Predictions for 2009: Globalization Technology, Services, and Business Models
Where did 2008 go? For those of us in the United States, it was mainly a blur of the permanent campaign for President, with dozens of contenders methodically whittled down to just two candidates. The election took place against a backdrop of troubling economic news. In light of market conditions, we downsized our Crystal Ball Department, thus producing just five predictions about language practice, service, and technology in 2009.
- Speech takes center stage as “the” multilingual issue. With cellphones (both smart and dumb) in more hands than ever, efficient communication without a keyboard will become an expected feature from mobile carriers — and consumer-facing organizations in health care, utilities, and government agencies ranging from social services to tax collector. Besides voice texting à la Jott and directory search, LSPs and software vendors will support more video- and telephone-based “remote language mediation” via human and machine interpretation.
- Translation gets easier, but everyone struggles to find the money. The technology for translation and localization continues growing by leaps and bounds, costs less, and works better with any information system through XML, web services, and specialized middleware. Translation services span a broad price range. However, companies will struggle with LSP and internal staff labor costs, flat or declining budgets, and increased demand for more content in more languages for both developed and emerging markets in Africa, China, and India. While rising international revenue and research such as Localization Matters and Availability Quotient prove the value of their work, localization and translation planners will still find themselves competing tooth and nail with other corporate initiatives for limited funding.
- Machine translation enters corporations via high-value applications. MT software vendors will work hard to break out of the dominant bring-me-more-eyeballs revenue model with applications focused on real business needs such as intranet information feeds, employee communication, and business intelligence. MT will meld with search to produce forensic tools to uncover cross-border bribery, support the increased record-keeping and analysis that will come with financial re-regulation, and open new markets in legal, patent, scientific, and other free-form intellectual property discovery.
- Google pulls more surprises out of its bag of translation tricks. Language-centric technology just keeps rolling out of Google, the most recent being cross-lingual search, an enterprise discovery function we’ve been asking for since the mid-1990s. Some language entrepreneurs will take the company up on its offer of machine translation, translation management, collaborative editing, and creative mash-ups to build a Google-based translation service business without spending a dime on commercial software. Some corporate users will sidestep LSPs and software purchases by “shopping” at Google. Google will beta-test company-specific MT partitions to gauge reaction to an MT appliance, driving increased demand for competing MT products that can be installed behind corporate firewalls or offered as multi-tenant SaaS solutions à la Salesforce.com. Smart freelancers will wake up to this free translation resource as a productivity tool.
- Language policy and international self-preservation fuel government interest in language. The first Global American President will focus more attention on international communication — and the requisite translation and interpretation — as he re-engages the United States with the rest of the world on a wide range of issues. “Globalization” writ large will be one of them, including outsourcing, immigration, multilateral trade, and sovereignty. Domestically, language issues arising from increasing multiculturalism, language access laws, and the practical requirement to communicate with its native- and foreign-born citizens will force increased government attention and investment in translation, localization, and interpretation.
Finally, we could review our wishlist — things that we hope will happen in the coming year (and which we could keep predicting until we are right). However, that list would be a boring repetition of things like improvements in product usability, affordability, terminology and vendor management, and language technology adoption. What we would really like to see in 2009 is for translation, localization, and interpretation to become an exclusively positive force, practiced in advance — and in place — of catastrophe, conflict, and confinement.