A recent article introducing access to interpreters via Microsoft Teams has generated discussions on how it may impact LSPs. Should LSPs worry about the big tech firms entering into the language services market?
While adding means of access to remote interpretation should be encouraged and the efforts to do so should not be trivialized, I would like to shine the spotlight on the core elements that enable the right interpreters to show up at the right time. You’ve guessed it! It’s not Zoom, Teams or WebEx.
I visualize a remote interpretation system with three key components:
Front end: Features that connect multilingual conference attendees and users of remote community interpretation services with LSPs’ core delivery platforms. I think of this as the door into the service platform. The means of access has evolved from any landline phone, to smartphone, video conference system, various meeting platforms, and, also, industry-specific or client-specific user-interfaces (UIs).
Core delivery platform: The technology that powers the delivery of remote interpretation needs to integrate voice, video and data systems. It can be as low-tech as operators manually receiving calls, looking up qualified interpreters, conferencing various parties together and timing the calls. It can be as high-tech as collecting caller information through IVR, routing calls through pre-defined logic and interpreter classification, and timing/billing/invoicing calls automatically.
Back end: These are the users of technology to make sure the right interpreters are recruited, trained, QA’ed and paid. After all, the whole point of the service is to reach an interpreter. The level of complexity increases, exponentially, when the expected number of languages increases and the time to reach an interpreter decreases. Adding in requirements for specialization and licensure, the work will challenge the best of logistical experts.
If you look under the hood, there is a wide range of automation levels among LSPs which in turn determines their scalability, margin and growth potential. And, none of the bells and whistles matters if the star of the show, the interpreter, does not perform when the show starts.
Back to Zoom, Teams, WebEx. Sure, they are ubiquitous, but let’s remember that access points can be created on the UI of any system. The possibilities are endless. Twenty years ago, Over-the-Phone Interpretation (OPI) providers competed to program their toll-free inbound numbers on their clients’ phones, then evolving to install video interpretation units at clients’ sites. Now, the new frontier is integrating meeting apps and industry-specific/client-specific UIs with the LSPs’ core delivery platform. The through line here is: enhancing ease of access.
Based on publicly available information from RSI providers, users can access KUDO interpreters via Zoom and Teams. Interactio’s “remote simultaneous platform is compatible with Zoom, Cisco, Webex, Teams, Blue Jeans, Hopin etc.” Interprefy states on its website that they “integrate with over 60 meeting and event platforms.”
On the remote community interpretation side, LanguageLine Solutions says they have “successfully tested the following platforms for SIP connectivity: Zoom, Vidyo, Amwell, Teleport, Caregility.” Boostlingo states that they have “integrated with Zoom, WebEx and other video conference platforms.” Cyracom works with “over a dozen video communication platforms, including Zoom, Webex, Epic Teams, Amwell etc.”
As you can see from the examples above, expanding access to remote interpretation services by integrating with meeting/event platforms and industry-specific/client-specific UIs is a long time coming. In reality, Microsoft Teams is late to the game.
Now, to the question of whether LSPs should be worried.
No, unless meeting platforms such as Zoom, Teams, WebEx decide to make or buy the core delivery platform and the support system to enter into the interpretation services industry.
Yes, because having the ability to receive calls from meeting platforms is no longer a competitive advantage for LSPs. User experience delivered by your core delivery and support systems is what will differentiate you. Access points such as Zoom, Teams, WebEx are the doors that allow users to enter your service. Ultimately, what they find after they pass through that door is what matters.
You may ask: Why then do remote interpretation LSPs focus so much on the means of access rather than the user experience before, during and after the actual interpretation session? The answer is valuation. The performance of tech stocks in the last decade has made anything that is perceived as “technology” attractive for investors. Even a strong company like Netflix cannot escape this pressure. A recent article by Frank Pallotta on CNN Business discussed how Netflix stock price has dropped because it is “becoming a more traditional media company” rather than being valued as a Big Tech company like Facebook, Google and Apple.
It’s true: technology creates the excitement. As a result, language companies want to look like technology companies. When I consult on M&A deals, analysts are largely in search of unique technology innovations that would revolutionize the field rather than the fundamentals. I am excited to see future breakthrough technologies in remote interpretation. But, I am making the case that integration with meeting platforms is not a breakthrough, at least not anymore. We need to change the conversation.
I applaud the colleagues who have developed the integration between their core remote interpretation delivery platforms with other systems to expand access to interpretation services. That being said, as an industry, we will be well-served to educate clients about the sophisticated work that goes into the service. Bottom line: it’s good for valuation. Equally important, the unsung heroes who make the remote interpretation world go round day in and day out deserve much appreciation and recognition. If we don’t do this, who is going to do it for us?