Growth centric cultures, partnership opportunities and more: ED Latha Sukumar talks about her ATC conference experience

By: Jack Xu

Rear view of many listeners sitting on chairs during lecture at conference

I was at the Association of Translation Companies (ATC) conference in London, while there on a personal visit.  Seemed like a worthwhile event to spend 2 days at.  It was held at the Holiday Inn in Fitzrovia on September 20th and 21st and a much smaller affair than I had thought it would be, attended mostly by UK based translation and interpretation companies.   There were about 150 people in attendance and the schedule allowed for the keynote as well as panel discussions to be held in one large room.

During the long breaks, people congregated around refreshments in the lobby outside, where the vendors had set up their tables.   The attendees were Translation companies of all sizes and companies that sold products to them.  There was one professional body, the Chartered Institute of Linguists, which although headquartered in the UK, tests and qualifies interpreters and translators from around the world.  I sensed a potential partnership opportunity given MCIS’ Translator Training program and promised to follow up.

When I go to conferences, three things happen.  I make some cool friends, I get validation for the way we go about our work at MCIS and most important of all, learn something new.

Among the coolest people I met was a ski instructor turned successful translation company owner, a Chief Sales Officer who lives in the gorgeous Yorkshire country and a young Iranian “Salesperson of the year” award winner who had overachieved on his target by 200% and worked remote for Wolfstone, a UK based translation company, from his home in Rome.

What did I receive validation on?

In his keynote Renato Beninatto of Nimdzi, who is now a Consultant but has made a name for himself remaking the global brand of Moravia, a respected company in the language industry, spoke about the three evolving core functions of our business as being Vendor Management, Project Management and Sales.  Of these he said, Project Management and Customer Service are emerging as the most important ones, given Google’s capacity to machine translate 14 billion words per day.   Given the way our work-life is structured, it is true that customers do and will continue to want to be communicated with by humans, at least in the foreseeable future.  At MCIS our focus is on customer service and good execution. Another presenter,  Steve Chu from Treehouse Strategy, talked about the importance of creating a growth centric culture where everyone is responsible for growth and people are incentivised based on if they meet strategic goals.  This also is nothing new for us.  We live by this at MCIS.

So what did I learn?

Two presenters impressed me the most.  Tony  O’Dowd of KantanMT gave a wonderful talk about Neural Machine Translation and how it is as disruptive as the digital camera was to Kodak film.  Unlike Statistical Translation, its predecessor, which was rule based and hence did not translate so well, NMT understands sentence boundaries and words are converted to vectors based on the frequency with which they appear together in clusters.  The resultant algorithms provide for a greater probability of accurate translations than through the previous method.  Also, with each job, the NMT system learns and gains in intelligence.  Therefore, companies must learn and adapt their business processes and workflows to engage human translators in optimal ways to work alongside emerging NMT behemoths, Google being one.

Another fascinating talk was on decision support systems for Vendor Managers. Allesssandro Cattelan previously Product Manager at Matecat, the creator of a free, open source Computer Assisted Translation (CAT) tool by the same name, works as the Vice President of Operations at where he focuses on improving and automating processes to provide better and faster translations.  He posed an interesting practical question at the beginning of his talk.  How do you address an impossible request on a Friday evening?  A request for translation of 35000 words from English to Malay on Genomics by Monday morning?  Obviously daunting, unless you have the technological capability to identify the talent and assign the work in short order.  He then said that’s exactly what their system T-Rank does.  It is a decision support system that combines the flexibility of human choice with the rigor of mathematics to determine which of’s best translators are most suited for a project.  Simply put it works on the technology behind spam filters known as Bayesian filters.  So just two vendor managers can search their database of 250,000 registered translators to fulfill the request.  The system then learns from each job by collecting feedback on the domain, translation quality, timeliness of the delivery, layout, formatting, communication skills and feedback from the Project Manager.  Fascinating and definitely worth exploring!

The conference was short and sweet.  And as always I have come back with business cards and many new friends whom I will meet soon at the American Translators Association conference in Washington, D.C. next month.

– Latha Sukumar, Executive Director, Toronto, Ontario, September 29, 2017