machine translation blog

Why Machine Translation Matters in Digital Transformation

We live in an era where there is more information available to a digitally savvy human than has ever been possible in the history of mankind as we know it. The volume growth implications are so significant and substantial that it is worth considering some contextual facts to get a proper understanding of this fact.

The Encyclopedia Britannica announced in 2012 that after 244 years, dozens of editions and more than 7 million sets sold, no new editions would be printed. The primary cause for this is the increasing use and relevance of the Wikipedia (and other digital alternatives), which would amount to 2,670+ Encyclopedia Britannica-sized volumes if it were to be actually printed.

This content explosion presents special challenges to the modern enterprise, which now needs to assimilate, digest and determine what is relevant and what is not. In this age of digital disruption, those who fail in doing this become increasingly irrelevant, as we have seen in the retail industry in particular. Once iconic brands like Sears and Toys “R" Us now fall by the wayside and quietly disappear. Studies by experts suggest that many more companies across many industries will disappear because they fail to understand the changes in values and priorities inherent in this digital age and the disruption they cause.

The New Customer Journey

The behavior of the modern customer has changed and is now much more affected by free-flowing content. In fact, in many B2C and even B2B scenarios, we see that the modern customer may go through the whole customer journey without ever talking to a salesperson. Studies show that as much as 67% of the buyer’s journey is conducted digitally (though some put a different spin on that statistic), and customer behavior is driven by the content they discover. Therefore, self-service content is required at all stages of the customer journey and those digitally savvy enterprises will understand this.

It can be said that in the modern era, companies that provide relevant and high-quality content succeed, and those that don’t become irrelevant. The following graphic shows the many stages at which relevant customer content is required to engage with and persuade a potential customer, and then maintain an ongoing relationship.

Today, we see that more content and languages are needed to engage and connect with a global audience, not just mandated materials (like user documentation) and languages that have been the historical focus. There is an urgent need for translation capabilities that support the constantly updated content that may influence a buyer in their evaluation and decision-making process and define the post-purchase experience of the relationship.

A Shift in Customer Trust

While historically corporate marketing had a great degree of control and influence, today’s consumers may distrust corporate messaging or at least prefer to have additional sources of product information from the shared customer experience of fellow consumers.  User reviews are often more trusted than “corporate marketing speak" and even “expert" reviews, which are often funded by the same corporations. We all have experienced Amazon, travel sites, C-Net and other user rating sites. It is useful for both global consumers and global enterprises to make this user-generated content (UGC) multilingual.

Business content increasingly has a very short shelf-life, and thus, the benefits of traditional – slow and expensive – translation approaches are questionable for information that may have little or no value after six months. The fastest growing type of content is actually UGC from blogs, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and community forums.

International Data Corporation (IDC) estimates that 70% of the content on the web is UGC, and much of that is useful for enterprises to understand trends and customers better as this content now influences consumer behavior all over the world. This dynamic is often referred to as word-of-mouth marketing (WOMM).

Enter Machine Translation

It is estimated that today as many as 600 billion words a day are translated by computers across the various machine translation (MT) portals. This dwarfs the volume the localization and professional business translation industry translates by a factor of more than 99X! Recent reports suggest that new MT developer Alibaba alone translates as much as 200 billion words a day on their various eCommerce platforms. This brings the total MT word tally up to almost 800 billion words a day.

Clearly, global customers need specific information that may not be available in their native tongues, and they will use MT to get at least a gist of what they need to understand. While many continue to moan about the imperfection of MT at a human linguistic quality assessment level, the bulk of multilingual content being consumed on the planet today is being translated by computers.

Global customers who research products and services can now get information from various sources that are not controlled by an enterprise to decide whether to buy a product or not. MT allows them to have access to non-native language content via instant translations that are “good enough" to support a personal evaluation process.

Where to Use MT

In modern times, we’re experiencing a state of unprecedented connectivity thanks to technology. However, we’re still living under the shadow of the Tower of Babel in terms of global human communication. Language remains a barrier to business and marketing. Even though technological devices can quickly and easily connect, humans from different parts of the world often can’t. And traditional translation service offerings simply cannot scale to the real translation needs of the modern enterprise without leveraging technology in a substantial and competent way.

There are many kinds of business translation applications where MT just makes sense, and it would be foolish to even attempt these kinds of projects without competent MT technology as a foundation. Usually, this is because these applications have some combination of the following factors:

  • Very large volume of source content that simply could not be translated without MT in a useful time frame
  • Rapid turnaround requirements (days, hours or minutes) for the content to have any value to the content consumers
  • A user tolerance for lower quality translation, at least in early stages of information review
  • A need to enable information and document triage from large document collections or a large mass of undifferentiated content and identify the highest priority content that should be sent to higher quality human translation processes
  • Translation cost prohibitions (usually related to volume)

One can find this combination of requirements in several customer communication content, such as knowledge bases for technical support or customer service/support, eCommerce product listings, and customer experience reviews for all kinds of products and service experiences. In an increasingly digital world, we see that the need to be able to process large volumes of business content will only grow, and the need to identify what is most relevant and valuable for ongoing international business mission needs is becoming a critical success-enabling technology requirement.

Competently deployed, state-of-the-art machine translation technology properly integrated with relevant content flows to enhance customer experience solves high-value business problems to further and enhance any and all global business initiatives.

Keeping up with Global Content Trends

If we are to summarize the key trends, we see the following:

  • A content explosion that makes huge amounts of information available to global customers to help them understand products and services on a scale that has never been seen before. Much of this content is out of the control of the modern enterprise, but yet, it can deeply influence the behavior of potential and existing customers of the enterprise. Understanding what is most relevant and important is also becoming more and more valuable.
  • An era where content is increasingly your best salesperson and customers everywhere use digital content to make purchase decisions. For an enterprise to be relevant in the modern era, it needs to be present at every stage of the buyer and customer journey with relevant and high-value content. Those that provide the best digital experience (DX) with relevant content will thrive and prosper, and those that do not will struggle and fail.
  • A modern global customer that expects to get as much content and information in his language as his counterparts across the world. MT technology use will continue to accelerate to support these needs and make relevant content visible in a timely and efficient manner. MT technology will continue to improve as the smartest researchers in the world continue to focus on it.

Mass machine translation is not a translation of a work, per se, but it is rather, a liberation of the constraints of language in the discovery of knowledge." Peter Brantley

Thus, in this age of digital disruption, content-driven customer engagement, and B2C relationship building, where global customers want access to the same content that their English speaking counterparts have, what is the leadership at a modern enterprise to do?

The needs for the day and the skills that really matter for the future increasingly point to three things:

  1. An understanding of what is relevant content within the deluge that every enterprise faces today. The need is to increase relevant communication not just make any random content more available.
  2. An alignment of the content development and management strategies, with efficient and optimized translation processes that enable the enterprise to quickly reach a global audience. Content creation needs to be aligned with content transformation (translation) and delivery strategies.
  3. An understanding of the new AI-based emerging technologies that will help the enterprise to rapidly evolve to produce relevant content and establish a global digital presence so that the relevant content is delivered to the right customers at the right time.

Three Paths to Digital Transformation and Leadership

In a respected paper published in the Harvard Business Review, the authors point out three building blocks that can help drive a modern enterprise into building a market leadership position in this age of digital disruption. The building blocks are summarized in the graphic below.

And those who look carefully can see that MT has now reached the point of being a critical and strategic technology to assist in this digital transformation. MT enables the communication that underlies product innovation from global teams, helps an enterprise to understand and communicate more effectively with customers across the world, and enables efficient delivery of highly relevant multilingual content across the world to build market leadership.