Lionbridge and IBM do the RTTS

by Translation Guy on May 11, 2010

A few weeks ago, Lionbridge, the biggest LSP in the business, signed a multi-year software technology exclusive to offer Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)-based, text-to-text language automation  solutions to commercial clients based on IBM’s Real Time Translation Service (RTTS) technology.

The press is that it’s a game-changer. “The strategic agreement is expected to produce a real-time multilingual communication solution that can increase the efficiency of global business operations, and help organizations become more interconnected by enabling rapid exchange and understanding of critical information.  The offering also will enable clients to access and take action on data and information that presently is unavailable due to language barriers.  Unlike free-ware translation applications, the combined solution can be customized using each client organization’s existing content and configured for specific business processes to increase translation quality and availability.”

That smells like press release copy to me, and these guys get a lot more splash than we could get with the same offering. I’ve been working on hybrid real time translation for years, but the implementation that I can pull off with my limited resources has been pretty not-so-hot. Ok, so these guys know what they’re doing, but just how well can it be done?  Or are they just better at selling bad translation than I am?

“The partnership will create a customizable, real-time multilingual communication platform by combining the capabilities of Translation Workspace™, Lionbridge’s cloud-based translation memory, and RTTS, IBM’s real-time translation technology.  The combined solution is expected to broaden the use of automated translation technologies by reducing cost, quality and process barriers that inhibit effective use of machine translation.  This will enable clients to cost-effectively translate the vast majority of content that is not being translated today – from eSupport, FAQs, manuals and technical documentation to blogs, instant messaging, user-generated content and chat.”

Best and most informed discussion on the implications are on Dave Grunwald’s GTS Blog. “Lionbridge should give their PR people a bonus for putting together such a great announcement. But is this a game changer for the industry? What do you think?”

Personally, it sounds like translation fail to me.  I’m OK with bad MT, but I get concerned about offering multiple levels of quality on the human side.

But you’ll get more useful commentary from some of the heavyweights who’ve posted there. Kirti Vashee of Asia Online is the go-to guy for realistic discussion of MT, calls IBM “the poster child for MT failures.”  György Smidt gets to what I consider the heart of the machine translation experience. “Rather than requiring you to consciously use a tool, you never even see the tool, which operates hidden in the background… this is really something new, not just a me-too bid by Lionbridge. There have been piece-meal attempts to do this by other companies, but nothing systematic enough to be used as a corporate communication tool.” Guilty as charged.

No one expects quality in real-time systems, even if they say they do. You know the service business iron triangle? Fast, cheap, good, pick two. After years trying to make money with machine translation, I’ve come up with the MT iron triangle: fast, free and easy, all of the above.


  1. Kirti Vashee says:

    I have also actually written a blog entry on this. If nothing else they have gotten a lot of us (Mark at SDL, TAUS, Pangeanic, CSA, LISA) blogging about it so it is pretty significant just for that.

  2. Mary Smith says:

    NPR just had a story on translation and the web too…

    • Ken says:

      Thanks for the link, Mary

  3. Zoey says:

    Bill Sullivan, IBM’s Globalization Executive and a member of LISA’s advisory board, shared his thoughts on what this means to the industry and to LISA in particular – Very interesting read and provides a different opinion from IBM Check it out.

  4. Kaden says:

    It seems as if Microsoft is getting its act together by limiting the number of vendors and giving the remaining more work. IBM and Oracle also seem to be well-organized in this respect. Unfortunately, there are other large buyers of translation and localization services that have not addressed the issue of centralizing or streamlining costs.

  5. Colton says:

    Translation is tricky with cultural nuances that make it difficult to translate meaning accurately, especially when using a machine to do it. If these two companies can pull this off, it could be a huge leap forward for automated translation technology.

  6. Gracie baby says:

    Of course you can get the one-off translation that is good and cheap, but try getting it day-in, day-out. If you were to come to a country such as Poland and open the phone book, you would find that companies are charging as little as Euro 0.03 per word for translation. These are real companies, and they are somehow operating, paying rent . . . even advertising in the telephone book. I invite all the skeptics to see for themselves. This is real. Agencies such as these will find the rates mentioned above to be extremely profitable. I am not going to even start to discourage anyone to use such services. However, you get what you pay for.

  7. Gabriel says:

    It’s probably pure MT – just use a wesbite and save your three cents

  8. Linda says:

    The multiyear deal gives Lionbridge exclusive commercial rights to IBM’s RTTS (Real Time Translation Service) technology and the two companies have signed a patent cross-licensing deal. THAT’S HUGE!

  9. Today is an exciting day for Lionbridge and IBM!

  10. Ethel says:

    Woah, I didn’t see this coming

  11. Gary Vanters says:

    Go n.fluent!

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