Back in 2006, partly in response to the revelation that information telecommunicated via the Internet had risen from 50% to 97% within the space of five years, the British mathematician Clive Humby claimed that ‘data is the new oil’. Now, almost a decade and a half removed from its original context, Humby’s claim is proving to be more prescient than ever.
While some contend the reality of the matter isn’t as simple—oil has a clear, highly profitable market, while data’s target markets are more elusive—the unrefined nature of data is precisely why it is more valuable than oil: with neither its value nor its applications able to be fixed, its uses are by definition limitless. It can be combined, refined, cut, polished, collected, bought, sold and analysed. And with the brave new world of information continuing to expand its horizons by the day, there is an ever-increasing need for data to be translated, edited, interpreted, redefined and employed in myriad different formats and environments. That’s good news for the language services industry.
Drilling for crude data
It is important to remember that the idea of data being the new oil is just a metaphor—and an imperfect one at that. Even so, it would not be a stretch to state that tech giants such as Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Google are now in the business of ‘drilling’ for data, with their customer bases representing vast reservoirs that (unlike oil) replenish based on changing priorities, preferences, problems and perceptions. It is no coincidence that these companies, which are among the most powerful and profitable in the world, have all appeared within the past twenty years: since the Internet became mainstream in the 1990s, consumers have been feeding businesses with more and more data, which the canniest market players use as building blocks to create user-focused products and experiences.
Along with personalised streaming services like Netflix and Spotify, innovations as wide-ranging as AI-assisted self-driving cars (for convenience and enhanced safety), the Internet of Things (for streamlined connectivity and greater efficiency) and mobile healthcare (for more accurate diagnoses) have all been made possible thanks to data. None of these technologies would have seemed likely even a decade ago—so what does that mean for the next ten years?
Data is the currency of the future
We are now moving toward a global scenario in which data trumps money or physical assets in terms of importance in business. After all, she who owns the data controls its value. In 2020, it is predicted that 90% of large-scale organisations will generate revenue from data as a service, a concept which encompasses everything from data delivery and storage to processing and analytics. In addition, 40% of data-based tasks will become automated, while there are expected to be 20 billion active IoT devices online by the end of this year.
At the same time, privacy and security regulations are set to become even stricter following the example of the GDPR in 2018 and the introduction of the CLOUD Act, which entitles US law enforcement to request and receive data from U.S.-based technology companies (regardless of whether the servers are also in the U.S. or abroad).
It is all the more critical, then, for companies to get a handle on how data is generated, stored, updated and shared. Otherwise, they risk being left behind by the competition.
Are we entering a new Golden Age for the language industry?
There is one sector that has been handling and using huge amounts of data ever since the dawn of computer data storage back in the 1960s: the language service industry. Even so, the proliferation of data was rarely considered to be advantageous in the intervening half-century: when the first home computers came onto the market, for example, translators were warned that it signalled the first nail in the coffin for their profession. Computers sped everything up, made it easier to consult information and opened the discipline up to non-academics, which in turn risked falling quality standards.
These voices of doom became louder with the dawn of translation software in the late 1990s and then again with the development of statistical machine translation, example-based machine translation and online language tools in the late 2000s. In each case, the implosion (or at least significant depletion) of the language service industry was predicted by analysts and non-experts to be imminent. However, far from sounding its death knell, these technologies have actually enabled the industry to go from strength to strength.
With machine translation software enabling companies to translate (primarily) simple texts with a great deal of repetition—think service manuals, patents, internal communications, updated reports and so on—this often leaves more of a budget left over to invest in quality translations for content with a high degree of visibility. The latter can be anything from website content to marketing materials to snappy advertisements on Facebook, all of which require a human specialist to take up the slack where machine translation would be unable to do so
And the work doesn’t stop there: this content has to be tailored for the many unique media formats now available to companies, as well as the various markets they are addressing. Where once, for example, a single advertisement would have been placed in a magazine, that same ad text now has to be expanded, truncated, localised, amended for language register and/or search-engine-optimised just to fit the format—and ensure the message is conveyed to the intended audience. And with major marketing blunders more likely than ever to go viral, businesses cannot afford to put a foot wrong when it comes to launching a new product or service in the new decade. Their reputation among customers and within the industry as a whole depends on it, meaning that managing this reputation is more important than ever.
The sector is now reaping the reward for this shift in priorities: a recent report published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that employment among translators and interpreters is projected to grow by a whopping 19% between 2018 and 2028, more than at any other time in the past 30 years. Furthermore, separate publications by GALA (the globalisation and localisation association) and CSA state that the global language sector was worth USD 46 bn in 2018, with the GALA report predicting a rise in value to USD 56 bn in 2021. Whatever the actual figure proves to be, it is clear this development is not a blip.
Protecting against data spills
With data technology and data services evolving at an extremely rapid pace, it can often be difficult for companies to stay on top of developments, especially if they do not have the same resources as some of the largest market players. A recent publication from Gartner titled Leading the IoT points out that 75% of organisations will be prevented from taking full advantage of the Internet of Things due to a lack of expertise. This is bound to have a negative impact on any company’s bottom line in 2020, just as a failure to keep data secure runs the risk of giving away the most precious asset to the competition and—perhaps even more damaging to both reputation and company coffers— incurring hefty legal sanctions. In other words, it is essential to turn to the right service provider when dealing with data. In the language services industry, this means looking out for a partner who is able to provide three things:
- Transparent lines of communication from top to bottom
- Experienced heads well versed in the latest industry developments
- A watertight IT environment based on cutting-edge technologies
This may sound obvious, but the language service sector is rife with providers adopting a laissez-faire attitude towards data handling. Once data is spilled into the world, anybody can use it; its quality has been compromised, effectively rendering it worthless. SwissGlobal, by contrast, takes data security extremely seriously, as proven by the fact that it works with a Swiss IT partner certified to ISO 27001 (the standard for information security). Whether a customer sends SwissGlobal their contact information, accesses the SwissGlobal website or provides the company with a document for translation, they can rest assured that their data will never leave Switzerland and will be backed up in multiple data centres for continuity purposes.
SwissGlobal hence works with a secure and auditable Secured Workplace (SeWo), a virtual workplace suite that comes with two-factor authentication and provides an exceptionally secure and controlled environment in which to manipulate or share data is impossible—whether between SwissGlobal and its clients or SwissGlobal and the freelancer who has been carefully selected to take care of the job. Added to this are the multi-level firewalls, virus scanners and encryption programmes that SwissGlobal employs as standard. Finally, the company gives all customers the option to have its data centres and secure working environments audited for 100% peace of mind.
The customer is king—and data is their crown
It should be clear by now that as we enter the next decade of the Information Age, the way in which a company collects and uses data (as well as the amount it collects) will be the difference between success and failure in the business arena. Indeed, one industry article contends that “data ownership is the hallmark upon which the future of digital economies will be built”. Strong data can be used to tailor services, target customers and provide an unparalleled user experience. As a result, it has a higher potential value than any other corporate resource—and should be handled as such.
Just as few people would leave their life savings lying where anybody could find them, so data needs to be protected when doing business with other organisations. When handling customer data, SwissGlobal relies on secure working environments, an ISO-certified IT partner and data centres based in Switzerland. The result: efficient, transparent and secure translation, editing and interpreting services with virtually zero risk of data loss, corruption or theft. That’s a service worth as much as the data itself.