Christophe shares his career journey; from his days as project manager at RR Donnelley to how he worked his way up to Executive Vice President at SDL. He introduces the members of the Toppan Digital Language executive team, a mix of localization experts and industry veterans.
In an exclusive, Christophe announces that Toppan Printing will be renamed Toppan Inc. to reflect the transformation and diversification of the company. He goes over the benefits of having existing pockets of translation and localization within the organization and learning about technology from their sister companies.
He talks about the challenges of the regulated space, using an outside-in approach, and creating solutions according to a client’s needs. He points out the value of security and quality when creating, managing, and delivering multilingual content at speed and at scale.
Christophe also gives tips on RFP procurement; having the right tools, team, and approach. He then shares his experience with translation subscriptions — and how he believes (apart from tech and machine translation services) the translation industry is not ready for such a pricing model until it is standardized.
He ends with the company’s vision to become the market leader in language solutions for regulated and business-critical content within five years.
First up, Florian and Esther discuss the language industry news of the week — with Zoom’s acquisition of German speech translation provider, Kites. This is Zoom’s second-ever acquisition and signals their interest in the translation industry, a space not widely used by video conferencing platforms such as Skype and Google Hangouts.
Esther talks about another company that was popular throughout the pandemic, Netflix, which recently announced the arrival of Timed Text Authoring Lineage (TTAL). TTAL allows script files to be exchanged more easily, which leaves more time and energy for dubbing and subtitling.
Florian delves into an interesting sub-sphere of translation, Japanese gaming, where a lot of passion for the craft has been displayed on social media. He goes through a series of tweets from popular Japanese game translators, who discuss the dynamics between free rogue translation and professional paid translation.
Esther closes with the Slator Language Industry Job Index (LIJI), which surged by 9.9 points in July, after a four-point dip in June interrupted the LIJI’s consistent climb since January 2021.
Stream Slator webinars, workshops, and conferences on the Slator Video-on-Demand channel.
Florian: This week you announced that you are taking on the role of President at the newly created Toppan Digital Language but before that, tell us a bit more about your career in the language industry so far, and some of the stops along the way.
Christophe: I started my career 20 years ago as a project manager with RR Donnelley in New York and after five years I transferred to London to set up the global operation for the translation business unit. I decided in 2005 to move to Paris and set up the global sales team and later moved on to different senior roles, MD, Vice President, Senior Vice President. I joined the SDL team in July 2018 as an Executive Vice President once Donnelley Language Solutions was acquired from SDL. I am very pleased to start a new chapter with Toppan as President and Founder of the new entrant Toppan Digital Languages.
Florian: Tell us a bit more about Toppan Digital Languages. How did this start? What is the backstory?
Christophe: We always thought about entering the market at one point and we believe that now is the right time to enter the language services market and the technology market for different reasons. We believe that truly there is a gap in terms of servicing some of the regulated content in the industry. We were in discussion for a couple of years, but technically, everything came to fruition because of the gaps that we are seeing in the market right now.
Esther: What about Toppan as a wider group? Can you tell us a bit more about who Toppan is and what the company does and where it is headquartered?
Christophe: We were waiting for this podcast to announce that Toppan changed its name. Toppan Printing is rebranding as Toppan Inc. to reflect the company’s transformation and diversification. Toppan is made up of multiple companies and multiple business units, and you can see a strong focus in terms of technology. Some of the companies like Toppan Ecquaria, Toppan Gravity, and Toppan Merrill are focused on high-risk content and security. Toppan is a company with a turnover of 13 billion, which is quite a sizable company in the marketplace. Every company in Japan is working with Toppan. In December 2016, Slator did a press release towards Woven, the MT company, and actually, Toppan invested in this company at the time. Already there is a link between the localization, translation world and technology with Toppan. Toppan provides a wide range of services and products globally and its headquarters is in Tokyo.
Florian: 10 years ago Toppan was active in the translation side, but was it more of a sub-activity as part of the wider documentation management group?
Christophe: Correct. It was part of the IPO cycle or the annual report process so we are not starting from scratch. There is already a strong foundation inside Toppan so there are a couple of different pockets towards the language and technology services in the company. I will say they are doing an excellent job over in Hong Kong, they are the market leader in Asia. They have more than 200 plus linguists in-house as well so there is already a very strong established foundation.
Esther: Let us talk a bit more about the other team members. Tell us a bit about the executive team and the roles that are in place already?
Christophe: What I would like to highlight is that many of the executive team have extensive experience in servicing that market segment, which is important in the offering from the existing LSPs world. There is a case for us to build and take this outside-in approach to build solutions for our customers. You have Alex who is coming with a very strong background in M&A and she was the Chief Strategy Officer in SDL. She has 20 years of experience in finance. We have Anna Gargiulo who is our Chief Sales Officer and is based in New York. She has a very strong reputation as well. Then we have Kenny, it is great to have a mix of industry veterans to give a different touch and approach. Kenny has a lot of experience, he worked at Deloitte Digital and GSK so he gives us an edge. The outside-in approach is at the heart of what we want to do, which is creating a solution based on the customer need as well as the gap of services that exist, and Kenny will help us towards the segmentation.
We want the team to complement each other. For many years inside of some of these big organizations, you are always talking about continuous improvement, how you can develop people and how you can improve some of your weaknesses. What I want to do is for us to complement each other with our strengths, rather than work on our weaknesses. It is an entrepreneurial approach. It is nice to take a moment to look at the diversity of the team where you have different cultures, different positions, and different parts of the world. It was very important for us to bring these different cultural aspects so when we are speaking with clients we have different sensitivity towards culture. We are all glued by the same element, which is servicing our customers. We also want to take a different angle because we believe that the traditional and generalist language service model no longer serves the customer, and there is truly an opportunity for us to enter the market and give the choice to the client.
Florian: When you become a new entrant in the language services industry, what are some of the benefits of a blank slate? You probably have a lot of resources as part of a big company but what are some of the benefits and challenges of being part of a bigger company?
Christophe: We do have some existing pockets inside the company so we are part of the $13 billion company and right now translation and localization is spread out. It is for us to package that so there is an element that is not new. In terms of tech approach, we are already engaging in some development in terms of machine learning due to having Toppan Ecquaria as a sister company. We are starting from a blank page, but we are going to start creating solutions based on the customer’s needs so truly taking an outside-in approach in creating solutions to put together the best tech that is available in the market.
What we want to do is to combine taking an outside-in approach, then look at combining the tech, and doing the customization in-house with Toppan Ecquaria or some other part of the business that we have. It always needs customization. It always needs adaptation. What we want to do is to be agile and we want to make sure that what we create is for the customers. Some of the connectors that you need to create need to be specific for the customer so general solutions in the regulated industry space never work because there is this level of customization. There is this level of security that matters as well. I am not saying we will not reuse what we build because you can then customize, but we will make sure that we take the best of what is available in the market and connect it together.
Esther: What exactly are the regulated industries? Tell us about some of the challenges.
Christophe: When we talk about regulated industry we really talk about some of the high risk, high touch content that customers need to translate or communicate. What we want is to have this customer confidently communicate and operate in multilingual environments by achieving their regulatory compliance, security, and linguistic consistency. That associated regulated industry with regulated content equal risk, and this is where we are coming into the picture to support our customers to de-risk the translation of their content.
Automation is critical as well in terms of our approach. To give a small anecdote of why we started in Toppan, which I think is important, is that six months ago I sat down with a customer. He told me, listen, 10 years ago we said we would automate the process, I thought we would do it. After 10 years we are here and we have not done it. This is also why it resonated looking at this regulated industry content, which is so complex. Let us try to make it simple and solve the client challenges that we have not done yet. You can find regulated content in the finance industry. You can find it in the life sciences industry. You can find it in the legal managed health care. You can find regulated content in any industry. We are here to solve complex problems in a challenging industry.
Esther: You mentioned a couple of the main segments there, finance and life sciences. In terms of servicing those different customers, what are the similarities and differences that you observe? Are there trends, are there commonalities or are they completely different?
Christophe: I will say that you have some commonality between these customers. Security is very important with the data you are handling. There is a challenge about the need to create, manage, deliver multilingual content in a highly agile way at speed and scale. How we are going to address that is with the security and quality aspects. Technology automation by default is embedded in the solution nowadays, and it is also wrapped with customer service. We focus on customer service and it is part of the DNA in terms of what we are doing. Personalization and customer service is key today to differentiate yourself. We want to be the tailor-made white-glove service in the marketplace.
Florian: Businesses are now moving on to AWS or Microsoft Azure. Has this changed in the regulated space? Has this made it easier or harder for you to service them in terms of translation, localization services?
Christophe: There is more attention to it from every single company. You have InfoSec departments everywhere because the cloud means risk. This is why you need plugins and tools that are very efficient in terms of making sure that you can show that your process is strong. With Toppan Merrill, Toppan Ecquaria, and Toppan Gravity, all these securities are embedded in the DNA. You still have some projects where you need to go on-premises, so you need to install the software on-premises and I will say it is very strong in terms of government. This is where the sector remains very tight in terms of on-premises.
Florian: What about sending people on-prem? Is that still something you think you are going to be doing?
Christophe: It is still in demand for some of the customers. This is the highest level of security that you can get and in this case, there is no way that any file is going out of the premises. There is no way that you can use a cloud-based translation memory so it is mainly towards some of the litigation cases or ediscovery.
Florian: What is the interaction with procurement? Who do you liaise with? How do you onboard a monster account? How does that work?
Christophe: On some of these accounts, you need to be upstream speaking with the customer. You need to provide an innovative approach from the beginning. The size truly does not matter, in my opinion. If you have the right team, the right approach, the right mindset, with the right culture, you can go and get any account. There are some tools that you need to have as well, like security. There is some investment that you need if you go towards this account, but it is making sure that you are already upstream before an RFP comes out. You need to be present to get credibility as well. You need to be part of the RFP. When the RFP comes in, this is where you need to be innovative and add value to the customer. The added value is very important and many companies are not doing it. It is also listening to what the customer wants and most of the time there is a solution. Do not think that this is too big for you.
The RFP, it is a standard process. It is preparation. It is anticipation. It is practice. It is hard work in terms of getting ready. Some of the companies think that it is an administrative burden, but you need to do it because it is a compliance exercise. The advantage that everyone has is that it is a fair exercise, which means, the best will win it. It goes towards the preparation, anticipation, making sure you answer the question. Then you usually have a pitch, so you need to make sure that the right people are in front of the customer to design the proper solution for the customer. If you do, you will be shortlisted with no doubt.
Then there is a question of price. The price is a key element of it, but it is just a percentage. Usually, during the RFP there is a different percentage that these procurement or strategic procurement people are taking into account. The responsiveness is one, the relationship. You have different elements and you need to think that everything counts along the way as soon as you start speaking with them.
Esther: What do you think about translation as a subscription? Is it workable? Is it doable? Do clients want it? Is it the future?
Christophe: We educated customers for 20 years about the price per word. It is complicated and we need to simplify it so I tried to launch this subscription model. The problem is that the customer is reversing back into benchmarking towards per word price. The way the industry trains everyone is per word. Now if you take a subscription-based price, there is no more benchmarking versus the subscription, and it is bringing some challenges for the customer. You can do a subscription when you have an MT service. In this case, it can go through because you can benchmark, but some parts of the industry are not fully ready for the subscription model.
We modeled some of the key industries by this price per word, especially the regulated industry. They would say, if you give me a price by subscription, I am not able to make a comparison with the other suppliers. Until it is standardized, this is when we will be able to do a subscription. It will take a few years to educate the market and the buyers about the subscription model so they can compare subscription models.
Esther: It does not really play in somebody’s favor than to be the first one to offer a subscription because you want to be able to benchmark across others in the industry.
Christophe: Yes. I was surprised because we all try to simplify some of the challenges that customers have, and we know the price per word. You can have an Excel with 30 different language pairs but it is a bit more difficult to quantify and estimate because then you also need to do a subscription, but if you pass a certain threshold it is going to be more of an add-on. It is a bit less tangible and when you start to deal with strategic procurement directors or others, they want to have a clear vision about what they will spend and how they will spend it. We need potentially some more case study to back up this, to show the result of the subscription versus per word price. Now, in tech, it is already subscription-based in many forms so the complexity is when you potentially do a mix of solutions and tech and services combined.
Esther: Bringing it back to plans for Toppan Digital Language, is there M&A on the horizon?
Christophe: We want to have an overall strategy backed up by a strong M&A approach. We are looking for niche LSPs so clearly M&A will be an active part of our strategy. We are also looking at some of the companies that are niche and provide a second level of services in the marketplace. We are looking at the cultural fit as well between these companies, so what I do not want is that we buy a company that is completely the opposite. We are going to focus on regulated content and we are going to create a few different companies towards servicing this regulated industry.
Esther: What observations do you have about how best to create value through M&A? What works? What does not work?
Christophe: I believe that there is a rupture in the market in terms of servicing the regulated industry. That there is an opportunity here in terms of looking at what M&A we can do to address the feedback of the customer in the market. Number two is to have a clear strategy to make sure that you are not opportunistic because this is a short-term run as well. We have a plan in terms of looking at M&A. This is a long-term project as well, where we are going to put some of the pieces together. It is easy to get the tech. It is more difficult to get the culture, to get the people so we want to make strategic M&A that makes sense for our customers and we will enable that based on the experience that we have as well in the marketplace. I am amazed by some of the companies that are in the marketplace currently, by their agility and their drive in terms of customer service. We will create value for our customers based on the strategies that we are putting in place for this particular segment.
Florian: In five, 10 years, where do you see the biggest opportunities? Given all of the automation, MT, clients demanding faster throughput, et cetera, where is the business going?
Christophe: The vision is 10 years but the goal is in five years to be a market leader in terms of language solutions for regulated and business-critical content. Then after five years, we can see where we can branch out because we are in a unique position inside Toppan. We create, we manage, we translate, we distribute content so it is going to be also to create some new solutions towards the market for our customers. Then we will also evaluate what else is upcoming, subsegment some of the verticals that we are following as well. New products and new services may be going towards geographical expansion, but what we want is to potentially become more embedded towards innovative, creative end to end solutions for our customers as well. Towards everything that is digital. We need to address the multilingual content first, but then there is also room to be more extreme to facilitate the overall cycle and this is also one thing that we are looking at, but number one is being the market leader in the next five years.