Report written by Sarah Hickey.
As reported in the 2021 edition of the Nimdzi 100, interpreting has arguably been the sector within the language industry that was the most heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic — both positively and negatively.
Onsite interpreting was hit hard and has almost completely gone away as a direct consequence of lockdown measures and restrictions around in-person meetings. Companies whose revenues have been driven by onsite interpreting reported a significant drop in business of around 70% or higher. However, the demand for interpreting services did not disappear, it just pivoted to the virtual world and caused a boom in remote interpreting.
Various types of remote interpreting had started to make their way into the interpreting marketplace long before March 2020, but they were largely seen as a nice idea or as a solution in search of a problem. However, once lockdowns hit and in-person events and gatherings were forbidden or restricted, remote interpreting stepped out of the shadows to come to the rescue of the interpreting industry.
Almost overnight, virtual interpreting technology (VIT) providers saw their volumes skyrocket as businesses of all shapes and sizes needed to find a way to move operations online. Since then, the pandemic has accelerated growth in this field and has sparked innovation and attracted investors from outside the industry.
Based on our research here at Nimdzi Insights, the future of interpreting will be a mix of adaptation and co-existence. We expect, for example, conference interpreting to move towards a hybrid model where any of the parties involved — the interpreters, the attendees, and the speakers — have the option of either being onsite or connecting to the conference remotely from anywhere in the world. This means that, even for in-person events, not all participants and interpreters will necessarily have to be onsite. This option existed before March 2020 but the pandemic exposed the remote option as a real, viable solution. Going forward, we can expect such a hybrid model to become the new norm and to further boost growth and innovation within remote interpreting.
Two VIT providers who recently made headlines due to their success in terms of growth and innovation are KUDO and Boostlingo.
KUDO is a cloud-based platform that enables multilingual meetings by providing the technology (and also, if needed, the interpreters) that allows remote simultaneous interpreting (RSI) to be used during video conferences and at large events. KUDO has evolved a lot over the past few years and does not define itself as a video conferencing platform. Instead, the company currently positions itself as a provider of Language-as-a-Service (LaaS).
KUDO saw significant growth in 2020 and has been continuously onboarding new clients and interpreters and has also added new features and functionalities to its platform. One example is “KUDO Marketplace,” which gives clients direct access to KUDO’s interpreters and allows for instant, automated bookings. The creation of features like these illustrates the significant increased demand for RSI.
The RSI boom did not go unnoticed and has started to attract investors. Already in July 2020, KUDO received USD 6 million in funding. In March 2021, the VIT provider received an additional USD 21 million — the largest ever investment in multilingual meetings.
When asked during an interview with Nimdzi Insights how the most recently raised funds will be used to help grow their business, KUDO named three major areas of investment:
As far as growth strategy is concerned, KUDO’s goal is to significantly grow the market for multilingual meetings and, in particular, to expand it to accommodate those who have never used interpreting services before. To achieve this goal the product has to be easy to use, which is a continuous effort. In addition, KUDO plans to expand its global reach. Aside from targeting more clients in the US, KUDO wants to establish go-to-market teams in India, Latin America, and Asia Pacific, and also grow its presence in Europe and the Middle East.
KUDO is investing in talent development and is planning to work with universities to roll out scholarships. The company is also offering support and tools to new interpreters.
KUDO confirmed that plans for integrations with prominent video conferencing platforms are on the roadmap. Currently, light integrations, where audio and video are brought into the KUDO platform via other platforms, are already possible and the next step will be moving toward full (native) integrations.
Boostlingo is an interpreting delivery and management platform that offers on-demand video remote interpreting (VRI) and over-the-phone interpreting (OPI). In 2020, Boostlingo experienced growth of 140%. This is partially due to a significant spike in requests from telehealth vendors looking for ways to integrate interpreting into their own platforms after the onset of the pandemic.
On March 31, 2021, the business announced its addition to the Zoom App Marketplace. Boostlingo is the first VIT provider to fully integrate with Zoom. At this stage, all major remote interpreting providers have found a way to work with Zoom and other prominent video conferencing platforms. However, these solutions can best be described as workarounds where conference participants and interpreters need to be connected both to Zoom (or another video conferencing platform) and the VIT provider’s platform. This allows all participants to be part of the Zoom meeting but listen to the interpretation via the VIT provider’s platform. The interpreters take the original audio from Zoom but interpret on the remote interpreting platform.
Boostlingo has become the first company to have cracked the code to full integration. So what does that mean?
Anyone with a corporate or individual Zoom account has the option of installing the Boostlingo app for Zoom and setting up an account. Once this initial step has been taken, Zoom users simply need to invite interpreters to any of their calls, just as they would with other meeting participants. As soon as the request has been processed by Boostlingo (more or less instantaneously), the interpreters will be placed directly into the Zoom call. Existing Boostlingo clients have access to the same feature and can choose to continue to use either their own interpreters or the Boostlingo professional interpreter network. The interpreters work in the backend from the Boostlingo platform, which allows for proper tracking of call activity.
Setting up the Zoom integration on the Boostlingo platform. Source: Boostlingo
A VRI call on Zoom. Source: Boostlingo
There is no denying that Zoom owns the video conferencing space. Especially since the beginning of the pandemic, VIT providers have begun to receive inquiries about whether they can integrate with Zoom and other video conferencing platforms. Clients like to use products they are familiar with, and most businesses and public entities only have the budget for one single platform. VIT providers have the choice of either seeing Zoom’s popularity as a threat or as an opportunity. Boostlingo has recognized that being part of the Zoom ecosystem makes sense for everyone involved. If the goal truly is to remove language barriers and make access to multilingual meetings as seamless and easy as possible, then cashing in on the Zoom boom makes for smart business.
Even though this first full-on integration with Zoom represents a major milestone, it is only the beginning. In an interview with Nimdzi Insights, Boostlingo revealed that more integrations with other major video conferencing platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Webex, GoToMeeting, Google Meet, and others are in the pipeline. At the same time, the company wants to build out its features with Zoom.
For now, Boostlingo is focused on VRI and OPI, two types of interpreting that are performed consecutively, with speakers and interpreters taking turns talking. However, the company has recognized the potential in the RSI space. RSI allows interpreters to interpret while the speakers are talking, with only minimal delays, which makes it the preferred mode for larger meetings being interpreted into a greater number of languages. This mode of interpreting requires a different technical setup but it is in high demand right now. Boostlingo plans to expand into RSI in the near future as a logical next step.
KUDO and Boostlingo are two companies who are driving growth and innovation in the remote interpreting space. But while investments and integrations are exciting to talk about, it’s important to pan out and consider what these developments mean for all stakeholders.
Interpreters might rightfully wonder what’s in it for them when a business like KUDO receives such a large investment. Why should they care? Well, to put it simply, the funds KUDO has received are an investment in human-powered interpreting. It’s a clear sign that investors believe in a prosperous future for multilingual meetings through the involvement of interpreters. It means that the market for interpreting services is thriving and the demand for interpreters is increasing.
As for Boostlingo’s integration with Zoom, interpreters benefit from this development in two ways. Firstly, the integration has opened the door to a whole new set of clients who never used interpreting services before. Secondly, this full-on integration will make it much easier for interpreters to provide interpreting on Zoom, as it removes the need for complex workarounds.
For buyers of interpreting services, both developments are good news as well. They’re a sign that the market for interpreting services is expanding, which ultimately means that they will have better access to more resources. In addition, with greater investment and greater innovation, these technologies will become easier and easier to use and will be increasingly tailored to client needs. What this means is that buyers of interpreting services will have access to a better product that can be more readily used in more use cases and with more resources available.
Language service providers should see both developments as an opportunity. Firstly, it’s a clear sign that the market for interpreting services is growing. Secondly, they can use the technology to cash in on remote interpreting trends and expand their global reach as well as their client portfolio.
The pandemic has exposed remote interpreting as a viable solution. The seal has been broken as clients recognized that these solutions not only work but come with significant advantages. This is why we can expect this trend to last beyond the pandemic. Onsite interpreting will return, but remote interpreting will expand the market for interpreting services. Integrations with video conferencing platforms in particular hold endless room for growth and opportunity. Funding the technological development of this field is going to pay dividends as these integrations will allow VIT providers (and investors) to piggy-back off the enormous success of platforms like Zoom.
Investments of this size are a major point of validation for the whole world of multilingual meetings. They are also a prime example of how cooperation between technology and human linguists is the key to success and growth within the language industry. Technology does not exist to replace human interpreters but to enable interpreting in more settings and in all regions of the globe. The more accessible and easier the offering becomes, the more the market will expand, as clients from all industries will be able to make use of interpreting services.
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