Linguistic AI Introduces Intelligence to the Content Supply Chain


In the wake of LTI19, Philippe Wacker, LT-Innovate Executive Director, interviewed Azad Ootam, Chief Transformation Officer of SDL plc, who is taking part in the Summit's Opening Panel entitled "The Sound of Intelligence: How Language Intelligence Transforms your Business".


Philippe Wacker: SDL has just announced its results for 2018. Could you summarise them for us, highlighting your main achievements over the last couple of years?


Azad Ootam: It was a year of good financial delivery and further solid strategic progress for SDL, and we were able to grow revenues and profits whilst also investing in innovation. Group revenues were up 12.6% to 323.3million. Highlights include the acquisition of Donnelley Language Solutions, which marked a significant milestone in the evolution of SDL, bringing together two complementary companies to establish a leading player in content and language solutions. The acquisition also accelerated our our growth in premium, regulated industries, including Financial Services, Life Sciences, Marketing and Legal. Premium Services in these areas reached £63.5m (2017: £40.1m) in 2018. Another highlight includes our recurring revenue – customers are happy, and they’re keen to keep working with us. We had a Repeat Recurring Revenue (RRR) within SDL services of 97% and Annual Recurring Contract Value (ARCV) from technology of £68.5m. Our focus on growing customers – and introducing them to our other solutions – also led to 220 cross-sell and up-sell deals being completed in 2018. We also reached the significant milestone of working with the 90 of the top 100 brands, demonstrating that our technology and services are making a big difference to some of the world’s biggest brands.


Philippe Wacker: SDL has been re-engineering itself from a translation supplier (LSP) to a global content management company. What did this entail? How do you differentiate yourself today from the average LSP?


Azad Ootam: SDL has always been technology centric. We remain focused and dedicated to the language industry, and we have over the years realized the importance of content and how our entire technology portfolio can help smooth the key processes surrounding it: creation, translation, management and publishing. Our extensive content technology portfolio is a key differentiator – and is now among the top two content management systems on the market, according to Ars Logica. However, beyond technology, one of our key differentiators is our people. We have 1,200 in-house translators, as well as 750 project managers. This represents one of the largest in-house translation teams of any LSP worldwide, essential to drive quality and consistency in the services we offer.


Philippe Wacker: On your website, you advertise tailor-made services for different verticals, such as financial services, life sciences, retail, etc. Could you give us concrete examples of such specific offerings, e.g. for the financial services and automotive sectors that will be two highlights at our upcoming Summit?


Azad Ootam: Despite being very different industries, the automotive and legal sectors face very similar content challenges. They’re overwhelmed with information, making it incredibly difficult to gain intelligence and insight – essentially what’s needed to make strategic business decisions. All of this knowledge is lost in foreign language content, in a variety of formats and types, simply because it’s incredibly time consuming to translate text, videos, audio and other formats for further analysis. If we look at the legal industry, firms now handle vast amounts of electronically stored information (ESI) across a variety of languages and formats when dealing with international investigations. Everything from emails, documents, presentations, databases, voicemails, audio and video files, social media and websites need to be accessed and analyzed by legal teams across the globe. Often, it takes days to translate a document manually, with no real guarantee that the document will be relevant to the case. SDL Multilingual eDiscovery Solution addresses these challenges, offering secure, fast, and high-quality translations across large volumes of content and document type. Legal professionals only need to submit documents that require translation from within the Relativity platform, and translated files will be returned instantly for the user’s analysis and review. Content is translated to the highest industry standards, helping to eliminate any claims of spoliation in a litigation case. In the automotive industry, SDL Tridion DX helps automotive companies manage multilingual marketing, product and service content across all digital channels and a globally distributed dealer and aftersales organization. The real power behind this technology is the SDL’s Linguistic AI technology, which can help to process, understand and generate content from information scattered across the business.


Philippe Wacker: Which effect will NMT reaching human parity have on your service/product line? ...and which consequences do you factor in for your business model?


Azad Ootam: With content volumes sky rocketing, the amount of content now needed for translation is enormous. We believe that the future lies in combining translators, project managers and technology. Only then can companies truly handle the volumes and speed at which content now needs to be translated. Machine translation has been around the industry for a very long time, and SDL has been investing in this technology from the very beginning. Over the years we have developed and commercialized rules-based, statistical-based, and now neural-based, machine translation engines. In fact we were first to patent statistical machine translation back in 2003. SDL is well positioned for the future by tightly integrating our content management and language solutions with our neural MT.


Philippe Wacker: Where do you see the potential of AI in terms of leveraging your content management offerings?


Azad Ootam: If companies want to create, translate and then deliver large volumes of content – and rapidly – to global audiences, then they’re going to have to accept the future role of AI in automating the content supply chain. There’s just no way that content teams can create all the content that’s needs to engage with millions of customers. SDL has invested heavily in AI and machine learning, and currently hold 45 patents in these areas. Our Linguistic AI technology provides the foundations for our content management solutions, and introduces intelligence to a company’s content supply chain. Whether it’s creating a document, managing its approval or translating it, AI can automate the entire content supply chain. It’s about applying machines first, and giving humans the ability to add value higher up in the content supply chain. As an example, if you’re creating content – SDL’s Linguistic AI generates – from nothing – finely-tuned content from information stored in a variety of repositories across the business, giving every customer their own, truly unique experience. Taking a machine-first machine-first human-optimized approach like this will lead to more human and more relevant customer experiences in an intelligent translation era.


Philippe Wacker: How would you assess the level of awareness of C-level executives in large accounts or brands regarding the disruptive potential of language intelligence (language technology boosted by AI) in the context of the digital transformation of their companies / organisations?


Azad Ootam: The content supply chain represents a huge cost for brands, and we’re seeing more boards and C-Suite executives take notice of the gains to be made by simply automating manual processes. A November 2018 Forrester Consulting study, ‘Today’s Content Supply Chains Prevent Continuous Customer Journeys, found that 82% of firms agree that content is critical to their company’s success in achieving top business objectives. Despite this, three quarters (80%) believe that current content supply chain challenges impede their ability to deliver on top business objectives. So clearly, content can make a big difference to business performance, and it’s a leadership issue, but companies haven’t quite worked out how to manage their content supply chain. The main drivers for change need to be Vice President and C-level executives; they have the advantage of seeing cross-departmental, global activities and may be in a better position to spot broken or redundant processes. Improved content supply chains lead to robust departmental and business-wide benefits, and companies gain improved productivity, higher customer engagement, increased conversion rates, and increased customer satisfaction, among many other benefits. These are all issues facing any leadership team today – regardless of industry.


Philippe Wacker: Which (market) awareness building initiatives would you want to pursue collectively with your industry colleagues as opposed to independently as a single company?


Azad Ootam: One of the key areas remains communicating and demonstrating to corporates and academic institutions the importance of translation, its value and its benefit. Many companies still consider translation as an inconvenient cost … I wish we could work with the rest of the industry to continue to promote the pivotal role that translation and content management play in communicating successfully with customers or stakeholders no matter what their language is.

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