How Three Companies Strengthened Software Development Efforts During COVID-19
In our early-in-the-pandemic call for action by company leaders, CSA Research recommended that companies “learn from this experience and get ready now for when the crisis ends.” We echoed that advice in our report on the future of language services. Over the last few weeks we’ve been briefed by several LSPs and translation technology vendors about how they have used the slowdown to push new initiatives and projects and, as we suggested, develop new products. They said that the pandemic’s disruption of business actually helped them focus and double down on software development efforts: SDL with an MT platform aimed at business users, Smartcat by developing a full-service TMS for LSPs and enterprises, and thebigword unifying client interaction with its written- and spoken-language offerings.
SDL – Automated On-Demand Secure, Compliant Business Translation
SDL is best known for two things: 1) providing language services to businesses and governments; and 2) selling software used by enterprise translation management and translator audiences. Its services business ranges from individual projects to centralized enterprise translation operations. Its software development focus for the last few years has been migrating on-premise and hosted versions of its traditional products to the Language Cloud – SDL’s evolving platform meant to unify all its products on a single code base supporting all core translation software functions – and building out its linguistic AI including neural machine translation. Its next-generation TMS and Trados Studio 2021 are both built on Language Cloud, each product infused with AI and NMT.
The Regulated Industries team at SDL saw an opportunity to integrate its translation services expertise with Language Cloud to serve CFOs, chief counsels, compliance officers, HR heads, and other executives and managers with sensitive data that needs fast translation. It took the Language Cloud technology with NMT and AI, trained MT engines with linguistic assets from regulated industry sectors, and backed it up with the domain area expertise of its human language specialists.
SDL put all of this technology and service behind a straightforward consumer-friendly self-service web interface with on-demand or subscription pricing. Called SLATE (smart language translation for the enterprise), SDL will market it within the Regulated Industries space – and to anyone else who needs secure, domain-specific, compliant, fit-to-format translation on demand with the added confidence of human linguists available for editing if needed. This will help the company address the “shadow demand” inside enterprises of anyone else who might need translation but doesn’t work or even know about the traditional centralized language team.
Christophe Djaouani, SDL’s EVP of Regulated Industries, said about development during the time of COVID-19: “We’re very pleased to be able to say that at SDL we have not only continued to provide our existing services thanks to our well-functioning BCP measures, but have also been working on SLATE – an automated, secure, quick machine-first solution powered by our own AI technology and built with business users in mind.”
Smartcat – Developing a Full-Service TMS for LSPs and Enterprises
Smartcat entered the translation technology market four years ago with a vendor management and payment system coupled to its own Collaborative CAT editor. Over time it developed more translation business process management capabilities that endeared it to LSPs, freelancers, and end-buyers. However, two issues limited its appeal to some LSP and enterprise buyers. For LSPs, while Smartcat hit the sweet spot of the provider market by integrating business process management functions with a strong CAT tool, its translation editor wasn’t Trados or memoQ. LSPs that had to work with its translation and business process management system as well as the incumbent CAT tools generated waste in the process from manual work and data duplication. On the enterprise side, access to diverse workflows and multiple vendors was not that easy or direct, which limited take-up by companies managing their own translation workflows.
Early this year Smartcat briefed us about its plan to address both issues and accelerated its development activity during the shelter-in-place period. For LSPs, it fleshed out its software to be a comprehensive translation and business management system that supports the entire project life cycle – without having to leave the platform. Among other things it enhanced the user interface and white-labeling capabilities, improved quoting and invoicing, and expanded customized reporting. Two new features address the “not-Trados” challenge: 1) LSPs can use Smartcat’s CAT tool or any other CAT in conjunction with its workflow and business management functions; and 2) it can crawl websites with quoting and proxy translation, both functions integrated with its business management bookkeeping functions.
For end-customers that manage their own translation software, Smartcat extended its portal to simplify access to required workflows ranging from human and machine translation and choices from its multi-LSP marketplace. Smartcat enables management of any projects created through the portal across the entire supply chain, with full visibility and reporting across all stages of a project. As with LSPs, enterprise users benefit from its ability to support continuous delivery and integration (CI/CD) in addition to standard use cases in a single platform.
Ivan Smolnikov, CEO of Smartcat, said that, “Our engineering team could have gone back to the office, but they told us that they’d rather stay at home where they worked more effectively over the last couple of months. Since about 60% of our team were already working remotely in four countries, we thought we were already remote. What we found was that people communicated better, without concern about where they were, when everyone was working remotely.”
thebigword – Unifying Language Services in a Single Portal
thebigword offers both spoken and written-language services, selling to both commercial and government buyers. Its IRIS remote interpreting application debuted in late February, right before the COVID-caused rush to social distancing created demand for an alternative to the on-site interpreting that fell into disfavor during the pandemic.
During the shelter-in-place period, thebigword developers hunkered down to accelerate the release of Wordsynk, a unified language management system (ULMS) that provides a single secure portal interface for both spoken- and written-language services from secure, instant translation to full human service. This makes it easier to contract for those services without logging into separate systems. For example, healthcare administrators could order the translation of notification letters during the same sessions in which they set up an on-site or remote interpreting session for a patient. Learning from the experience of others during the pandemic, thebigword made sure to generate non-sequential unique URLs for all participants to foil any “Zoom-bombing” of its remote sessions and allow easy control of which individuals can access which portions of meetings.
thebigword estimates that 90% of its current revenue comes from self-service options in this ULMS – with 60% of the requests coming through its API. The company expects that within five years Wordsynk will serve 95% of its spoken- and written-language volume, for everything from on-site to remote interpreting, and human to post-edited MT to fully automated translation.
According to CEO Joshua Gould, “Our goal was to use the pandemic’s business pause to create an Uber-like experience in which ordering language services is as easy as requesting a ride. Rather than just put a skin on off-the-shelf technology such as WebRTC, concerns about security, scalability, and ergonomics pushed custom development to create a seamless experience for users.”
Finding an Upside in Times of Challenge
Like many others over the last few months, these three companies decided that they’d accelerate both their product development and internal DevOps efforts while COVID-19 blocked business as usual. They focused on classic challenges such as simplicity for the people using or buying their products, security for sensitive information, and modern software architectures to build solid platforms for future growth. Their leaders told us that they moved and learned fast, each to create a jewel in the crown of their coronavirus experience.
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