Automatic translation, also known as machine translation, has become commonplace for end users, popping up on the web on sites like bing.com/translator and within apps like Microsoft Translator and Skype Translator. Automatic translation is not limited to consumer focused specialty apps and websites, however. It is now used more and more by businesses worldwide in all types of industries and markets to help improve core business processes in an increasingly globalized environment.
Whether you have a small business selling products online (such as on ecommerce sites like eBay or Etsy), a medium sized business that is starting to grow internationally (directly or through distributors and partners), or a multinational enterprise trying to improve internal communication, launch products internationally, or learn from the data your business generates, cloud-based automatic translation such as Microsoft Translator is a scalable and cost-efficient solution to address these multi-language translation needs.
While automatic translation may not always be the most appropriate way of translating all types of text (for example, we wouldn’t suggest using it to accurately translate your business contracts), it is often the only viable way to translate large amounts of content that would otherwise be impossible to translate by human translators. Typically, automatic translation is an effective solution when the cost requirement for translation, the sheer volume of translation needed, or the speed at which the translation needs to be made available for the user or application are blocking factors. In some situations all three factors may come into play.
Although the use cases for automatic translation are numerous and the list is growing each year, there are a few sets of core scenarios where enterprises are primarily using it already. Typically, these uses cases can be categorized along the following two axes:
- Where the source content has been generated: internally, within the organization, or externally, via users or other sources
- Where the translated content will be used (and by whom): internally, within the organization by users of applications, or externally by customers or partners
This simple dichotomy provides a reliable framework to identify the type of scenarios automatic translation may be used by businesses based on content source and target use. Each of these quadrants will cover fairly independent use cases for automatic translation that we will now examine in more detail.
Collaboration: Foster internal multilingual information sharing
As your organization becomes increasingly global you need to support a larger number of remote employees, partners, and distributors residing in multiple geographies whose fluency in your enterprise’s native language is not always perfect. To ensure training and other readiness or enablement activities are effective, it is essential that this content is provided in their native language. However, depending on the number of languages you need to support, the amount of content than needs to be translated, and the speed at which this content is changing, human translation is not always a viable option.
Similarly, automatic translation can help facilitate real-time or near real-time communication between employees such as in emails, instant messaging, or internal groups when they do not share a common language. This will allow them to learn from each other and grow the overall organizational knowledge base. Regardless of the scenario, automatic translation allows content to be cost-effectively and instantly translated into as many languages as needed at once, so that internal knowledge can be immediately accessible to the entire network of stakeholders.
Primary scenarios in the “Collaboration” quadrant:
Reach: Make your products accessible to the widest range of customers possible
Launching your products internationally can be a daunting challenge. Not only do you need to make sure that your new customers can read your website, but you also have to translate a host of other marketing and technical content. Your job is not over once the purchase is made, however. You also have to make sure you can provide ongoing customer service and support in a language your customer understands.
Automatic translation allows you to take a tiered approach to international expansion. You can use human translation to translate your most important content into the languages of your primary markets, and use automatic translation to translate less crucial content or languages of your secondary markets. By using the right analytics, you can then decide, based on data (i.e. traffic, downloads, etc.) and not instinct, which pieces of content are worth translating by a human, and which are not.
In addition, by integrating automatic translation into your customer support workflows, from chat to help, knowledge base, and documentation, your business is able to offer native-language care for languages that it otherwise would not have been economically feasible to offer.
Primary scenarios in the “Reach” quadrant:
Intelligence: Improve business decisions by using all of your available data
Good business decision making depends on your ability to accurately and time effectively analyze all the information you have available. If your organization is excluding data in its business analysis just because it happens to be in another language, you are wasting valuable business resources that could, depending on the situation, significantly change the decision you may make. Whether you have ongoing business intelligence operations that require you to quickly classify and index big data from the internet or other sources, such as social media, customer support feedback, or if you are conducting smaller scale market, product, or technical research, automatic translation allows you to expand the scope of your analysis by including all of the relevant data regardless of language. Although being internal data, analysis based on internally hosted data such as customer metrics, sales, or other mostly externally generated data will also fall into this quadrant.
Primary scenarios in the “Intelligence” quadrant:
Community: Expand your organization’s network of contributors and advocates
How does your organization take full advantage of its community? Is it using it to act as an advocate for your products and services? Is it allowing its community to help other customers troubleshoot or answers questions for you? If not, you may not be fully leveraging your online presence to create the most active community possible.
By allowing your customers to interact regardless of language you can accelerate the creation of a network effect—a self-sustaining community centered around your business, a community whose impact exponentially grows with its number of active participants, and one that eventually generates feedback and social promotion for your products and services on your behalf. User-generated content is impossible to cost-effectively translate from and to multiple languages through human translation. This content is created at too fast of a pace, with too much of a range of quality and relevancy (i.e. translation worthiness) for anything but automatic translation to be an economically viable option.
Of course, for some businesses, the community conversation is the key feature of the product or service, for instance with social networks or consumer feedback aggregations sites (such as Yelp or Foursquare). In these cases, automatic translation can be integrated into social websites to make this user generated content instantly readable in any user’s own language, expanding its international audience and helping it to reach critical mass faster.
Primary scenarios in the “Community” quadrant:
As you look at your business and it international growing pains, it’s important to realize that there are new tools now available to help you with this growth. In particular, as you analyze your key issues involving multi-lingual content, this simple two-dimensional framework can help you pinpoint if and where automatic translation could help you improve your productivity and effectiveness to plan your investments accordingly