Digital transformation and the strategic importance of language technologies for companies

Digital transformation and the strategic importance of language technologies for companies


An interview with Peter Van Den Steene

Peter Van Den Steene, Presence President of the Board and Innovation & Business Development CEO will lead a masterclass at the Value of Language conference in Brussels on March 16th 2016. During the masterclass he will present four digital-voice and two translation technologies that The Presence Group (Doncols, LU) offers to its customers. These technologies turn multilingual meetings into a tool that contributes to companies’ strategies and hence maximises the return on the investment made.


Peter, could you describe the type of customers you work for?

Presence works for different types of customers: from large multinationals to SMEs, organisations and agencies. In short: every type of customer that is faced with the challenge of doing business in a multilingual environment.

English has become the number 1 business language, what is the added value of multilingualism in this day and age?

Whilst it is true that English has become the “lingua franca”, studies prove that people are still much more likely to buy something or engage with an organisation when they are addressed in their own language. You know, in the end, it boils down to a matter of respect: when I want to really reach out to you, I need to be polite enough to communicate with you to explain things in your preferred idiom. The challenge is to provide the tools to measure the return on investment of expressing your messages in the languages of the different markets you operate in or the audiences you engage with.

If companies have to translate all their material, from manuals to marketing texts, into different languages, this potentially makes costs rocket. How can companies be certain that this cost will yield an actual return?

Cost is definitely an issue for any type of organisation. Do you know that, in spite of the fact that there are tens of thousands of translation agencies, only 0,01% of all the information at our disposal nowadays is translated or localised? In other words, this means that 99,9% of the information is not translated! The main reasons for that are a lack of budget, a lack of resources or both. It is with these ideas in mind that Presence has decided to offer solutions to help tackle these issues. The answer resides in the combination of human creativity and the latest language technologies and we see it as our task to advise organisations as to the solutions that best fit their needs. Whilst it is, of course, possible to use technologies on a need-to-have basis, real sustainable value can only be reached by studying the business case of each organisation. When the maths make sense, a whole new world of interaction opens.

Some people seem to believe and fear that “live” meetings are over and that we will all now only meet virtually. Let me reassure you: live meetings are here to stay as the need for us, humans, to meet face-to-face is deeply engrained in our genes. But there is more to it than this: do you imagine sitting in front of your PC for a 2-day (or more) conference? You would go crazy for a lot less! What will happen is that meetings that today cannot happen due to budgetary or logistical constraints, will now become possible, enabling more people to express themselves and be informed of the issues that concern them.

In the same vein, people involved in the translation of texts fear that we will all start communicating like intelligent robots as all translation will be done by machines or algorithms. We all know Google translate and it would, in theory, be possible to replace human translators by Google-like software, but this is in no case advisable! Artificial intelligence has evolved a lot, but it still lacks the ability to interpret linguistic subtleties and there is no change to this situation in view. Good written communications are not only a matter of good grammar and spelling, they depend on the quality of semantics and – let’s face it – creativity! So far no great writers have been robots…

Digital transformation is here to stay: all companies, organisations and political institutions are involved in it. The risk of not going down that road is that you will have to scramble to stay in the race. It’s like sticking with your good old fax, while everyone has switched to emails. The challenge is not to oppose the inevitable, but to keep people , not tools, at the centre of things.

The vision of Presence is to create a world in which people benefit from digital technologies so that unprecedented opportunities are created for businesses, organisations and for the people that depend on them. Technologies are developed to empower us, not to take away what makes us uniquely human.

What KPIs do you use to measure the return on investment?

KPIs are adapted to the requirements of each organisation and the whole process starts with a needs analysis. Together with all the stakeholders, we map what exists in the organisation today in terms of multilingual tools, processes and resources and we then take this away to do our homework. When we come back, we present a business case where we compare the current way the organisation deals with multilingual materials and meetings to the business plan as proposed by Presence. In doing so, we aim to show how they can cut down costs, create new avenues of revenue and greatly enhance the impact they have on their target audiences.

So, KPIs include cost parameters for existing meetings, teleconferences, translation projects, workflow management etc.. On the revenue side, we present an analysis of the added value of having more multilingual events (reaching larger audiences) and improved workflows for translation projects.

Another very important KPI is impact measurement. We show organisations how engaging multilingually with constituents in the digiconomy leads to more brand awareness, improved reputation and ultimately to more lead conversion.

Doesn’t multilingualism make the already complex structure of some multinationals even more intricate? Are you advocating for a special translations department in every company?

Good question! Many organisations still consider multilingualism to be a cost and a burden because they have not yet seen the benefits of localisation. The fact of the matter is that Presence can show them that multilingualism does not result in increased costs; this can only happen when there is no plan in place and different people or departments are going their own way, without clearly defined targets and measures. A key point in defining strategies towards multilingualism is the fact that localising communications does not lead to extra resources and certainly not to all organisations creating translation departments. It is important to use the right mix of technologies and to define the best workflows so as to optimise processes.

In the announcement of your masterclass you talk about the ‘impact’ that multilingualism has. Do you have a way of measuring the impact? How do you do it and how can you be certain that the impact results from the investment in multilingual technologies?

Impact can be measured in different ways and does not mean the same from one organisation to the next. What is necessary from the outset is to define communication formats, targets, frequency, platforms and tools in order to determine the technologies and resources needed. Impact is then measured in terms of response analysis, lead generation and sales conversion; to name but a few.

I think that time is up now. Any famous last words?

I don’t want to give away too much in advance of the masterclass, so I would like to invite everyone who does business across languages to attend The Value of Language in Brussels on November 26th. Interested organisations can drop us a line at contact@presencegroup.eu before November 18th and get a 20% discount on the participation fee.

Thank you very much for this interview. Have a great time at The Value of Language conference!