Translation Software Evaluated as a Service Desk Outsourcing Tool

People holding hands over the world

With the continued globalization of the world economy, multilingual interaction is becoming increasingly more prevalent, no less so in the service desk outsourcing industry. As a result, many organizations are evaluating methods to integrate their current messaging systems for multinational communication. Granted, much of the crucial communication tends to occur at the top of the organization chart in the default business language of choice, English; however, this does not address the remaining 73% of the globe’s non-English speakers. For those who need daily assistance with various IT related issues, the option is either for the service desk to assign dedicated agents fluent in the language of every end user supported or in some way leverage translation software. As far as the ITSM platform is concerned, multinational clients typically elect one that supports the double-byte character sets for all languages and multi-lingual localization. The problem is, unless that platform is integrated with messaging translation capabilities, their service provider will have to resort to third-party tools in order to translate communication such as real-time chat sessions or Outlook emails.

The problem with current translation software is that it generally translates each word verbatim versus considering the entire context of the intended meaning apart from the occasional phrase. When such applications are developed, vocabulary and word combinations are uploaded to a database to improve recognition of such phrases and even slang, but entire sentences are rarely translated to the intended meaning. So results vary depending on the application used simply because the extent of the development involved in uploading those word combinations for recognition and figurative translation also vary. Understandably, getting entire sentences and paragraphs exactly correct in the new language would entail developing software code that recognizes every imaginable phrase combination, let alone the planet’s known vocabulary, and converting it into the intended context in all possible languages.

Consider the below text from the French writer Emile Zola’s The Conquest of Plassans:

« Quelques morceaux de charbon étant tombes le long de l’escalier, il courut chercher un balai, enleva proprement la poussière noir des marches. »

The following are literal translations generated by popular web based applications.

Google Translate

“Some coals are tombs along the stairs, he ran to get a broom, took off properly the black dust of the steps.”

Babylon

“A few pieces of coal being tombs along the staircase, he ran seek a broom, scooped out cleanly the dust of black markets.”

Paralink

“Some pieces of coal being tombs along the staircase, it ran search a broom, took away dust properly black of steps.”

And below is the published English Translation by Ernest Alfred Vizetelly for comparison:

“As a few fragments of coal had fallen on the stairs, he ran off to get a brush, and carefully swept the black dust from the steps.”

Although the above tools certainly get most of the job done correctly, which is not bad for freeware, there is still enough room for misinterpretation which, in any business, can have counterproductive impacts. Absent of the complete figurative translation of business emails and chat content, a multilingual end user population must be prepared to fill in those interpretation gaps accordingly. And, of course, how any individual chooses to hear those words in their native tongue, like the varied applications themselves, is a subjective exercise. In the above example, the English translation requires Vizetelly to make personal choices on how he interpreted the meaning of the French words for “he ran.” In the context of the sample sentence, the subject is clearly not running indefinitely, but to some purpose, in this case to get a brush. So, unlike the preceding automated interpretations, Vizetelly determined that the author meant “ran off,” but he could have just as easily chosen “took off” or simply “went.” The good news is any of those choices still gets the essential message across. On the other hand, his was the only one of the four translations to understand that “étant tombes” was actually the French for “had fallen” instead of “are tombs.” The rather drastic distinction between the electronic and conscious human choices only underscores the potential for miscommunication.

Additionally, not every language has the same sentence structure we use in English. So, even if the individual words are accurately translated, the order in which they are presented may remain unchanged from the original often confusing the subject and predicate (i.e. who did what to whom). For example, in German the verb often comes at the end of the sentence so “I threw out the garbage” may be auto-translated to “I the garbage out threw.” Of course, a message recipient can easily compensate for the order with such a short example, but when stringing together similar examples into multiple phrases and sentences, their comprehension may potentially “go kaput.”

So, given the current state of imperfect communication, what’s the answer at the service desk? Apart from staffing dedicated agents who are fluent in every language supported, abbreviating the IT language for both incidents and service requests into a concise list of issues that users report may be the next best thing. With end user portal web forms, it’s simple enough. An end user reports an incident or submits a service request by selecting from pre-populated drop-down lists that are unique, not only to their IT environment (hardware assets, operating systems, messaging tools etc.) but to how they’re using and deploying those assets. During the service desk implementation, developers customize those forms for specific end-user groups, departments, and for all supported languages minimizing the need for creative writing or interpretations. These forms are also developed in conjunction with operational workflows or automated processes related to access rights, approvals, and to which groups open issues are assigned. Essentially, communication channels are streamlined and funneled, sending clear and concise information to the right people. In addition to web forms, the service desk can offer self-service options such as knowledgebase articles and FAQs all thoroughly documented by the development team in the language of choice. Of course for incidents and service requests that fall in the “other” category and require free-form elaboration by the end user or IT group, then translation software is indeed a practical alternative. So long as the service desk agents themselves come equipped with discerning verbal skills, they will be able to identify the root cause of the issue that “had fallen” and not so much “are tombs” into their hands.