Today we will cast an eye over some of the current trends in the industry, and the key features that any new translation software needs in order to be competitive.
To be successful in today’s market, vendors need to be open-minded about new technology and transparent in their processes, collaborating with other players and even competitors to create and constantly improve software that can benefit everyone. Let’s find out how in this 7-point list:
Ease of use
There is a growing desire for software to be ‘out of the box’ and intuitive. This is driven in part by the importance and near-ubiquity of apps in our everyday lives – these are, after all, software programs which have been simplified and optimised for a mobile interface while retaining all their key features. For a CAT tool to be successful, therefore, it needs to provide all the fundamental functions, plus a unique selling proposition that can’t be found elsewhere, while stripping away unnecessary and overly complex features that are of no real use to the consumer.
The seemingly unstoppable rise of outsourcing, remote working and hot desking means an ever-increasing demand for the features that the cloud can offer. The advantages are manifold:
- Thanks to cloud technology you can ensure that your data is constantly backed up as you go, eliminating the dreaded fear of losing files because of a computer crash or hard drive failure;
- You can access your files from anywhere, allowing you to work on the go with total flexibility.
- Finally, and most excitingly, the cloud also opens up avenues for collaboration, linking vendors and freelancers around the world in real time. For example, it allows multiple translators, reviewers and clients to view, edit and comment on the same translation project simultaneously, as seen in the functionality that we have now come to expect as standard from Google Docs.
The rise of collaborative working offered by this interconnected approach can also be applied to translation memories, allowing localisation industry professionals to pool their resources to deliver the most efficient, accurate and high-quality translations possible. New translation software should aim to leverage the knowledge base offered by collaborative TMs, tapping into the enormous amount of content translated around the world every day.
After all, why translate something that has already been translated before?
Although in the past it has been maligned, today’s machine translation is a totally different beast.
State-of-the-art web crawling can tap into the internet’s practically infinite well of multilingual resources, providing statistical machine translation with high levels of accuracy. What’s more, the technology has by no means reached its limits – the next generation of MT, perhaps best embodied by Google’s recently-launched Neural Machine Translation System (GNMT), can take in much longer phrases and learn from context, allowing for drastic quality improvements. Alongside these advances, consumers are becomingly increasingly aware of the differing levels of translation quality that can be provided depending on the demands of the project in question. When speed has priority and extremely high quality is not a must, it makes sense to use MT to make time and cost savings. Translation providers must therefore aim to incorporate MT into their software as seamlessly as possible to reap the benefits of faster turnarounds and higher margins.
Scalable and customisable
Translation software needs to be flexible enough to handle all types of jobs for all kinds of users, from a single professional translator to a major translation agency, including the ability to process very large projects when necessary. Having the infrastructure in place to scale up when needed is crucial.
On the other hand, today’s buyers expect customised solutions where the software can be optimised to meet their specific needs, and the question for providers is how to respond to this.
A key driver to bridge the gap between extreme standardisation and client customisation is excellent Customer Support. Why? It has frequent contact with users, understands issues both large and small, identifies mainstream and niche requirements, and helps to build a roadmap for further product improvement. Customer Support plays the vital role of transforming specific needs into new features available for the whole user community.
Free or paid?
When it comes to business models for translation software, the debate essentially boils down to licences vs. services. When we think of the big names in the world of CAT tools (such as SDL Trados Studio), for the most part they have a business model based on selling costly licences for their technology. However, if we look beyond the industry and consider the most innovative companies in the world today, we can see that the momentum is undoubtedly with service-based business models. A lot of the fastest-growing, most successful companies on the market allow consumers to access their technology for free on the basis that they will use it to buy services, or to generate advertising revenue. To take a few examples from various industries, Uber (which recently provided its two billionth ride) is free to download and use, as are apps from TripAdvisor, Booking and countless others. With Google Docs, you can access a full suite of tools to create documents, spreadsheets, presentations and much more, all without paying a penny. It may not be able to compete with Microsoft Office yet when it comes to niche features, but the point is that it attracts an enormous number of users for several reasons: it’s free, provides excellent quality for the most popular everyday features, and also offers new opportunities to collaborate in real time via the cloud. In fact, this model (providing technology for free to entice users who can then be monetised in some way) has become so commonplace that it can be sometimes be jarring when we are expected to pay for an app or piece of software.
When you think about it, most of the best software innovations in recent years have come for free. So why not apply the same approach to the translation industry? A brief look at the numbers shows us that the sector is ripe for disruption. The market for translation software is estimated at around 1.3% of the total for translation services, equalling $500m. Not an insignificant amount, for sure, but not enough to create a billion-dollar company. On the other hand, if you can attract users and consequently get them to buy services, you have access to a market worth over $37bn. For this reason, we believe that the next big thing is unlikely to be an old-school piece of desktop software based on the traditional business model of selling licences.
The final, boldest step is to make the software open-source, allowing it to be accessed, used, changed and shared by anyone. While this may seem extreme compared to the guarded approach of most CAT tool vendors, it has two very important advantages: guaranteeing business continuity and innovation.
If you rely on a particular piece of software to run your business day-to-day, what’s your backup plan in case the program is discontinued or acquired by one of your competitors? With open-source software, you’re not reliant on any one vendor – whatever happens, you can continue using and developing your tools just the way you want them. What’s more, it opens up immense possibilities for customisation. As mentioned earlier, customers nowadays expect technology optimised for their needs.
To give a specific example from our industry, MateCat provides a free TM server, free and open-source machine translation, and even free and open-source file format filters. These have variously been used as a base for new products to evaluate machine translation, to build new translation management systems and online ordering platforms, and to incorporate translation services into integrated development environments (IDE).
As we have seen, technology continues to evolve at an astonishing rate, both generally and specifically in the translation industry. Underpinning the entire approach is a fundamental belief in innovation, a willingness to push the limits, make mistakes and discover.
By allowing this attitude to guide them (when creating the latest CAT tools and translation management software) Tech Vendors can improve efficiency, consistency and accuracy, leading to faster turnarounds and more satisfied customers.