How The Pandemic Accelerated Change at LSPs
Ask people working in the localization industry if the move to working from home affected them, and many will tell you that they were already “remote” – set up to work from home, due to the nature of their jobs. Language service provider have no physical products to ship, no warehouses to store goods, and no fleets of trucks or ships to coordinate for deliveries. Coordinating language services in this day and age is essentially an ebusiness. On the surface, the switch to working from home appears simple. But for some, the move was much more than simply closing the office doors for a few weeks: It entailed new investments in hardware and networking, an accelerated move to the cloud, or a combination of both. We recently surveyed LSPs to find out exactly what changes the COVID-19 pandemic forced within their IT environments.
Those that were not already set up for remote work reported that they had to enhance their IT and security environments – and that the pandemic precipitated rapid evolution in not only where people work, but the technology and processes they use.
Language service providers, together with their counterparts in enterprises, government, and other organizations, had to make significant modifications to ensure they could still carry out every aspect of their business while complying with travel and social distancing restrictions and protecting the health of their workers. For those not already enabled for all staff to telecommute, this effort forced rapid changes in their technical infrastructure:
- Individual hardware purchases or upgrades. New equipment for individuals was part of the work-from-home investment. The obvious – new laptops and/or monitors for home workers who would previously have used fixed office equipment such as workstations networked to a server – was just the beginning.
- Infrastructure hardware and software changes. All of the LSPs’ infrastructure had to quickly morph to cloud-based or remote access while maintaining the efficiency, automation, and security in place in their office environment – not simply the computer on which each project or account manager worked. In some cases, this meant a whole new infrastructure, technology stack and security policy review, a rapid migration from datacenter to the cloud, a new centralized server with VPN access, or even a home-based server.
- Internet for everyone. Every staff member’s internet service had to support everyone in the home: not just one linguist or project manager but often two working adults plus children’s schooling, online grocery shopping, video calls to Grandma, and the streaming of family entertainment. Some LSPs told us that they set up hotspots or paid to increase internet bandwidth or data caps for their employees’ homes to try to make the network equivalent to that at a company location.
- VPN enhancements. LSPs had to enable virtual private network (VPN) access to their secure systems for more workers, for example by increasing the number of users permitted to connect through the firewall simultaneously. Some had to create a VPN for the first time – not an easy task if you are not an IT security expert. All VPN changes meant these companies also had to spend time training people how to use their access and on managing logins, passwords, and other aspects of VPN security.
- Changes to telephony. Those that previously relied on a landline switchboard and desk-based telephones switched to voice-over-IP (VOIP) – possibly realizing immediate savings over traditional phone services. Some providers switched phone services to their employees’ mobile phones while enhancing information security on these devices.
- Video conferencing. LSPs purchased or upgraded subscriptions to videoconferencing services such as Zoom to allow virtual meetings with their internal teams, external clients, and prospects.
The pandemic created a surge to cloud-based services for many organizations, not only LSPs. We have even heard from government organizations that – pre-COVID – had repeatedly rejected remote work as an option but found that, within days of restrictions, the impossible was possible. They rushed to implement cloud-based systems or granted VPN access. Language service providers were not alone in this speedy transition.
Other changes to business practices became established during the pandemic which may become a legacy of 2020:
- Rapid implementation. Whether already in process, or in brand-new initiatives, LSPs increased the speed with which they implemented new technology. One CEO commented that, before the pandemic, he didn’t have the courage to make radical changes but that the significant loss of revenue was the boost he needed to move some technology projects forward. Systems including interpreting and translation management systems (IMSes, TMSes), interpreting delivery platforms (IDPs), sales enablement solutions, content management systems (CMSes), language processing tools, intranet portals for employees, and human resources systems were all deployed under pressure during the pandemic.
- More videoconferencing. When you cannot meet in person, a daily call with team members and/or clients is essential. Business attire or pajamas? Interrupted by the kids or the cat? It all became part of working life – and for many, a big savings on travel time. Will Zoom or Teams replace in-person meetings post-pandemic? It will for some but definitely not all – no doubt the knowledge of what works just as well from a home office as an expensive business trip will apply when making future decisions.
- Increased importance of IT. With the burden of rapidly enabling remote access and facilitating home-based working, the essential role IT plays within the company became very apparent. Any LSP that struggled with this early in the pandemic has learned the value of access to professional IT services – either within their organization, or on-call from a third-party service.
- Increased automation, more use of TMS. LSPs told us they have found ways to automate more or have made greater use of their translation management system(s). With greater demands on their services, reduced staff due to illness, clients asking for reductions in rates – all factors reported to CSA Research during the pandemic – LSPs had many drivers to be as efficient as possible, finding ways that will become lasting enhancements to their services.
- Workplace flexibility. In addition to home-based working, survey respondents told us they had changed working hours – some to fit employment time around family and childcare responsibilities – but others adjusted and stretched their patterns of work to cover more diverse clients in multiple time zones. Some even cancelled workplace leases, moving – at least for now – to a completely remote setup. However, executives must closely watch the impact of all these changes on staff burnout and motivation levels. Others found that they could now find and hire staff based on capability, not proximity.
- Changes to in-person work. With person-to-person contact restricted, interpreting providers told us they enabled work to continue remotely by creating a hub for remote simultaneous interpreting (RSI) fitted with booths in their offices. Multimedia work was also affected, with recording studios closed but workers able to record from home. This, again, required new and professional equipment such as microphones and mobile sound-proof panels.
In addition to enabling work to continue for these language service providers during the pandemic, we are certain that these changes have put them on solid footing for recovery as the world comes out of lockdown and economies rebound. The heavy investment in technology upgrades was a needed boost for some providers to continue their evolution. It solidified LSPs’ infrastructure, enabled the delivery of new services, and is offering new work setup possibilities for previously office-based staff. LSPs’ minimum technology stack will never be quite the same as before the pandemic – and that is a good thing for their business, their clients, and their staff.
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