Wordbee recently appointed a new CEO. Wordbee’s co-founder and former CEO José Vega is not going to rest on well-deserved laurels, though. He will continue as chair of the company’s Board of Directors, playing an advisory role and overseeing the actions taken by the executives.
Wordbee’s new CEO is Andre Hemker, founder and CEO of Wordcraft, a language service provider based in Germany, a trusted partner and client of Wordbee for many years. Andre is described as a big-picture thinker. He is an expert in language technology with a broad understanding of the language industry and its needs, as well as a deep knowledge of the Wordbee technologies. Towards the end of 2020, I had the pleasure to (virtually) sit down with him to take stock of the situation within the translation industry and cast a brief look into the future of the company.
Services & Technology: A Case of Either-Or?
Q.: In the last few years we’ve seen some clear trends in the “make or buy” approach when it comes to translation services and technology. A number of companies have developed (or are developing) technologies for their own operational needs, and in some case they end up marketing them to other organizations. Is this a direction that Wordbee is contemplating, taking advantage of your experience in running a language service provider?
A: “One thing I’ve always believed is that if you start to develop your software as a language service company, you become a software company. You don’t just make software. If you make software, you have to provide support, update and improve it. You will stop being a service company only.
It is, of course, a strategic decision, and one of the worst, I believe. In order to keep up with the best, the investments (both financial and HR) are high, you have to be a thought leader and so on…. It’s so much cheaper, more efficient AND effective to choose a technology that best suits your needs and criteria and maybe adapt it slightly.”
Q: So, I take it there are no plans within Wordbee to offer a combination of services and technology.
A: “Actually, we do have a plan in the work, but it’s a very sui generis plan. It’s going to be a combination that doesn’t take anything away from our existing customers.
We are going to use our tech to get to parts of the market that are almost unattainable. Of course, right now, we are still keeping our cards close to our chests. All I am going to say is.… watch this space.”
Crisis, What Crisis?
Q: Experts in the industry keep saying that the translation industry is impervious to crisis, and that the growth is uninterrupted. What do you think when you look around the translation community and talk to your peers?
A: “Of course, there is a crisis. Airlines are in crisis, as are the tourism industry, the art world, the fashion industry, and many others. This notion of the translation industry not being in a crisis is such a generalized statement.
Some industries thrive, e-commerce and the medical sector for example; other sectors are in the dumps. Depending on the sectors your company serves, you might very well find yourself facing a crisis.”
Q: So, for the translation industry itself, how can we move past this situation? And how can technology help?
A: “I’ve been evangelizing for SaaS solutions for the best part of the last ten years. I think this crisis showed everyone why this idea of the cloud not being secure is totally wrong. This belief is something I really want to challenge… and change.
This crisis is a chance for language service providers and translation departments to discover the benefits of moving operations to the cloud.
Just think: What changed for Wordbee users with this pandemic? Well, they don’t see their colleagues in person anymore (or not so often), but otherwise their work just continues uninterrupted. They type their login, and it doesn’t matter where they are. Every single file is right there where they need it. One box for all, and everybody takes out information and puts back information into that box.
In the early 1980s, it was normal for companies to have UNIX systems. You had a single server and many terminals connected to it. You could share files and work on the same files. Then personal computers arrived, and, of course, at that time they were powerful. Because we all had our own computer, we also had to have our own software. The main benefit from the old system was that everybody was sharing the same data. SaaS is, for me, just the logical next step to go back to the advantage we had in those days when we had 40 people and one computer.”
Outlook on the Future
Q: Within the wide AI field, NLP (Natural Language Processing) is the most up-and-coming technology, and its applications look very promising for the translation industry as well. What’s your take on this? And does Wordbee have any plans in this direction?
A: “At Wordcraft we’ve been working with machine translation (MT) for some 10 years now. Machine translation is already an integral part of our translation workflow. Keep in mind, Wordbee users have already access to over 40 MT engines, especially now via the new Intento connector.
Recently, I’ve had the chance to talk with Jim Compton of RWS Moravia and told him that, instead of developing MT system n. 41, I find it more interesting at this point to focus on many adjacent tasks that we do manually and that can effectively and efficiently be powered by machine learning (ML). So, we’re going to use ML to power multilingual term extraction, a new type of spellchecker, and predictive writing. To me, these functions are way more attractive than just another machine translation system.
And another thing we at Wordbee are going to focus on is enabling really holistic workflows with direct integration of our TMS in many different applications. For example, integration with a game engine or Adobe InDesign. This way, we are going to make Wordbee an even more powerful tool to be used not just for translation or localization, but for every single step of content creation.
There are going to be massive changes in our plans, both short and long term, to offer our user a more efficient and engaging platform as well as a more resilient business future. We’re ready.”