Embracing interpreting delivery platforms

Interpreting delivery platforms (IDPs) that enable remote, video, telephone and even machine interpretation are here to stay. Skeptics of the use of technology to deliver quality interpreting services downplay the value of IDPs and favor face-to-face options. But such solutions have a role to play, and rather than replace in-person interpreting, they complement it. All language industry participants — buyers, technology vendors, service providers and interpreters — need to take stock of the options available to them and how to best leverage them to service their customers in the best way possible.

And options abound. Recent technological advances have led to an explosion of IDP solutions. Through in-depth research and 45 interviews and demos with technology vendors, users of such technologies and interpreting experts, Common Sense Advisory found solid solutions across four categories of products (see Figure 1).

Technologies that deliver remote interpreting are no longer sci-fi dreams. They’re here and they work. In theory, first-movers should occupy a prominent position in the market. However, many products haven’t moved much past the starting line. What is the problem? Our research uncovered five major issues.

First, developers often fail to link ideas to client pain points. They create flashy applications as a response to a brilliant idea that has limited, if any, commercial demand. The problem is compounded by the developers’ frequent lack of sales and marketing savviness; resellers’ lack of motivation to proactively promote the offering; and the language service providers’ fear of revenue cannibalization from cheaper solutions.

Second, sellers struggle to find regular customers because they have to create demand for the offerings. Most potential buyers are unaware of available solutions, don’t know how to choose among the ones they do find or lack funding to actually buy the product. These are the challenges whether they seek to broaden language access or to substitute an existing solution with a different one.

Third, we found that buyer demand for interpreting solutions is evolving. Providers must juggle the level of perfection that buyers expect but that they can’t deliver systematically quite yet — think giving 24/7 access to video remote interpretation in a broad range of languages. They also have to adapt to trends such as the increase of on-demand availability, the rise of multichannel language access and the disappearance of the traditional separation between translation and interpreting.

Fourth, developers have to continually refine their offerings. Despite advances, they have to constantly improve audio and video quality, integrate with various business tools and create a natural fit in everyday technology such as smartphones and newer markets such as wearables.

And finally, no matter how good an IDP is, technology alone isn’t enough. Whether or not developers provide interpreting services along with the product, they must ensure there is a supply chain ready to deliver the services on the platform. However, most developers have failed to line up linguist networks. They sometimes end up selling the moon to clients by planting the benefits of IDPs in their mind, but do not deliver the infrastructure that comprises a viable commercial offering. In effect, they market the equivalent of a car with no roads to drive it on.

In general, we found that technology vendors tend to pass the buck by not providing this essential service component. Instead, they encourage organizations to “use your  own networks,” as if they were doing their prospects a big favor. For most buyers, this openness doesn’t help because many clients want interpreting service with the software with a “do it for me” approach.

Why don’t the developers provide the interpreters? A good supply chain for remote spoken language requires a different skill set than face-to-face interpreting and round-the-clock coverage. On the skills front, IDPs raise questions about interpreting quality, communicative dynamics and required training. The advent of remote simultaneous interpreting systems is particularly problematic in the sense that it requires simultaneous interpreters, the rarest type due to the advanced skill set it requires. On the coverage side, many clients expect 24/7 availability of video remote interpreting, even for languages of limited demand, a problem that will be further compounded as more buyers adopt IDPs.

Thus, whether you are a technology vendor, a language service provider, a hybrid or a buyer of language services, you must figure out how to train the next generation of interpreters so they can work effectively and remotely with the various IDP platforms. You must also figure out a business model to provide that round-the-clock coverage.

Taking a wrong path in tool development or go-to-market strategy can lead to the premature death of a product. Selecting a tool that isn’t fit-for-purpose can lead to user dissatisfaction and failed deployments. Yet despite these challenges, IDPs represent significant opportunities for all market participants. The demand is still maturing and has yet to reach its full potential.