On December 3, 2020 at exactly 12 noon, Eastern, SlatorCon Remote participants were treated to a rare image: the CEOs of three leading companies operating in the translation management system (TMS) space lit up the split-screen.
Speaking live from three different time zones on “The Future of TMS and Localization Management” were XTM International CEO Bob Willans, memoQ Co-CEO Balázs Kis, and Smartling CEO Jack Welde. Slator Co-Founder and Managing Director, Florian Faes, moderated the panel.
Early in the discussion, the three CEOs agreed on a few things. The first point of agreement: Covid impact and response. In a nutshell, given the nature of the business (i.e, tech rather than service), all three companies responded easily to the lockdowns because working from home or remotely was not a new thing; and business was good.
As XTM’s Willans put it, “Obviously some of our clients in the Travel & Hospitality and Retail sectors were badly affected, and we’re trying to be accommodating with them. In an SaaS business, you can ramp up and ramp down and retain a presence with them.” He added, “As a company, we are having a very good year.”
The other two CEOs agreed, describing 2020 as “exceptional” (Welde) and “good” (Kis). Welde added that Smartling doubled down on other verticals after Covid hit, such as streaming media, e-commerce, and life sciences.
The three CEOs also shared similar views on the topic of connectors as a growth area. Welde noted how “the thesis remains unchanged. Any platform has to be striving for ubiquity. You have to be able to connect to everything.”
Willans said the trend is toward “more and deeper” — that is, to add more functionality, reduce the number of clicks, and make the whole process more seamless; while Kis pointed out the trend toward customization.
Diverging Views About the Future
The discussion became even more interesting when the three CEOs began talking about the future of tech-driven language services in general, and machine translation in particular.
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After Willans outlined the reasons behind XTM’s decision to not produce its own MT engine (e.g., others have deeper pockets, we opted instead to invest in vector technology, etc.), Smartling’s Welde said “machine translation is going to be much more important, and we think that companies need to own that capability of being able to provide that level of service.”
For his part, memoQ’s Kis said he thinks differently from his fellow panelists in that the focus should be on integrating as many MT engines as possible (“just like any other resource”) to deliver the best tools and interface to translators, reviewers, and other industry stakeholders.
Welde then talked about current trends, using his experience as a former military pilot to make an analogy between flying a plane and the future of data-driven language services: the pilot has his hand on the stick for a few minutes on takeoff and landing and relies on autopilot for the rest of the flight — to which Kis memorably replied, “memoQ has a feature called autopilot.”
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The discussion ended on more interesting, if divergent, takes on LSP-client relationships and what a TMS provider needs to offer the market to emerge as a winner in the space.
Kis said that there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution, especially when it involves enterprise customers. He said the key word in 2021 will be “openness” in terms of technology and collaboration.
Welde, meanwhile, said, “The real winners in this space are going to have to figure out how to combine both [technology and services] in a solution that meets the customer’s real need.”
Willans replied, “Naturally, I disagree slightly with Jack,” which led Welde to quip, “What a surprise!” (Welde had earlier described Smartling as an “enterprise management system combined with an AI-driven language service component. It’s technology-enabled language services”; and Willans said about XTM, “We only provide the tech. We don’t provide the services.”)
Willans concluded by saying that, in the future, any sensible enterprise will want a vendor-neutral TMS so it can control assets, monitor progress, and compare suppliers, “moving between one and the other, completely seamlessly.”