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I D C A N A L Y S T C O N N E C T I O N. I m p r o vi n g C o m m u n i c a t i o n s w i t h Au t o m a t e d T r a n s l a t i o n


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IDC 1342


David Schubmehl

Research Manager, Search, Content Analytics, and Discovery

Sue Feldman

Research Vice President, Search and Discovery Technologies

I m p r o v i n g C o m m u n i c a t i o n s w i t h A u t o m a t e d T r a n s l a t i o n

June 2012

Given the global nature of business today, as well as the amount of information that is generated, automated translation is becoming more compelling, and many companies are beginning to explore this option to complement their human translation efforts or to improve the efficiency and cost effectiveness of global communication. However, automated translation is still a new solution for enterprises, so many questions need to be addressed as the technology is explored.

The following questions were posed by SDL to David Schubmehl, research manager of IDC's Search, Content Analytics, and Discovery research, and Sue Feldman, research vice president of IDC's Search and Discovery Technologies research, on behalf of SDL's customers.

Q. Despite the compelling argument for automated translation, it still doesn't seem to be widely adopted. Do you see this technology gaining more traction in the enterprise?

A. We would actually argue that automated translation is widely used today in a variety of settings — ranging from personal use to corporate documentation — using a variety of tools.

Automated translation is being used in at least three common scenarios. The first is the use of automated translation by consumers in a personal setting, such as people translating blog entries or recipes. The second most common scenario is for enterprise use in an ad hoc manner by employees translating internal documents, such as an email or a memo. The third is the use of automated translation by enterprises for public communications, such as product manuals, marketing pieces, and even Web sites. At IDC, we're seeing more organizations requesting information about automated translation for use in the enterprise, especially with the advent of easier-to-use tools and automated translation plug-ins to common productivity applications such as Microsoft Office.

Increasingly, people are using automated translation tools because they're quick and relatively painless to use. Many times, enterprises will need something to be translated quickly with "good enough" accuracy. Automated translation can provide timely responses in these situations, whereas a human translation might take hours, days, or even weeks.

Finally, many human translation services now use automated translation as a "first pass" or

as a lookup service to identify acronyms, abbreviations, and even uncommon words for a

more detailed translation.


Automated translation will continue to gain more attention in the enterprise; the technology has improved to the point where it can be used in a professional office setting to translate the kinds of information or documents that an organization would want to translate for its own understanding of current research, for tracking competitors, or for communicating with customers, suppliers, or staff who speak other languages.

Q. Where do you see the biggest opportunities to leverage automated translation?

A. Today, automated translation is getting good enough so that it's possible to generate a very good translation immediately using automated tools.

One opportunity is to translate information so that people outside the organization can read information about the organization and any related products and services in multiple languages. Today, a number of organizations are using automated translation to create multilingual versions of technical documentation. As these tools improve, they help shorten the time needed to publish technical documentation in multiple languages by providing a good first pass for human translators to edit. We are also seeing this trend extend into other areas of an organization's operations, such as product manuals, instruction guides, and product catalogs.

This multilingual publishing scenario is in contrast to the need for an organization to translate external documents for its own use (as noted previously), which typically involves using an automated translation tool to get the gist of a document that is written in another language. In this case, researchers may need to determine whether a document is relevant before they get a perfect translation or employees may need a quick translation to see the key points in a document or an email.

Beyond these two opportunities, organizations are starting to look at a wide variety of potential uses for automated translation. For example, we recently spoke with an

organization that is exploring the use of automated translation tools to translate all of the Web content on its different public-facing Web sites. These sites are in many different languages, and automated translation tools, in conjunction with human curation, are now at a point where they can do a creditable job handling this kind of translation. In addition, automated translation can be very useful in providing fact-based translations in areas such as product reviews, customer forums, knowledge bases, and even customer chat sessions.

The advent of Big Data and content analytics provides another opportunity for the use of automated translation tools. Many organizations are awash in information, documents, and email, much of it in multiple languages. This information is being stored in repositories but is not being well utilized because organizations have no idea what is in the documents. Content analytics and automated translation can be used together to identify what documents are about and include pertinent facts and themes and even identify people and locations so that these documents can be found. Once a document is found, automated translation can be used to translate the document to the reader's native language for review and analysis.

Q. What should enterprises look for in an automated translation provider?

A. Certainly, the depth of technology and the ability to use that technology to effectively do the

kinds of translation needed are key components. Typically, this requires the provider to have

natural language processing experts and machine learning experts on staff with expertise in

statistical modeling, machine learning, and statistical machine translation. Automated

translation is heavily dependent upon having the right sets of algorithms and large amounts

of training and parallel corpora that will determine the software's capability and accuracy for


each particular language. Specialized terminology for an industry or the ability to import dictionaries of terms in multiple languages is another important consideration.

Security is important too. For some documents and information, the information translated may need to remain secure and not appear on public sites. This is the case with intellectual property and internal company documents, for example. Some providers offer secure cloud solutions to ensure that data doesn't leak outside the organization.

It's also important to consider the full breadth of language support that a provider can offer.

Obviously, it should match up with an organization's particular needs. For example, there are providers that may primarily support European languages. If an organization needs Asian or Middle Eastern languages, another provider may offer a broader range of languages and capabilities. It's also important to note that while a provider may do a tremendous job translating from English to German, its capabilities translating from English to Russian might not be as robust. Since supporting multiple vendors can be difficult and time consuming within an enterprise, it is important to consider finding a vendor that can support all of the languages that your organization needs translated.

Finally, it may be necessary to know if a provider has a methodology for gracefully

transitioning from an automated solution to a partially automated solution in which a human translator is involved in some stage of the translation process. Language is complicated;

slang and idioms are always evolving, and some translations may require both automated involvement and manual involvement in which a human expert can override, adapt, or extend automated translation when necessary.

Q. What are the best practices for implementing and managing automated translation in the enterprise? Are there intellectual property implications that should be considered?

A. An organization should understand and collect a sample of the kinds of content and

documents that it will eventually want translated as well as identify the target languages. For example, if the organization is considering using automated translation for Web site

adaptation, then it would also be good to collect a representative sample of HTML to include as part of its test library. These documents can help automated translation vendors propose the best solution, whether it is automated translation alone or automated translation with human review, plus any additional recommendations to ensure the highest quality translations possible.

It's important to note that automated translation is not a "one size fits all" product and is better suited for some types of information than others. Our conversations with vendors and users indicate that almost all successful engagements focus on one type of communication or content — such as technical documents or online support — where there is high potential ROI and the use case can prove the value of the automated translation technology. Once that deployment has delivered on the merits of the technology, the next highest ROI opportunity can be considered.

From an implementation perspective, organizations should consider automated translation tools that can be embedded into the standard productivity and management tools that they already use, such as Web browsers, email, content/document management, CRM, word processing, spreadsheets, and presentation software. This is typically done through the use of application programming interfaces (APIs) or plug-ins for Web-oriented tools.

Organizations should consider automated translation vendors that have robust, mature, and

supported APIs that allow the full use of automated translation tools within these types of



Since many automated translation tools on the Web utilize the learning from the documents that they translate, organizations may need to consider whether or not they want those documents translated by a service outside the corporate firewall. In many cases, internal documents should be sent to a public Web-based translation tool, so this is an important consideration when looking for a vendor as well as determining the best deployment scenario.

Q. Is it possible to embed automated translation into day-to-day office processes and applications?

A. Yes, it is certainly possible to do this, and we are seeing more organizations adding

automated translation to their document management and business processes to make them multilingual as part of the overall unified information stream. For example, customer

comments, reviews, and questions can be automatically translated as part of the document ingestion process within CRM, and various language versions can be stored with the original document to ensure timely access by customer service agents and management.

Other uses include automated translation to multiple languages when documents or alerts are added to knowledge bases or even providing multilingual versions of customer/user blog postings on the organization's Web forum. All of these potential use cases embed the translation capabilities into the overall business process, freeing up employees from having to send these translations on an ad hoc basis through a traditional translation cycle.

In addition, many automated translation providers have the ability to provide a hook into their automated translation tools to desktop office applications for those ad hoc document

translations when needed. Typically, desktop applications are document rich, and it makes sense to do an automated translation within the application rather than pulling the document from storage on a desktop and then running the automated translation on the standalone document. Many vendors now offer translation APIs that document and content management systems can use to provide "on the fly" translations. This can also be extended to tools that use Web-based interfaces or even public Web sites and pages. Many Web sites have already made use of such APIs to provide a "translate" button on the Web site so that users can view the page in their local language.


Dave Schubmehl is research manager for IDC's Search, Content Analytics, and Discovery research. His research covers information access technologies, including content analytics, search systems, unstructured information representation, unified access to structured and unstructured information, Big Data, visualization, and rich media search. This research analyzes the trends and dynamics of the content analytics, search, and discovery software markets and the costs, benefits, and workflow impacts of solutions that use these technologies.

Sue Feldman specializes in research on information access technologies, including search engines, text analytics, categorization, unified access to structured and unstructured information, Big Data, visualization, and rich media search.

Her research analyzes the trends and dynamics of the search and discovery software market and also quantifies the costs

of information work to the organization.



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