-ILIA is singularly working with all stakeholders to develop the same. Along with technology and improved language studies at middle and higher education levels, we can effectively solve the problem of “supply & demand”

Any parting advice to language professionals?

Language professionals hold very important place in the industry, and it is important that they are constantly improving themselves on technology and linguistics side. Quality will be the key for Indian language professionals and Indian Language service providers when competing with global players. This industry has the capacity to truly make “Make in India” dream come true and drive the “New India” vision.

Robert Etches, Innovation Consultant

In his keynote speech at the EUATC conference in Madrid last month, Innovation Consultant, Robert Etches, thoroughly convinced about the pressing need for rapid innovation in the language industry, warned us by saying “Never has it been so dangerous to do nothing.” A visionary in the domain of the use of Blockchain technology in the language industry, the Thought Leader talks to us about the possibilities for change and innovation in the language industry.

You have been stressing the idea of change in our industry. What do you think is holding us back?

Well, one of the reasons I believe our industry hasn’t changed is because we’ve been relatively successful over the years and made quite a lot of money doing the same things we have been doing for 30 years now. In fact, there are very few industries that can compete with our growth rate. I would say that this has made us lazy on the language technology front. Apart from MT, the technology that we are using today is pretty much the same as in the late 80s when Trados first hit the market. People forget that, not so long ago, translation was to all intents and purposes a ‘cottage industry’, so growing in the early stages has been relatively easy.

But with the world changing so quickly around us, it is naïve to believe that someone won’t come in and change the way we have been doing things. Our industry is at a stage where somebody coming with a very different idea from the outside could completely change the game. And no industry or business operates in isolation. Futurologists are saying that there will be more change in the next ten years than in the last 250! To base your business on a belief that people will still be translating in the same way in ten years is at best risky.

What can business owners and stakeholders actually do to change?

One of the things I said at the EUATC conference in Madrid (19 April 2018) was: “What would you do if you could go to work on Monday and start from scratch? In what ways would you company be different?” One of the key challenges faced by company owners are the legacy issues – all the software and hardware – not to mention the wonderful people brought in over the years. But this is the time for business owners to show a lot of courage and start thinking in new ways.

We need to do away with the “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it” approach. Business owners can then aim at a two-fold change: 1) a change in technology that will enable more and better multilingual communication and 2) a change in the attitude among all the major stakeholders. I have begun by changing my definition of an LSP. An LSP, I always say, is a Language Solutions Partner as opposed to a Language Service Provider. LSPs need to think of themselves as active partners, not passive providers.

Another primary element of this shift in attitude would be to confront the practice of commoditising our product with word rates. We need to stop! People buying this ‘commodity’ negotiate in the same way they would with someone selling carrots or stationery. Rather than selling a commodity, we need to start selling multilingual communication solutions that raise awareness about the client’s products and brand. We must help leverage the value of our client’s intellectual property through multilingual communication.

You also seem to be convinced about the power of Blockchain. Could you tell us a little bit more about it?

Blockchain is a technology that will drive real change in society. People tend to focus on the hype around Bitcoin, but behind the media noise a lot of industries and sectors are busy exploring the ways in which blockchains will change everything! Just one example: 26 central banks from around the world have already started looking into blockchain technology because they know it will be disruptive when it arrives and they want to be fully equipped to be able to deal with it.

The time has come for us to utilise this technology in our industry as well. It is a sort of a truth machine which gives everyone greater control of their data. Today, Facebook and Google gatekeep your social media data and sell it to people. But what if you controlled your own data? Blockchain used as a language ledger in our industry will allow our community to share linguistic data in a new way and empower businesses and people to communicate as never before.

Finally, could you share your thoughts on the language market in India and how European LSPs stand to benefit from it?

I am very excited about it for two reasons. Firstly, it is a very young market. From a purely business point of view, European companies can come in with capital and experience. For the right company, I can’t even think of an upper limit for the opportunities that await us in India. Our industry is global by definition, and yet it scares me to see how local and regional we act.

Secondly, there is an untapped 4 billion-euro market for translating between the Indian languages. If we can combine breakthroughs in technology with good business acumen, there is no reason why a small number of firms can’t help commerce in India to grow even faster. Along with that, it would also be a fantastic business to be a part of. I always talk about “doing better business” – where you can do the right thing and make money while doing it. In the context of the Indian market, helping people to better understand each other would be the right thing to do and given the size of the market, it would generate good commerce. In that respect, India has huge potential for companies that move first … with the right technology! I would say that, as a language market, India has more potential than probably any other region of the world.

Jessica Rathke, Sales strategist and consultant for the language industry

It is common knowledge that the language industry is one of the fastest growing industries in the world; it is demanding, competitive and incredibly innovative in terms of its technologies and processes. BITS and Pieces has regularly discussed with industry experts how these changes would come to affect the industry and how businesses could prepare for this tectonic shift. But along with making great technological strides, the industry must also evolve in its approach towards sales. “In becoming all things to all people, LSPs end up becoming nothing to no one,” says Sales Strategist and Consultant, Jessica Rathke, our guest for the month. Join us for a Localisation sales and strategy 101.

What would you say are the top selling mistakes that the language industry is making?

One of the most common mistakes that customers often complain about is the messaging of LSPs. The reason customers say this is that much of what the business owners and sales people of LSPs say sounds the same. They normally have a generic message and almost everyone says that they have high quality and on-time delivery at a good price. So how is a customer supposed to distinguish one from another if that is the message? So I would say that a lot of LSPs don’t communicate in a way their customers want to hear. Customers want to know what’s in it for them. Why should I buy from you? No one is out there selling bad quality, you know? (laughs) If we can say how we can solve a problem for them or help them do something better in their use of translation, that might be a bit more compelling than the typical quality statements.

Secondly, many LSPs have historically not valued sales and are rather afraid of sales. They are all about investing in production and technology but many of them in my experience haven’t invested enough in sales technology or in finding the right sales people. Moreover, many business owners don’t give their sales people a lot of direction. Selling seems to be very ill-defined in terms of what kind of projects the company wants, whom to speak to, etc. There are a lot of sales people out there who can’t articulate the LSP’s messaging but I think a lot of LSPs themselves can’t articulate why customers should buy from them. When markets are becoming so frightfully competitive, the people who are winning are those who can really articulate the benefits are of using their services.

You have spoken about and conducted trainings on selling skills for translation project managers. Could you tell us more about this?

The training course was in fact suggested to me by an LSP. They perhaps felt that their project managers weren’t servicing their clients as well as they could and they were probably losing business opportunities as a result. Especially today, the role of translation project managers is changing quite a bit because technology is taking care of a lot of tasks that they previously took care of. This frees up time which means they can build deeper relationships with their clients. But project managers are not trained in recognizing a sales opportunity. Customers share a lot of information with project managers which they may not share with sales people. So they should be able to pick up on these bits of information whether or not they act on them themselves or pass them on to the sales team.

Especially in large companies, there are many pockets of business and anybody can be a potential buyer of language services. But there is a general lack in knowing what companies look like inside and how we can leverage our relationships with the people we know. I am not saying project managers should have a complete sales role. That is not what I propose at all. They should just have a more rounded set of skills that go beyond customer service and assume a multi-dimensional leadership role.

Do you believe social media such LinkedIn and Twitter play a sales role in the context of the language industry?

I think they have a huge role. It’s really important for LSPs to have a reasonable presence on social media. People’s opinions vary on this but I would say LinkedIn is a must. Maybe Twitter as well, depending on the bandwidth of the LSP. It also depends on where their customers are. Many industries such as Life Sciences and IT have a lot of presence of LinkedIn which may not necessarily be the case for traditional industries. But if their current vendor messes up, they are probably going to do some research and you have to make it easy for people to find you. And a good way to do this is to have a presence on social media.

A couple of my clients in the US and Europe say that LinkedIn is the first place their inbound customers come from. In my view it does increase your chances of being visible. Customers have a lot of power to do a lot of pre-qualification. They are going to narrow their list down to three or four vendors anyway. So if you are not visible, you are not going to make it onto that list.

Are markets difficult or strategies bad?

I think it’s a little bit of both. I have already kind of said it in a way. Markets are very competitive. But I also know that global business is growing and that trend is only going to continue. Markets such as India, South-East Asia and Africa are offering a lot of opportunity in addition to the conventional markets. And I see opportunity in terms of different businesses. For example, Netflix or international SEO didn’t exist as they do now. But markets are indeed demanding and very complex and the inherently fragmented nature of the industry also makes it difficult.

Having said that, some companies have pretty amazing strategies. But strategies tend fall apart when LSPs try to be all things to all people. This just makes them nothing to no one. But it’s really hard to generalize in this industry. I would just say that there are glimmers of hope on both sides. People are waking up to the fact that they have to have better marketing and sales and the market is prospering.

Miklós Bán, Chairman of EULOGIA

Earlier this year, we got in touch with Mr. Geoffrey Bowden, Secretary of EUATC, to talk about national and international associations and their importance in the language industry. Such associations are indeed pivotal for steering the industry but Europe has seen another kind of alliance over the last twenty years: EULOGIA, an alliance of 20 companies from 20 European countries with a collectivist spirit of trust and friendship.  Founded in 1994, EULOGIA stands out for a lot of reasons. Its Chairman, Mr. Miklós Bán, tells us why.

Could you tell us how an alliance like EULOGIA is different from let’s say a national association?

A national association does very different things. It normally includes fierce competitors working together towards common goals and interests where it takes more than just one company to make change. EULOGIA, however, is an alliance of like-minded people and we use it primarily for knowledge transfer and also as a sales tool. And since all the EULOGIA partners are based in 20 different countries, we aren’t each other’s competitors. We are not chasing the same customer set. This allows EULOGIA to be a very open space for knowledge sharing. We use it as a platform to motivate people, learn from each other and provide training opportunities in an international setup. EULOGIA also has an intimate and private nature which allows all the members to share the kind of knowledge that can’t be shared in a wider set up.

Are there any benefits of such an alliance over M&A?

Mergers and acquisitions are done for different reasons so I don’t think we can really compare the two that way. You acquire either to buy market share, buy up a competitor or to boost your turnover. For example, we acquired a company many years ago because we wanted to break into the German speaking market and this company had the required know-how. An alliance like EULOGIA, on the other hand, has different goals. As I mentioned previously, this alliance serves as a great sales tool.

To give you an example, my company is a medium-sized translation company but we normally have big Western European clients, so we often have to compete with very large companies. Just two weeks ago, were in the final round of an RFP process competing against companies that were ten times bigger. But what really makes a difference with EULOGIA is that we can still boast an international footprint without having a large network of international offices of people on our payroll. On the other hand, being a member of such an alliance is also a serious factor in the valuation of a company in the event of a future merger or acquisition.

EULOGIA seems to function in a very conventional way. Will it have to change to keep up with way the industry is changing?

Yes, I think so. We functioned purely on a gentlemen’s agreement for 23 years and everything worked perfectly. There was no legal entity whatsoever. But now that we plan to expand in and beyond Europe, we created a legal entity just two years ago in Malta to create more professional decision making mechanisms and centralised management. And I think we will have to continue changing to keep with newer trends. But the EULOGIA membership for me is also a kind of an assurance. EULOGIA can’t remain unchanged but I have no fear because the collective wisdom will move us further and help us navigate the presently changing tide in the language industry.

But I am also very keen to maintain the spirit of strong friendship, deep trust and mostly unwritten rules. We almost work like a club. It is a very diverse community but is also homogeneous in the way all the members think about the market. So it can be very modern in its ways of adapting to new situations but at the same time, as Chairman, I would like to keep it traditional in that sense of being a club, being a very diverse group of like-minded people.

Do you believe such an alliance can work in younger markets like India?

What I see is that markets that haven’t traditionally been capitalist like most of Western Europe since the Industrial revolution are just skipping a few development phases and going to the top. This means that they are large markets but are relatively young. Well, market maturity obviously makes a difference but markets like India and China are very ripe to join associations in a globalised world. So much so that even EULOGIA is looking to expand to include Chinese, Japanese and Russian members. India is no exception. We already have vendors in India but it is very different from having a partner and that is something EULOGIA will definitely look to do in the future. Indian companies will be sought after not only for their knowledge and services but also for their local expertise.

Lastly, what’s your take on the Indian market?

As a medium-sized company, we have never really considered entering the Indian market as a service provider and I don’t think it is in our short-term plan. Firstly, we lack knowledge and secondly, we know very well that India has a large pool of linguists and translation companies so the market is very competitive. It is not a market smaller European companies can penetrate as sellers. On the other hand, India already plays a very important role on the supply side. We buy a lot of translations from India for our clients. And it is quickly becoming the most populous country in world and all these large Western corporations are looking to penetrate this market to sell their products and services to billions of people. It is really a promising market.

Julia Fontana, Quality Management and Compliance Specialist

As the language industry grows bigger and more competitive, its stakes continue to rise higher. Prices and deadlines are pushed and there is a constant need for greater efficiency and innovation within the industry. In keeping with the changing nature of the industry, more and more LSPs becoming ISO certified and there is increasing endeavour to reduce costs and turnaround time. This month, we talk to Julia Fontana, Quality Management and Compliance Specialist, who tells us about how Lean Six Sigma could be exactly what LSPs are looking for.

Could you tell us a little about Six Sigma?

Lean Six Sigma stemmed out of two quality management systems called Lean and Six Sigma practiced and invented by Toyota and Motorola respectively. Lean is much older and focuses on understanding your process and identifying the steps that truly add value. It entails eliminating steps that waste money. Six Sigma, on the other hand, focuses on setting a target for the number of errors you can allow yourself per million deliveries. So we can say that Lean is heavy on process analysis whereas Six Sigma is heavy on statistics.

However, both have common elements so it was almost natural to bring them together to create Lean Six Sigma that uses both statistics and process analysis. Lean Six Sigma has a vast collection of tools that can help any business including businesses in our industry to navigate key business decisions including those relating to process improvement/ process overhaul and the analysis of data including data relating to process performance and most importantly client requirements perhaps.

Why doesn’t anyone use a thing as powerful as Lean Six Sigma in the language industry? Would you attribute it to a lack of awareness or effectiveness?

A lack of general awareness certainly plays a role. Indeed, a company-wide implementation programs within our industry are the exception rather than the rule. There is also a lack in understanding the benefits that the application of the key principles brings to any business. Moreover, it is not a stipulated requirement by our clients yet which lands it at the bottom of any well-meaning executive’s to-do-list. The fact that Lean/ Six Sigma originated from manufacturing industries makes businesses believe that it may not applicable for their company and disregard implementation before having gained an understanding of the potential benefits in the first place.

What would be the key benefits of using Lean Six Sigma in the language industry?

The key benefits would be in line with and not too different from the benefits that companies in various other industries report. When implemented correctly, you’d expect to achieve process efficiencies (which may help you improve on cost and or turnaround time). The language industry has developed to be a very competitive business in the last decade so understanding how you can improve on these two items will be of key importance to any business.

It would also lead to happier people all around! Everyone wants to feel valued and you are expected to have employees that are more involved in how the processes are worked on and shaped – they will feel happier for sure! You’ll also spend more time truly understanding your customer’s needs (as against making assumptions about them); you can for sure expect to see customer satisfaction rates to go up as a result.

Could you share any simple Lean Six Sigma tips and tricks for our readers?

Don’t make assumptions. Sounds simple but we all do it due to lack of time, lack of resources or other reasons but simply put: business decisions based on assumptions are not good business decisions.

Understand your processes. Map them out visually and really understand what happens at each individual step of the process. You can only improve on your processes if you understand how they are carried out at present and even more importantly why of course.

Work together. You are all working towards achieving the same goal and you’ll do best if you understand each-other’s challenges and requirements in relation to the process steps each of you look after. Getting everyone on the same page (and this includes various in-house and outsources specialist engaged in your process) can reveal inefficiencies in current processes quite quickly. By harnessing a larger pool of people to generate new ideas for process improvement, you are much more likely to come up with an outstanding idea that truly improves your processes.

Is it important for people to get Lean Six Sigma certification if they want to implement it in the language industry? What would be the costs involved?

The cost of individual classes vary greatly depending on whether it is accredited or not with accredited classes costing up to $10000 for the more extensive training that a highly experienced Lean Six Sigma professional would be expected to have. However, it is important to remember that it is more than one individual that you need to be trained in a company so costs may be prohibitive for some businesses.

Depending on how many specialist departments you have in your company, you must have at least a medium level training for at least one key person in each department and a basic level training to everyone. This will help in cross-departmental efficiency.

Is it possible for people to take general Lean Six Sigma workshops and then adapt it to translation?

As far as I am concerned, it is not gaining the certification that will help you improve business outcome in your company but understanding the key teachings and applying them in your business on a day-to-day basis so I recommend that you choose a route that best addresses your needs (and budget). If taking more generic workshops seems to be a possibility, businesses do not need to limit themselves to accredited classes.

There is also a wealth of resources on Lean Six Sigma out there such as books and online courses. Some good, some bad but certainly cheaper than the traditional accredited classroom-based courses. Online courses and books are good place to start and even smaller businesses should consider investing some money and time on it.

Robert Etches, Innovation Consultant

In his keynote speech at the EUATC conference in Madrid last month, Innovation Consultant, Robert Etches, thoroughly convinced about the pressing need for rapid innovation in the language industry, warned us by saying “Never has it been so dangerous to do nothing.” A visionary in the domain of the use of Blockchain technology in the language industry, the Thought Leader talks to us about the possibilities for change and innovation in the language industry.

You have been stressing the idea of change in our industry. What do you think is holding us back?

Well, one of the reasons I believe our industry hasn’t changed is because we’ve been relatively successful over the years and made quite a lot of money doing the same things we have been doing for 30 years now. In fact, there are very few industries that can compete with our growth rate. I would say that this has made us lazy on the language technology front. Apart from MT, the technology that we are using today is pretty much the same as in the late 80s when Trados first hit the market. People forget that, not so long ago, translation was to all intents and purposes a ‘cottage industry’, so growing in the early stages has been relatively easy.

But with the world changing so quickly around us, it is naïve to believe that someone won’t come in and change the way we have been doing things. Our industry is at a stage where somebody coming with a very different idea from the outside could completely change the game. And no industry or business operates in isolation. Futurologists are saying that there will be more change in the next ten years than in the last 250! To base your business on a belief that people will still be translating in the same way in ten years is at best risky.

What can business owners and stakeholders actually do to change?

One of the things I said at the EUATC conference in Madrid (19 April 2018) was: “What would you do if you could go to work on Monday and start from scratch? In what ways would you company be different?” One of the key challenges faced by company owners are the legacy issues – all the software and hardware – not to mention the wonderful people brought in over the years. But this is the time for business owners to show a lot of courage and start thinking in new ways.

We need to do away with the “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it” approach. Business owners can then aim at a two-fold change: 1) a change in technology that will enable more and better multilingual communication and 2) a change in the attitude among all the major stakeholders. I have begun by changing my definition of an LSP. An LSP, I always say, is a Language Solutions Partner as opposed to a Language Service Provider. LSPs need to think of themselves as active partners, not passive providers.

Another primary element of this shift in attitude would be to confront the practice of commoditising our product with word rates. We need to stop! People buying this ‘commodity’ negotiate in the same way they would with someone selling carrots or stationery. Rather than selling a commodity, we need to start selling multilingual communication solutions that raise awareness about the client’s products and brand. We must help leverage the value of our client’s intellectual property through multilingual communication.

You also seem to be convinced about the power of Blockchain. Could you tell us a little bit more about it?

Blockchain is a technology that will drive real change in society. People tend to focus on the hype around Bitcoin, but behind the media noise a lot of industries and sectors are busy exploring the ways in which blockchains will change everything! Just one example: 26 central banks from around the world have already started looking into blockchain technology because they know it will be disruptive when it arrives and they want to be fully equipped to be able to deal with it.

The time has come for us to utilise this technology in our industry as well. It is a sort of a truth machine which gives everyone greater control of their data. Today, Facebook and Google gatekeep your social media data and sell it to people. But what if you controlled your own data? Blockchain used as a language ledger in our industry will allow our community to share linguistic data in a new way and empower businesses and people to communicate as never before.

Finally, could you share your thoughts on the language market in India and how European LSPs stand to benefit from it?

I am very excited about it for two reasons. Firstly, it is a very young market. From a purely business point of view, European companies can come in with capital and experience. For the right company, I can’t even think of an upper limit for the opportunities that await us in India. Our industry is global by definition, and yet it scares me to see how local and regional we act.

Secondly, there is an untapped 4 billion-euro market for translating between the Indian languages. If we can combine breakthroughs in technology with good business acumen, there is no reason why a small number of firms can’t help commerce in India to grow even faster. Along with that, it would also be a fantastic business to be a part of. I always talk about “doing better business” – where you can do the right thing and make money while doing it. In the context of the Indian market, helping people to better understand each other would be the right thing to do and given the size of the market, it would generate good commerce. In that respect, India has huge potential for companies that move first … with the right technology! I would say that, as a language market, India has more potential than probably any other region of the world.

Dion Wiggins, CTO at Omniscien Technologies

As India’s leading language service provider, we are often asked about machine translation technology and its implications on the industry. “Will machines replace human translators?” “Is it like Google Translate?” “How can we be assured of the quality of machine translated output?” are some of the questions everyone seems to be asking. So who better than Dion Wiggins, CTO of Omniscien Technologies, to talk about MT Technology as a “happy collaboration” between humans and machines?

During one of your talks at the ATC conference in 2017, you had joked about how Machine Translation Technology is and will continue to be the technology of the future. Could you elaborate a little on this?

Well, back in the 50s there was a very bold statement made by a bunch of researchers that claimed machine translation would be a solved problem in 5 years. And every 5 years they added another 5 years and that continues even today. So it has obviously become quite a joke. That doesn’t mean machine translation hasn’t improved. It most certainly has. And it is getting a lot better at a rapid rate in the last few years. The last year has been particularly good for MT with the introduction of Neural Machine Translation.

In many cases, we have outputs where it is very difficult, it at all possible, to tell the difference between translations done by a machine or by a human translator. But that only happens when we train the machine on high quality data that is sufficient and focused. I say focused because language is full of ambiguities. Take the word “run” for instance. You could “do a print run” or “go for a run.” The word is, in fact, the most ambiguous word in the English language with 197 meanings. In such cases, specialised engines for particular domains have been producing translations of good quality.

A lot has been said about how machine translation engines could or could not replace human translators. What is your personal take on this?

I think we are many years away from full replacement. Like I said, a translation engine still needs context because it cannot understand like a human would. Secondly, although it takes away some work from human translators, it gives back many times over in the form of editing and other work. Sometimes, the existence of machine-plus-human frameworks also makes certain deals cost-effective and hence possible. Let’s consider a knowledge base of an IT company that has ten thousand files over 10 years. Human translators would take years to accomplish that and it would also not be affordable. With MTPE, this project suddenly becomes affordable for companies. So although MT takes away the first part of the translator’s job, it helps such big projects go through that wouldn’t have otherwise.

Another example is the work that we are doing with LexisNexis. Engines have translated millions of patents from various languages into let’s say Japanese or English. Now, if someone finds a patent in the database online and wants to take it to court, they would get a human to re-translate or edit it. Without the productivity gain provided by MT, these patents would never have been translated. So I think this is a happy collaboration where humans will always be in the mix.

You had also said that MT can only be as perfect as humans are. And since humans can’t be perfect, what does this mean for Machine translation technology?

Well a better way to put this is that the machine is only as good as the data that it is trained on. So if you train it on low quality data, you should expect a low quality translation. For example, there are translators who specialize in patents. But in the end, no translator can specialize in all the domains of patents. However, when it comes to a machine, it can be trained on a huge quantity of data and a human who is not a specialist in that domain can also edit because the machine gets the terminology right. So, machines are getting better all the time but they are not perfect. Neither are humans. So it’s actually about productivity. The real question is “How fast can a human fix a machine?”

And sometimes neither the machine nor the human editor needs to be perfect. Depending on the content, we have another kind of translation which is called monolingual translation. For hotel reviews, for example, no one cares if the terminology isn’t accurately translated. The meaning needs to be conveyed. So what the travel industry is doing is that they get a human translator to edit the translation without looking at the source. This increases productivity immensely and the translation engine and the translator complement each other. And obviously, something like this won’t happen in life sciences or medical documents.

Machine translation technologies have made significant progress as far as European languages are concerned. How do you foresee the future of MT for all the major Indian languages?

One of the reasons why MT is so advanced in most of the European languages is because their governments have released large bodies of data. That hasn’t happened in India. Given that India is so advanced in IT, it has a huge amount of multilingual data, but MT development is held back by not releasing it for research or public consumption. We have made attempts over 8 to 10 years to get access to that data for research purposes but that hasn’t gone through yet. It is holding India’s MT capabilities back. But if such data were to be made available, you would see massive leaps in MT in India. Europe has a different approach to such data. Since it is public data anyway, they have released it and funded projects for line-by-line translations that can then be used for research. India would do itself huge favours by doing exactly that.

But even without such data, we have a Hindi engine and it is starting to improve.  It obviously isn’t where French or German engines are but it is usable for productivity gains. Ultimately, it’s down to data. Just to put things into context, we have a few million sentences for Hindi whereas we have 4 billion of them for German.

Geoffrey Bowden – Secretary, EUATC

From Aesop to modern-day business gurus, the importance of associations and a unified voice has been stressed upon for centuries. In fact, Rabindranath Tagore went on to call it the “eternal wonder.” This particularly holds true in the context of the Language Industry that is witnessing unprecedented changes in terms of technology adoption and business strategies. Just ahead of the EUATC Annual Conference in Madrid this April, we got in touch with Geoffrey Bowden, Secretary of the EUATC, to talk about the language industry and the importance of associations.

Could you tell us a little about the importance of having an association in an industry and the disadvantages of not having one?

I have been working in and around associations for nearly 40 years now and I think it is incredibly important for industries like the language industry to come together because sadly, not everyone understands the importance of languages in the affairs of the world. Language and good communication are required to collaborate and resolve problems in all industries, which is why I have always described the language industry as the lubricant that keeps international trade and diplomacy moving.

So, for an industry of this size and importance, an association plays a very pivotal role. LSPs may encounter barriers on an individual level but it is very difficult to make any headway without a group. So when LSPs come together as an entire sector and begin talking with one voice, people making the laws and creating bureaucratic barriers tend to take them more seriously. Associations also work as mutual support societies where, when you come under the umbrella of a neutral organization, you put aside commercial rivalries and actually discuss areas of common concerns to develop solutions.

Other than this, associations also help create and train the next generation of linguists through collaborations with universities. They also gather statistics, engage in research, talk to governments, help to develop frameworks and standards. For example, the EUATC created its own language standard. This went onto be used as the basis for the European standard EN15038 which is now being used as the foundation for the creation for the new ISO standard for language services globally. If a company chooses not to be a part of such an umbrella organization, it is left to fend for itself and cannot benefit from all these advantages.

Could you tell us the current situation of LSPs in Europe? Are they apprehensive about the future owing to the rise of MT, M&A and the fact that translations as we knew them are changing?

Yes there is a lot going on that is changing both the language industry and how the linguist works. For the moment, some companies are choosing to go down the acquisition path to keep up with the changes which has forced smaller companies to think of newer strategies for survival.

No industry stays still. Companies are watching and being more cautious. With the advent of AI and NMT, the changes can seem rather daunting and threatening. But market research about pricing and commissioning undertaken by associations and organizations is helping companies stay ahead of the game in these times of dynamic change. It helps them identify the need to tool up and buy in skills. Lastly, more and more international collaborations between LSPs across borders are helping companies stay ahead of the curve. Collaboration, for me, is the name of the game.

Could you tell us a little about the theme for this year’s EUATC annual conference, “Going International? Is there any specific reason for choosing this theme this year?

Well, a lot of LSPs are actually option to go international. Companies realised that many European countries are high cost centres due to wages and office costs. Moving to lower costs centres such as the former Soviet-bloc countries would enable them to provide the same services more cheaply. So when the world is truly shrinking, people are becoming more creative about how to go international for remaining competitive and expanding their businesses through increased collaboration or off-shoring their services.

Secondly, LSPs are looking at growing markets such as India and thinking about how they can capitalize on the growth. When markets and trade links with other economies grow, so does the need for language services. Established LSPs in one country see opportunities for expanding internationally to give a certain depth of service, to create a network to provide a global service. So the world is truly shrinking and we thought it was important to capture this international flavour of the world in the EUATC’s conference this year.

Do you think the European market for language services is saturating?

There are indeed more and more players in the market that provide services at lower costs but I don’t know if I would call that saturation yet. Yes, when you get a group of LSPs under one roof, they often complain about pricing pressures. And the client always wants the translation yesterday! Companies need to find a way to stay relevant by defining themselves in terms of specialisation or quality. Otherwise they will struggle to survive. The increasing competition also means that companies need to pay more attention to details and invest more in smart marketing. Markets will always find a level and companies will either survive or struggle based on how they keep up with the new technology and trends.

Do you see India as a potential market for LSPs?

It is definitely one of the fastest growing economies in the world. And when the country wants to trade with the rest of the world, there is always a need for language services. And when the Indian economy grows so powerfully, a lot of other countries want to trade with the country. Even though 10 percent of people speak English in India – some 125 million, it is still vitally important to speak to the people in their own languages if you want to sell effectively. In such situations, it is often a better idea to hire linguists based in India to ensure translations are delivered using current terminology and idioms. I do believe though that the presence of a national level body or an association of the leading translation companies in India would change the Indian market radically by developing criteria and standards to prevent the saturation of people who will undercut and damage the industry.