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Taking Language Services into the Digital Future

Straker’s first annual industry report looks at in-depth research conducted with marketing and localization enterprise buyers and looks at ways to assess and optimize people, process and technology within corporate language services:

  • understand key market trends in language services from enterprise buyers
  • explore ways to consolidate and centralize global operations to improve speed to market
  • assess what to consider when sourcing a global language service technology provider

Taking Language Services into the Digital Future

Content Summary

Five key challenges
What’s driving this change?
Key findings of market research
Majority of language services are outsourced to LSPs
Technology is fragmented and lagging in uptake
Partnerships over a black box LSP
What should you consider when assessing your language services needs?
How can marketers improve simplicity and speed whilst minimizing costs?
How can AI and machine learning boost speed to market?
How can translation data and insight increase marketing innovation?
IBM case study: Why choose machine intelligence?
Using simplification as a driver to consolidate and centralize operations
How are AI-enabled language services impacting localization?
Globalization relies on centralization and partnerships


Straker’s exploration into what is driving key localization trends highlighted multiple key findings. Chief among these is the confirmation that addressing language needs is an organization-wide exercise, benefiting the whole. With numerous and diverse stakeholders and priorities, localization managers and marketing managers must manage their supply chain while also obtaining internal buy-in across the board. The latter becomes more of a focus, reducing attention on the more valuable jobs.

That’s where strategic partnerships and best-of-breed technology come in. New ways of working combined with AI-enabled technology support operations, freeing up internal experts to concentrate on value and growth.

What’s not new is what business expects from their suppliers: exceptional customer service, a quality product at a fair price, and on-time delivery in full. That’s the minimum expectation; differentiation means going beyond supplier status to become strategic business partners with aligned values and goals and invested in your global success and growth. Ideally positioned to shoulder this vital role, technology-centric language service providers efficiently enhance client communications and time to market through innovation and supporting change management programmes.

Consequently, while existing and emerging business challenges differ across industries, shared digital transformation goals are clear: increasing automation, gaining insight and oversight through centralization and consolidating operations, and adopting a user-centric, data-driven approach to localization. In addition, while barriers to transformation are diverse, the primary obstacles are a lack of leadership vision, support, and resources.

Innovation and launch into new markets are strategic success factors and part of most enterprises’ short- or long-term plans, with globalization and localization integral to the process. A dive into crucial user segments, however, revealed five key challenges.

Five key challenges

  1. With the marketing department most likely to need multiple language translation support, few marketers have the time and resources for hands-on localization.
  2. Users have expectations for a provider to supply data and insights proactivity regarding future translation needs and measurable performance metrics.
  3. Accurate, on-time delivery in full is vital but a minimum requirement, with a provider who further offers their client the benefit of a partnership, enjoying the competitive edge.
  4. Simplicity, speed, and system integration are pain points and critical drivers, as well as accuracy, and cost-efficiency.
  5. They do, however, have high expectations for a seamless, pain-free, and straightforward experience.

However, more than half of marketing professionals interviewed do not enjoy these benefits, suggesting the need for more deliberate and discerning provider selection, and to consider partnership-focused, AI-enabled, and progressive language service providers.

What’s driving this change?

‘Can’t Read – Won’t Buy’, a B2C report produced by CSA Research noted that 70 percent of internet users aren’t native English speakers. According to Entrepreneur, CSA also reports that 75 percent of internet users do not make important purchasing decisions unless they speak the language in which the product description is written.’

In short, businesses who are set up to translate and localize content will be best placed to attain growth in new markets and reach new customers.

With digital transformation now a necessity, the harmonization and optimization of your organization’s processes from end to end through automation and AI technology is fundamental to this journey. IBM Video Interview. Benefits, as related to language needs, include increased workflow efficiency, error reduction, centralized data for informed decision-making, a modernized workforce, and an improved bottom line.

Transformation starts with digitization replacing paper files and materials, then strategic digitalization, leveraging automation and artificial intelligence (AI) to enhance business processes. Finally, digital transformation occurs as your business responds and adapts to digitalization and starts to reap the benefits through advanced globalization and localization processes and outcomes, enhanced innovation opportunities, increased speed to market, and more informed, data-driven decisions.

According to Merryn Straker, COO, and co-founder of Straker Translations, for localization to be effective, it must occur at scale: ‘The volume of content that clients need to put out in the market has grown phenomenally, but budgets haven’t necessarily (grown with it).’

Globalizing at scale goes beyond translation and localization. Rather than merely making your internal and external marketing, communication, training, and administrative materials understandable across markets, globalization goes far deeper and is the foundation of successful business transformation and growth. Hence, to compete globally, businesses must innovate faster and push further into new markets, with less budget available.

Key findings of market research

It’s no surprise that the key challenge for localization buyers and their stakeholders is to manage multicountry requirements accurately, at speed, and at a lower cost. But what other key trends did we uncover in our market research?

2021 research commissioned by Straker, among localization buyers carried out by Nimdzi and marketing users carried out by Marketing Dive, indicated that 82 percent of businesses are already planning (40%) or considering (42%) entering new markets within the next 18 months, with 81 percent of marketing departments requiring regular multilanguage support.

Marketing executives (ie. users) are now actively looking for AI in localization (59%) and 47 percent expect a ‘seamless, friction-free’ support experience, a ‘holistic end-to-end process’, with limited personal involvement (30%).

Unfortunately, significant proportions of users report that essential accuracy (45%), on-time delivery (51%), simplicity (54%), system integration (51%), and expense (43%) are still significant barriers for them. Also, the valuable information and data insight they rely on (80%) from their language partners, is lacking at 59 percent.

Majority of language services are outsourced to LSPs

For localization buyers and stakeholders, while some in-house activity occurs, most localization is outsourced ‘some’ (27%) or ‘all the time’ (63%). Users base the final decision on a provider on time and budget considerations, management complexity, and solution scalability, with most (54%) preferring LSPs over freelancers.

Concerningly, 16 percent of localization managers still consider their LSPs service offering ‘very opaque’.

These buyers also identified major challenges including ensuring quality (55%), delivering on time (36%), lack of vendor knowledge, proactivity, and engagement (38%), and workflow automation and tools (34%).

With half of all marketing users also reporting concerns over accuracy, on-time delivery, simplicity, system integration, data insights and expense, there is a clear gap for LSPs to meet customer needs.

What is your setup for localization and when outsourcing, what is the model?

What is your setup for localization and when outsourcing, what is the model?

Technology is fragmented and lagging in uptake

Localization managers cite technology, a user-centric approach, and the strategic importance of localization across their company as vital to performing their function. Inherent to the first of these, technology, are automation, integration, and centralization.

However, while half (49%) of enterprises use an in-house TMS with partner access, a quarter relies on their LSP portal to submit files.

Notably, over a third still submit translation files manually and, despite its associated speed and volume capacity benefits, only just over half reportedly use machine translation (MT).

Crucially, although MT is increasingly preferred, most users are reluctant to invest time in the technology beyond attaining an adequate level. Thus, platforms fulfilling individual practical needs drive choice, with no dominant provider.

How are files getting to translation?

How are files getting to translation?

Partnerships over a black box LSP

What do you value most in your relationships with external partners?

What do you value most in your relationships with external partners?

Partnering is key, associated with openness, collaboration, and agility. Notably, with progressive language services providers leading the way in this effort, over half (56%) of enterprise organizations already enjoy partnerships based on relationship building, smooth communication (60%), flexibility (52%), and transparency (44%).

Also highlighted in Nimdzi’s survey results is managing internal expectations (34%); localization professionals need a language partner who helps them manage their complex tasks and makes them look good.

In response, the more progressive, partnership-focused language service providers are emerging as forerunners in automation, AI, and data in global business digital transformation.

At the same time, with demand driven by companies, their services and products, and complex localization needs driven by consumers, a few truly innovative ‘LSPs’ are finding themselves ideally positioned for a pivotal role with an opportunity to strategically partner with their clients for mutual growth.

However, qualitative feedback through Nimdzi’s client-side interviews demonstrated a lack of transparency and partnership – with client comments that sometimes the LSP is a “black box”.

This report’s findings suggest clear and concrete opportunities for businesses to benchmark globalization and localization maturity and plan out their transformation journey accordingly, in order to overcome major identified pain points.

What should you consider when assessing your language services needs?

While international businesses’ translation, localization, and media services are essential, these exercises can be costly and time-consuming, often yielding inaccurate and inconsistent outcomes.

Managing translations for one or two markets inhouse or via a freelance model is straightforward. However, with the increasing pressure for innovation and market expansion, efficiently managing localized translations for multiple markets can be overwhelming and more than a challenge; it can present a nightmare of work and expense for marketers and buyers.

Integrated, Cost-effective, On-Time, In-Full Delivery

One in every two marketers interviewed further cited speed, accuracy, integration of language services within existing systems, and overall cost as significant friction points.

Lack of integration leads to further frustration, where previous translation data is not shared across systems, meaning unnecessary time and cost for marketers, which translation memory or similar assets could have prevented. Adding to this frustration is inconsistency across departments, where each has a distinct process, toolset, and file format, instead of a centralized approach.

This inconsistency carries across into the translations, creating unaligned content and localization. One continuous workflow is lacking.

The model also requires consideration: whether to manage the process internally or outsource localization entirely. The former approach could run into budget spill over, delays, and quality issues.

Consistency is Critical

Marketers are anxious about localization. Their product is central, and brand consistency is pivotal; the risk of releasing unaligned content – ‘mumbo jumbo’, damaging the brand reputation and image, is a barrier. Trust in their provider’s ability and capacity to facilitate translation consistency through automation and human-in-the-loop processes is paramount.

For localization buyers and stakeholders, products or services are likewise at the heart of the enterprise; localization and development, and innovation tend to gravitate together, highlighting the importance of trust. As Straker’s COO, Merryn Straker, has emphasized, ‘What you’re having to do is build trust in your language services provider that they will propose and deliver the right service offering that you need within your price point. …We partner with our clients to have the best outcome.’

Trust is the Foundation of a Partnership

Trust can be the primary driver in selecting a language partner. According to Stretch Creative’s Chris Reid, `If we’re going to work with someone, and we’re going to do business with you, I want to make sure that we can trust you,” he said. “No matter what kind of project you’re working on, there are always going to be challenges. …Some (vendors) are not listening to what your pain point is.’

Listening and collaboration are vital. Also crucial to the relationship is automation, which along with smart algorithms, can increase accuracy, consistency, brand alignment, and quality, further reinforcing trust in the partnership and the process.

We had a new project come to us where we needed to translate around 100 thousand product descriptions, so the sheer volume was pretty intimidating. When we looked at doing it in-house, we discovered that it would be a complete headache – more expensive and more work for us. – Chris Reid, CEO, Stretch Creative

How can marketers improve simplicity and speed whilst minimizing costs?

Select a strategic partner driven by innovation and data insights. The best way to approach or ensure a seamless translation experience is by selecting a language partner who can share relevant content across platforms easily, accurately, and safely, incorporating centralized translation memory (TM), resulting in faster, cost-effective accurate translations. Using APIs and connectors, linking CMS systems such as Sitecore, Magento, Drupal, or WordPress to a central platform means getting your translation is a few clicks away.

In addition, specialist language services providers can enhance the friction-free experience through user-friendly, aligned interfaces for users. If these points are conducted reliably and to scale, you’re guaranteed a smooth and more cost-effective localization experience.

Invested localization buyers, marketing executives and stakeholders can partner with specialized language service providers to:

Leverage AI and machine learning (ML) for speed and cost-effectiveness: AI and ML are valuable additions to a translation toolkit for digitalenabled specialist language service providers. These tools reduce workload, incorporate TM, and can provide users with essential data. However, although sophisticated, these tools alone are not enough. Matching AI with a skilled and knowledgeable translator is how accuracy is guaranteed and where quality evolves.

Create translation memory (TM): Crucial for brand consistency is a digital memory of the brand’s unique terminology. Through retaining previous translation localization data, marketers can count on consistency across future translations.

Use interchangeable formats: The information on the simple document delivered by most providers can’t be transferred into memory or across systems. Hence, a provider using interchangeable tool formats is vital for consistency, efficiency, and quality.

Adhere to ‘less haste, more speed’: Careful and methodical quality control up front can save much hassle later. For example, Straker evaluates around one percent of translated SKUs, checking it thoroughly through human-in-the-loop (HITL) to ensure accuracy and quality and applying resultant learnings to the bulk of the work. This attention to detail saves cost and time and provides a smooth and speedy experience.

Maintain transparency: Being able to see the status of the translation project and pull various reports for feedback is vital. A centralized platform connecting all process elements assists in this objective, allowing access at all points to all users, albeit through varying interfaces.

Centralising services: Avoiding project by project procurement red tape and having access to all your services under one roof are significant advantages of one specialist language services partner versus an array of providers.

Retaining the ‘human touch’: Technology is a valuable mechanism aiding quality translation; human involvement transforms the translations into well-localized content.

Language services partners who have worked across the gamut of enterprise, consulting with small and large organizations, deliver peace of mind regarding their setup for fast, accurate, cost-effective, and scalable delivery.

How can AI and machine learning boost speed to market?

With 82 percent of organizations planning market expansion, getting to market fast is crucial. Robust translation inputs to fine tune the machine learning platform are indispensable when increasing speed to market and improving cost efficiencies. Consider the experience of Stretch Creative:

Chris Reid, CEO of Stretch Creative, reports that while creating Fortune 500 client product descriptions at volumes of up to 50,000, he relies on fast, accurate, and scalable solutions to deliver.

Crucially, he emphasizes the importance of localization down to the individual word level: ‘The way we speak about products for clients in fashion and apparel is very different from the way an industrial client might communicate about hydraulic pumps, for example. …Different words truly matter.’

With AI advances and machine learning, scalability, accuracy, and efficiency are a reality based on historic translations and customizations. By configuring the default setup of the client’s specific systems and using client specific data, (known as translation memory, glossaries etc), it is possible to further fine tune the ML platform for future inputs, namely by collecting and using data points alongside robust AI layers built into the flow. Any human-inthe-loop annotation (manual override to correct any errors) can therefore be fed back into the loop so the same mistake cannot happen twice.

Reid has seen this play first-hand in his Canadian projects – French Canadian being notoriously challenging to translate – where up to 45 writers and editors work on content. However, instead of a babble of dialects and style, content tone and voice are consistently maintained through digital enhancement, allowing Stretch to deliver on time.

Yet, understanding our clients’ needs and expectations and delivering on these is only part of the story. To be agile and stay ahead of the curve, industry, IT, and LSPs must also look to the future to anticipate and meet emerging trends.

How can translation data and insight increase marketing innovation?

Eighty percent of marketers require language provider localization data and insights for innovation, yet less than half receive this support.

Data insights and a base of data points drive quality translation; data is at the core of consistent, accurate localization, with the possibility of up to 300 billion data points adding sophistication to your localization translations.

Research and testing are also at the heart of best practices, including A/B testing across translation alternatives to measure impact, retention, and conversion rates. Then, the cost versus ROI comes into play, with transparent pricing structures adding valuable data for go/no-go confirmation.

Relying on data allows enterprise marketers and localization buyers and stakeholders to see what’s working and what isn’t and the agility to make rapid adaptations. Using data-driven decisions throughout the process is how a reputable digital-enabled specialist language services partner can help you succeed.

Notably, a digital-enabled, data-driven language partner also collects metrics around their pricing, billing, and performance, plus client input and feedback. This telemetry enables you to source your best fit provider, and monitor their output versus cost, allowing you to manage your translation budget and outcomes more efficiently. Choosing the right partner for your globalization and localization is thus pivotal; a provider with an aligned outlook and goals will save you time and money and increase your innovation and market expansion success.

Through these transformation efforts, businesses can enjoy increased productivity, faster turnaround times, preferred rates, more significant time, cost, and resource efficiencies, improved risk mitigation, and a future-proofed supply chain.

At the same time, AI tech giants like IBM are meeting these challenges through strategic partnerships with their more innovative and collaborative global suppliers.

IBM case study: Why choose machine intelligence?

AI can play a part beyond machine translation in our processes. Think about the challenge of getting the right translator on the right project. AI and NLP can help with classification of content and predicting who is the best translator to complete that content and kind of balance that out for both quality and speed. …Then I think about terminology, compliance, or even discovery of inclusive or biased terminology. We at IBM have millions of pages of content, so AI can help identify those things without having a person reading through reams and reams of that content and doing it manually. – Lily Ryzebol, Senior Director, Globalization, Quality and Announcements, IBM

With 59 percent of marketers demanding AI in translation localization, incorporating machine intelligence is vital. It delivers:

ML capabilities: The role of machine learning in translation can’t be underestimated. ML helps speed up the translation process while reducing error, and it also streamlines finding the right human to refine and finalise the localization. Thus, the use of ML is vital in increased speed to market, accuracy, and consistency.

Faster translations with less unique content: ML capabilities increase historical data and, consequently, fewer new words for translation at each repeat. This advantage translates to boosted speed to market.

High-quality, intuitive text matches: AI incorporates essential quality assurance elements such as style guides and glossaries, ensuring high quality outcomes localized to market demands in fewer iterations and less time. AI can also mirror styles to match your preferred or previous tone and approach.

Overall reduced costs and Improved cost efficiency: No additional charge for repetitions reduces expenses with each successive round of translations.

Automation and AI-enabled specialist language services boost your global enterprise success through increased innovation, enhanced localization, and accelerated speed to market for competitive advantage.

Using simplification as a driver to consolidate and centralize operations

With 54 percent of marketers citing a lack of simplicity as a barrier to friction-free localization, selecting language services partners offering uncomplicated processes and experiences is vital. For example, consider IBM’s recent transformational journey led by their globalization department:

In an interview with Straker’s David Sowerby, Chief Revenue Officer, Lily Ryzebol, IBM’s Senior Director, Globalization, Quality and Announcements shared more on IBM’s recent transformation.

As a global giant, IBM experiences substantial volumes of localization and translation each year. A pioneer in this area in the past, IBM’s approaches, techniques, implementation, and expertise were already all in place along with a centralized globalization and localization function.

However, although centralized, their expertise was distributed globally across 17 translation centres. As a result, optimization of operations was occurring, but in silos. This was evident in the number of vendors they worked with, across diverse tools and workflows, and through different processes in various markets, thus adding complexity to elements like IBM’s financial tracking internally.

Simplification thus became the key driver for IBM’s transformation along with opportunities from a holistic end-to-end process, such as deploying continuous translation models, how to improve ‘time to market’, and how to leverage more modern tools and technologies across their experienced workforce.

IBM started looking for a partner who had the right technology and agile approach to take on the workload, freeing up executives to concentrate on their core business. A partner whose core strength was translation and localization – Straker Translations, was sourced. Within tools and technologies, processes went from 15 to 20 inhouse tools with three workflows to one primary cloud-based workflow integrated directly into IBM’s content management systems. The switch supported IBM’s vast range of development environments and file formats, leveraging ML with seamless precision by using human-in-the-loop processes. At the same time, these changes have led to continuous translation opportunities and improved speed to market.

…finding a strategic partner, not just a vendor, that you can truly say will collaborate with you to get you global ready…is absolutely key.’… ‘Doing that in concert with looking at the industry as a whole and what is going on… (becoming) engaged with globalization groups, events and conferences, to start getting to know people and how they are approaching it from different perspectives. – Lily Ryzebol, Senior Director, Globalization, Quality and Announcements, IBM

How are AI-enabled language services impacting localization?

Reiterating the phenomenal rise of translation services and automated localization with machine learning, Gartner Research reports that AI-enabled translation services enquiries, zero to the Gartner team in 2017, have rapidly increased in 2021. However, with this explosion of cutting-edge technology, adoption requires anticipated trends. In their Market Guide for AI-Enabled Translation Services, Gartner predicts:

An industry rethink of localization strategy, leaning further toward globalization process life cycle models. Expect standard model and tool adoption across translation impacted departments.

Leveraging these services will require an organizational change to adopt enterprise-wide centralization of associated processes.

At the same time, translator AI tools will increasingly require skilled human post-editing, also referred to as human-in-the-loop with translators required to improve tool quality and accuracy via HITL methods and tool training such as through MT model tailoring.

Hand in hand will be the design and development of content stores and applications integrating directly into localization workflows, allowing content access, delivery, and feedback on demand.

Globalization relies on centralization and partnerships

Global enterprises have voiced a reliance on progressive partner-focused LSPs with centralized, time and cost-saving AI-enabled solutions providing fast, transparent, and accurate outcomes. Specialized language service providers already have the tools and the approaches to align with user needs, solving an array of pain points while boosting enterprise success.

Looking forward, what do the Gartner predicted trends, like enterprise-wide centralization of processes and tools, mean for future-proofing language service models for enterprise? How important is it now to select a trusted global language services partner with local in-market expertise?

For marketers and localization users, an organization-wide sea change in mindset, translation process structures, and the need for embracing and sharing new tools is looming. Leaders need to establish and implement a refreshed vision, supporting it with strong leadership, strategic partners, appropriate software, and enough resources.

For translators, anticipate increased human input, and proactive localization insight requires improved customization and machine training.

For automation and IT developers, leverage product roadmaps to lead the way in a fully centralized, automated end-to-end content process.

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