Huffington Post Interview with Ken Behan – Have Multilingual Customers? Here’s a Solution for You

This article was originally published on The Huffington Post  Have Multilingual Customers? Here’s a Solution for You (Interview With Ken Behan)

Ken Behan, Vice President of SYSTRAN, happy to share advices et thoughts about multilingual customers

“Languages are intriguing and challenging at the same time”

As kids we were always intrigued by the way Google Translator worked. While it translated those famous French quotes for us, there were limitations which even Google couldn’t surpass. Since then, language has been a barrier— hindering our global crusades. Be it a worldwide competition or business meetups across countries, a common language would have been the best idea which sadly is pretty hard thing to materialize.

Even readers at the Huffingtonpost must have had difficulties with other country specific domains, offering great pieces of work which couldn’t be accessed— owing the language barrier.

Here we interview Ken Behan, Vice President, SYSTRAN Software Inc. and understand what sort of challenges we face when it comes to a multilingual platform like the Internet. We will be asking him about the process involved with translations and analysis apart from the levels of accuracy. Lastly, he will be talking about the company and what purposes it can serve, towards the common good of this society.

So let’s get started:

Q-  What do you think are some important things to think about when entering the global economy for the first time?

  • Thanks to the internet, today’s start-ups are born Global, but while that presents a huge opportunity for companies, it also comes with one big headache – the barrier of language.

Areas that need particular attention are

  • Build your website with languages other than English in mind as words expand by up to 16% in other languages & Asian character sets need to be supported
  • Some colors and symbols don’t work or even may be offensive in some countries, be cautious with images
  • Be clear which languages you can support and be ready to receive tech support mails in multiple languages
  • Have a strategy for Multilingual IM chat and be aware that some cultures still prefer telephone support

Q- How should you modify your marketing approach when expanding to a different country?

  • One of the challenges Marketers face is not having a real sense of culture or experiencing day-to-day living in the target market. Simple things like checking if your product tag line works (Pepsi’s famous “Brings you back from the grave” in China comes to mind!)  is important, as well as obtaining local knowledge in relation to product functionality (4G is a benefit only if the local network supports it).

Make as much content available as possible; while it is important to have high quality marketing materials, support documents are really useful even if the quality is not perfect. A large Software Corporation Executive told me recently that they were surprised to find an 80% satisfaction rating with content that was produced using Machine Translation, on further examination it transpired that compared to having no documentation at all their customers really appreciated the effort the company made, so maybe it’s true – something is always better than nothing at all.   

Q- is open to the public now, what spurred this?

  • SYSTRANS’s technology has been developed over the last 48 years and, as its origin is a rule-based engine, we do many things that is now fashionably called “Natural Language Processing.”

We have also witnessed a huge growth in companies that need components of what we do but don’t want to commit to an enterprise license or cannot currently achieve an ROI for such an investment. For these customers, offers an opportunity to either test a concept or develop a specific application without the cost and approval overhead that is usually associated with enterprise applications.

Q- What types of companies can benefit from using this technology?

Three specific cohorts will benefit most from

  • SME’s that have developed an application for the global market, but need to support their product can build simple email translation templates and IM functionality into their product so their support staff can be language “superheroes” and interact with their customers in their language  
  • Entrepreneurs who recognize the challenge language brings and wish to take advantage of the huge potential in both cross language communication and analysis. One such individual spoke at the launch of regarding his amazing app that enabled IM chat in 50 language combinations using our platform
  • Marketing Departments in large corporations who need to understand what is being said on Social Networks across languages can use for everything from Sentiment Analysis to social media monitoring, giving them the power to understand and react across 50 languages

Q- How accurate are the translations from complex languages like Mandarin?

  • Evaluating the quality of a translation is one of the more difficult things to do due to the subjective nature of language review. It is true that rarely, even with a trained engine will a machine provide the quality associated with human translation. But what may be surprising is that MT does its best work in complex environments such as e-Discovery where the challenge is to find patterns across language threads in emails and messages that would be impossible to find manually. Equally, team collaboration via tools such as Slack work really well when you deploy a language BOT and open up the possibility of collaboration between teams across the globe.

Q- How can you spark conversation via social media or content without native speakers?

  • Chabots are the latest social media buzz concept that many see as the way forward for opening up the possibility of creating real connections with technology. One growth area we are seeing at SYSTRAN is the use of language BOT that enables social media platforms (and anywhere User Generated Content is created) to become truly global by eliminating language “silos” and allowing anyone to communicate with others in any language. This is only a short step away from Voice to Voice communication in any language which will be common place in 5 years’ time.

Q-What do you see as the future for expanding globally for small businesses as far as acclimating to new cultural norms?

  • Globalization has brought many changes to the way we live and work today. It was a common held belief at the start of this century that English would be the dominant business language and that consumers would adapt. Although this theory still holds some merit, what was not foreseen was the demand by consumers to speak (and read) in their native tongue even though they understand English. The impact of this on SME’s can be significant, and those that embrace the culture of their customers and speak to them in their language will prosper the most.

Unlike in previous decades, the technology to do this is now readily available at a price point that is bearable to SME’s who should be able to compete and be nimble against their large corporate completion.

About Ken Behan

Ken Behan is Vice President, Sales & Marketing, for SYSTRAN Software Inc, a pioneer in Language Technology since 1968; SYSTRAN provides defense and security organizations as well as leading global companies with the technology they need to listen, understand and react in 128 languages.

Ken is responsible for defining and implementing the growth strategy for SYSTRAN who have a global presence in the US, Europe and Asia. With 20 years’ experience in the language intelligence industry he is considered a thought leader in Natural Language Processing having held several Senior Executive roles within the industry.

A native of Ireland he is also a serial entrepreneur as well as business mentor to several Irish Start-ups.

This article was published on The Huffington Post by Zak Mustapha.