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GUEST BLOG: Interpreting Delivery Platforms: Should You Get on the Bandwagon?

Published October 4, 2016


When it comes to remote interpreting, opinions and anecdotes abound. Missing is hard research to identify trends, challenges and opportunities. Earlier this year, Common Sense Advisory conducted some of its most extensive interpreting market research since 2010, when InterpretAmerica commissioned the first exhaustive--and so far only--interpreting market study covering North America, which we made available free of charge as a service to the interpreting profession.

In this guest blog post, Hélène Pielmeier, a Senior Analyst at Common Sense Advisory, shares some valuable insights into interpreting delivery platforms (IDPs) and why interpreters should take a serious look at them.

Interpreting Delivery Platforms: Should You Get On the Bandwagon?

Recent technological advances have led to an explosion of interpreting delivery platform (IDP) options that enable remote, video, telephone, and even machine interpretation. In this blog post, we explore four categories of IDPs, the challenges with selling them, issues with supply chain readiness, and what all industry participants must do to prepare.


Through in-depth research and 45 interviews and demos with technology vendors, users of such technologies, and interpreting experts, Common Sense Advisory (CSA Research) found some solid products across the four categories of products that we track.

  • OPI: Over-the-Phone Interpreting: This class describes technology that provides audio only, whether transferred through copper wires or over digital channels. Users typically conference in an interpreter who assists with the back-and-forth dialogue with consecutive interpreting.

  • VRI: Video remote interpreting: This term describes systems that manage both audio and visual delivery and is used even where there is no remote interpreting by an offsite linguist. The term first appeared in the sign language industry, but is now widely used for both spoken and sign languages.

  • RSI: Remote simultaneous interpreting: This term describes systems for the delivery of simultaneous interpreting services by phone or over the internet. The technology creates a virtual booth where interpreters – who may be in different locations – can pass the microphone back and forth as they interpret the event in real-time. RSI technology does not necessarily include a visual element such as slides or a video feed. It can handle remote speakers, remote interpreting, remote participation, and hybrid events.

  • MI: Machine interpreting: This concept is sometimes also referred to as “spoken translation” and involves systems to process speech to text using speech recognition systems such as Nuance Dragon, then processes the text through machine translation (MT), and renders the text to speech (TTS) through speech synthesis. Applications range from out-of-the box solutions to optimized systems that you train with your acronyms, special terms, frequent misspellings, and human translation of frequent sentences. In some systems, users get to decide whether to read or listen to the translation.


For years, everyone said that the technology to deliver remote interpreting wasn’t there. But now it’s here and it works. In theory, first-movers should occupy a prominent position in the market. However, many products haven’t moved much past the starting line due to poor go-to-market strategies, limited marketing budgets, insufficient experience in selling to desirable verticals and audiences, and a lack of qualified interpreter talent on the networks (See: “Developing the IDP Market”).

No matter how good an IDP is, technology alone isn’t enough. Whether or not developers provide services along with the technology, they must ensure there is a supply chain ready to deliver the services on the platform. Yet most developers have yet to line up linguist networks. They sometimes end up selling the moon to clients by planting the benefits of IDPs in their mind, but fail to deliver on the infrastructure to create a viable commercial offering. Otherwise, they offer the equivalent of a car with no roads to drive it on.

Technology vendors tend to pass the buck. They want to let organizations use “their own networks,” as if they were doing their prospects a favor. For most, it isn’t. Many clients want the software with the service, taking a “do it for me” approach. Whether you are a technology vendor, a language service provider, a hybrid, or a buyer of language services, you must identify what you can do to train the next generation of interpreters so they can work effectively remotely.

But developers and LSPs face even more issues than just readiness: the shortage of talent to supply services the way clients want them. For example, many clients expect 24x7 coverage of VRI, even for languages of limited demand, something that will be further compounded as more buyers adopt IDPs.

Interpreting via a platform also requires a different skill set than for face-to-face scenarios. IDPs raise questions about interpreting quality, communicative dynamics, skills, and required training. The advent of RSI systems is particularly problematic in the sense that it requires simultaneous interpreters, the rarest type due to the advanced skill set it requires.

Service suppliers reported struggling with asking interpreters to sign up in advance of the need so they have a complete package to sell. But when too few requests come through for on-demand services, linguists do not have incentives to stand by waiting for work. With spotty and insufficient supply, providers can’t deliver on what they sell, thus feeding the vicious cycle of which segment to develop first.


All industry participants – buyers of language services, technology vendors, service providers, or interpreters – need to take stock of the options available to them and how to best leverage them to service their customers the best way possible. IDPs are here to stay. The biggest casualty in the deployment of IDPs will be interpreters who don’t want to use interpreting delivery platforms. That was the case with many tech-resistant translators who refused to work with translation memory and now avoid any use of machine translation. Based on our surveys and interviews, CSA Research contends that IDP vendors have the potential to generate more demand by increasing market awareness of interpreting possibilities.


Common Sense Advisory is an independent market research company helping companies profitably grow their international businesses and gain access to new markets and new customers. Its focus is on assisting its clients to operationalize, benchmark, optimize, and innovate industry best practices in translation, localization, interpreting, globalization, and internationalization.


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