October 16-18, Singapore, TAUS 2019, Mandarin Orchard Hotel
Deep in the heart of the historic Mandarin Orchard Hotel in Singapore, leaders of localization and translation companies met to discuss nothing less than the very future of the industry. Unbeknownst to guests and travelers, the hotel’s conference room hosts TAUS 2019, an event where industry giants share thoughts, plans, and ideas that will shape and define the industry for years to come. TAUS 2019 featured the theme ’Intelligent Content: In and Out of Asia.’ New technologies, innovations, intelligent content delivery strategy, big data and AI, up and coming talent, and even the effects of the political climate on the industry were all on display at this important conference, with speakers representing some of the biggest names in the industry including Google, Microsoft, PayPal, CSOFT, Autodesk, and VMware.
The opening day of TAUS 2019 saw Shunee Yee of CSOFT International and Nicholas Goh of Verztec Consulting take the stage for a keynote discussion between leaders of two of the largest global and Asia-based providers of localization and translation services. In one of the most interesting forums of the entire conference, Shunee was asked to talk about the importance of balance in the industry. How to keep balance between humans and machines? How will big data and AI affect translation? How to navigate conservatism and globalism? How to manage the roles of both the creative powers of linguistic teams and the intelligence that massive data can provide? Is there still room for the “human touch” in the Modern Translation Pipeline, or is it time for machines to finally take over the heavy lifting? Simply put, where is the industry going, and how long until it gets there?
A look at the past
Before delving into the future of the industry, Shunee was first asked to talk about the past. Founder of Taus and panel moderator Jaap van der Meer asked Shunee to share a bit of CSOFT history. After all, if you want to understand where an industry is going, you have to first understand where it’s been.
Shunee described the beginnings of CSOFT like a piece of a history book that covers global trade between the east and the west.
“Many might know how CSOFT was founded in a 2-bedroom in SOHO Beijing, but what a lot of people don’t know is that we were mostly working out of the east coast of the United States, with the first 8-9 years serving direct US and European customers only. We started our business with the offshore model that so many companies used in the late 90’s.”
At that time, outsourcing was the trend, with 9 out of 10 Chinese software companies basing their business models on Indian engineering farms. Owing to the recruitment of top engineering talent, CSOFT was able to develop innovative technologies and tools to support their services, allowing CSOFT to operate more quickly and efficiently than competition based in the west. About 9 years in, CSOFT opened an office in Shenzhen, considered the manufacturers capital of China, and a place that offered a complete supply line. Shunee described how this changed everything…
“In a few short years, we opened up a whole new revenue stream by providing services to Chinese clients. We added more than 120 top Chinese brands to our client list, supporting their global strategies and internationalization efforts. We began to see English, Simplified Chinese, Korean, Russian, and some Southeast Asian languages showing up in our top target language tier. We added services like our GC3, a global communications consulting service for content strategy and creation. We developed Stepes, the very first mobile translation app. Stepes was one of a pioneering group of products in big data translation that came out when Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Gengo, and other big hitters were beginning to make advances in this technology. All of our creativity and innovation was driven by the market’s demand and growth.”
When we look at how a company like CSOFT first focused on the US and European market, then later began providing new services and products out of China, we can see how the business model was following the geo-political movement and global shifts in the world economy. This is what makes the localization industry so interesting. The industry is completely driven by the global market and global economy. The geo-linguistic shift is related to the geo-political movement, and this is why looking into the past can be every bit as important as looking to the future. Historical political, linguistic, and economic shifts all provide a basis for understanding the future of the industry, and an in-depth understanding of this gives industry leaders invaluable assistance in planning business strategy and developing new technologies and business models.
Shunee was asked by moderator Jaap van der Meer to describe two examples of two services that her company, CSOFT, added as a response to changing market conditions. The first example was providing social media content creation in 5 different languages to leading Chinese eCommerce brands. The second example was the providing regulatory consulting services for US drug developers or CROs for Chinese access.
Politics and globalization remain an important factor
Having discussed some history, the moderator then shifted the focus of the talks to the present, asking the speakers to share some opinions on the current political climate. Shunee was asked to share some opinions on the current US-China trade war. While emphasizing that she doesn’t believe there is a quick or simple fix to this trade tension, Shunee remains optimistic about the future outlook of the industry.
“It has undoubtedly created some uncertainty and anxiety in businesses around the world. We feel the pinch every day. But you have to try and look at things in a different light. As leaders, we all have hard decisions to make. Some decisions are made of our own volition, and some are pushed upon us as both industry growth and innovation are shaped by policies and regulations that define cross-border trading. In the end, it is on us to determine how much this affects the translation industry.”
Shunee went on to discuss how globalization can have a large impact on the industry as a whole. In the health sciences sector, demographics impact health-care delivery. Patient population dictates the locations of clinical studies and trials. How will the global population affect these sectors? Shunee goes on to share some of her views on the benefits of a global consciousness.
“Healthcare isn’t and shouldn’t be a US problem, or a German problem, or a China problem. We are seeing more and more globalization and collaboration between countries in order to achieve true advancements in healthcare for all global citizens. As people realize that cancer, heart disease, and other chronic illnesses are ‘human problems’ and not ‘country problems,’ we could see a global push towards cooperation in solving these problems through the use of technology. This push will likely be greatly supported by AI and data intelligence advancements.
Where are we going?
After prompting discussion of both the past and the present, moderator Jaap van der Meer then asks Shunee about the future. Specifically, how AI, big data, and MT will affect the future of the translation and localization industry.
Shunee points out a common misconception that AI is all about content, explaining that at her company, CSOFT International, AI technology is mainly used to automate workflows and improve resource management. However, Shunee also allows for the very real possibility that change is coming.
“We see that data intelligence and AI are slowly changing our industry. It’s not a huge movement and it’s not all at once, but it is a slow shift that will likely continue. I believe that in the not-too-distant future, 60-70% of our work can be automated, and that down the road over 50% of our workload will have nothing to do with translating content and text.”
Truly an interesting potential statistic to contemplate. When companies in the translation industry see 60-70% of their work being automated, where do the human’s factor in? How does the creativity of human content creation teams integrate with the automated content? If 50% of the future workload has nothing to do with translation, what types of work will we see these companies shift to? This is why the TAUS 2019 conference was attended by so many industry leaders. The only way companies in the translation and localization industry can develop effective strategies is through sharing their knowledge of the past and understanding of the present.