SAP ‘Cautiously’ Expands Machine Translation

SAP Machine Translation

It may come as no surprise that SAP, a massive international enterprise software organization with customers in over 180 countries, uses machine translation (MT) to enhance its operations. But over the past few months, SAP has taken to its blog to update clients on the company’s latest advancements, which incorporate MT in customer-facing documents and support messages.

“Even though it is widely accepted by our customers that our support is provided mainly in English and that our content and knowledge bases are also in English, our goal is to provide a more personalized service to our customers,” Senior VP and Global Head of Product Support, Mohammed Ajouz, wrote in a March 10, 2021 blog post.

Founded in Germany in 1972, SAP’s original product was enterprise resource planning (ERP) software. ERP is designed to centralize access to business data across departments, allowing colleagues to collaborate and work more efficiently.

The company’s latest system, SAP S/4 HANA Cloud, includes embedded AI and machine learning. Naturally, tailoring products for a variety of markets has long been a priority for the company, with about 1,200 employees in SAP’s globalization team as of 2018.

According to Ajouz, this is when MT really took off at SAP — perhaps not coincidentally, the same year SAP Head of Globalization, Ferose V R, spoke at SlatorCon San Francisco about the company’s experience localizing products into 44 languages.

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By the end of 2019, the company had made SAP Translation Hub available to customers for real-time translation of notes and knowledge base articles into 10 languages (English, German, Korean, Brazilian Portuguese, Spanish, Simplified Chinese, Japanese, French, Italian, and Russian).

As of December 2020, customers also have the option of turning on automatic translations during Expert Chat conversations. This feature is currently available in Brazilian Portuguese, Simplified Chinese, German, Spanish, and Russian, and SAP plans to add more languages in the near future. (Back in 2018, Ferose identified Asia and Africa, in particular, as two untapped markets.)

Ajouz noted in his blog post, “We proceeded cautiously as we wanted to ensure the quality of our translations before proceeding into new areas.”

This is reflected in SAP’s MT for customer incidents, introduced in November 2020, which allows clients to translate the last message in a chain. The comments below the announcement, penned by Fabio Almeida of SAP Brazil, shed some light on how internal processes might be affected by the new tech.

Christoph Hopf, Product Area Lead for SAP based in Vienna, asked whether employees could now write to Japanese-speaking clients in English, with clients using MT to read their messages in Japanese. “Until now, we had to contact a colleague who is able to communicate with the customer in Japanese,” Hopf added, wondering whether engineers would now be able to reply to incident reports from Japanese-speaking clients.

Author Almeida confirmed that, technically speaking, the new feature could automatically translate such content, but “at the moment, Japanese is a contractually supported language for incidents,” going on to imply that SAP clients are currently entitled to receive communication regarding incident reports in their choice of one of three languages: English, German, or Japanese.

Nonetheless, Hopf seemed to consider this a win-win. “This needs to be adopted in our processes as soon as possible,” he replied, “because making the process for [Japanese] tickets easier for engineers and queue managers would be a great step forward.”

SAP declined to comment on this story.