CyraCom CEO on Interpreting’s Video Conundrum and Ever More Transparent Supply Chain

Interpreting company CyraCom is one of the largest providers of interpretation services to the US healthcare industry. At a time when linguistic diversity in the US is at a record high, Chairman and CEO Jeremy Woan spoke to the SlatorCon San Francisco 2018 audience about factors that influence remote interpretation demand and what customers care about.

Woan joined CyraCom in 2008 and has overseen the company through shifts in regulation and immigration policy, two of the main factors along with changing modalities in driving remote interpretation demand, according to Woan.

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The introduction of the Affordable Care Act or ACA (also known as Obamacare), for example, prompted an increased demand for language services after it was introduced in 2010, Woan told the SlatorCon audience. The main reason for this is that of the US’s uninsured population, those that Obamacare is geared towards, more than one in five are Limited English Proficient (LEP) individuals, Woan said.

Conversely, if political sentiment towards immigration shifts the other way, Woan explained, there is a trend towards wider deregulation and language services can get put down the list of priorities for a company.

As customers become more savvy

Woan highlighted the fact that whereas ten and even five years ago the main concern for the industry was in ensuring the quality of the interpreters, customers now take a more holistic view of services. Customers are becoming “more savvy,” Woan said.

Customers now want more transparency in the entire supply chain and to be able to see how their interpreting service provider is geared up to service the contract, Woan pointed out. They are keen to know who their suppliers partner with, what their disaster recovery plans are, and how they manage capacity.

This is partly in response to previous practices in some pockets of the industry, Woan explained. He told of how some companies used to bid on contracts that they were not able to fulfill, hoping to figure it out on the fly, which would sometimes lead to multiple layers of subcontracting, with customers not knowing who is actually providing the service. Woan stated that “if we condone people making claims that are unsubstantiated and untrue, that is bad for the industry,” and went on to suggest that a meaningful professional code of conduct could help to provide governance over the industry and to safeguard its professionalism.

“If we condone people making claims that are unsubstantiated and untrue, that is bad for the industry.”

Customers have taken more of an interest in disaster recovery plans in particular to ensure that providers are prepared in the event of natural disasters and other occurrences. For example, during the major storms in 2017, Woan said, some interpreting service providers experienced outages and operations were impacted.

Increased interest in the soundness of the supply chain also means that interpretation service providers are starting to share some of their clients’ regulatory burdens, which means that interpreting partners “now need to abide by same regulatory standards as the customers,” according to Woan. Providers who are not used to more frequent audits might feel as if they are being  “audited endlessly,” Woan explained, which may be unsustainable for some vendors.

Asked about his view of the startups operating in the remote interpretation space and whether they have potential to disrupt the industry, Woan said that building a platform is not the really tough part. Managing vendors is the real hard task, Woan said, especially for newcomers. Again, Woan reiterated the idea that being able to demonstrate who your suppliers are and the capacity that you have is a key success factor for interpretation providers.

From in-person to remote

The choice of modality, i.e. whether interpreting is done onsite, over the telephone (OPI) or via video (VRI), is context dependent, the Cyracom CEO said. In general, he sees more of a shift from onsite to telephonic over the past three or four years, and thinks video is more of a “conundrum.”

Woan told of how ten years ago, “people were saying they had an urgent and imminent need [for video interpretation]. Some of those clients still aren’t using video interpretation.” “There will be a tipping point for video but I just don’t know what it is,” Woan continued. Yet a big factor in the slow uptake is that “in a lot of places video is just too expensive,” he said.

Dependent on the starting price point, lowering prices for remote interpretation can be sustainable to a certain point. But Woan also highlighted how significant price drops lead to reductions in service, reliability and quality, as there are only so many efficiencies that can be made and “how much do you really ‘save’ if the calls go unanswered?” Woan asked. After a certain point, people “stop thinking it’s a bargain and begin to think it’s just cheap,” he said.

Commoditization of remote interpretation “is not inevitable, but we need to make sure we are not complacent in letting it happen.”

Woan said that in his opinion, commoditization of remote interpretation “is not inevitable, but we need to make sure we are not complacent in letting it happen.” Overall, his view of the interpretation services industry is “mostly optimistic” and Woan sees opportunity for companies to “build a business while providing social value.”

Esther Bond

Research Analyst at Slator. Localization enthusiast, linguist and inquisitor. London native.