I love Amsterdam. This was probably my fifth time there. Localization conferences I like a bit less and have not gone to one in years. But my love of Amsterdam outweighed any other consideration and I decided to attend the one day Slatorcon Amsterdam 2019 conference on November 28, 2019 which was produced by Slator. And I am glad for this decision, having found the conference to be very good indeed. If you want more details, please continue reading this post.
The conference venue was excellent. The Andaz Amsterdam, Prinsengracht (a concept by Hyatt) is a lovely hotel situated on one of Amsterdam’s canals. This is a great hotel with beautiful rooms and fantastic service. I recommend this hotel highly.
The format of a one-day conference is a great idea. Having attended some LocWorld conferences which lasted for several days, I liked the quick-and-dirty aspect of this one. The talks were brief (about 20-25 minutes each) so my attention span wasn’t challenged too badly. There was ample time for networking and I can honestly say that I met as many of the 80+ delegates that I wanted to. The talks started at 12:30 so there were 1-2 hours of networking before the conference started. There was another round of networking in the middle and a three hour drinks session when the show wrapped up at 6:20 PM.
Food and Beverages
There was plenty of food and drinks during the networking sessions. The food looked very good and was in high demand by the attendees. I myself can’t attest to the quality of the food since I observe the laws of Kashrut and did not eat anything. The drinks session was well stocked with white/red wine and beer.
Conference Schedule Recap
The talks on the whole were good and here is a brief recap:
Andrew Smart got things started as the M.C. of the day and introduced the company that he co-founded, Slator. I found Andrew to be a very nice man with tons of goodwill and industry insight. Definitely a good guy to know.
Slator’s co-founder Florian Faes then took the stage and gave an impressive overview of the translation and localization industry. He covered the main players, the drivers, the industry verticals and spun his vision of the future of our industry. Strong stuff and very insightful.
The next talk was by Jimena Almendares of Intuit who spoke about her company’s foray into Mexico and discussed various aspects of localization of their accounting software. Interesting were the details about the local accounting laws and practices, which made the Mexican localization effort much more than just translating software resource files. Less interesting were details that had no relevance to the localization business (like how they smuggled in PCs for the Mexican employees who could not buy PCs locally for some reason). As an LSP, I got very limited benefit from this talk.
Andrew Bredenkamp of Acrolinx gave a very interesting talk about Artificial Intelligence and machine learning. Most of his talk was not relevant to the localization industry, but gave valuable insights into the current state of AI and where this technology is heading. I think that 25 minutes was way too little for Andrew and I would have welcomed an in-depth talk of several hours. Who knows, maybe it will happen in another time and space.
Patrick Prokesch of i5Invest gave an excellent presentation of Mergers and Acquisition (M&A) practices in general and in the localization business specifically. This was a powerful talk as it had very relevant information both for language industry company buyers and sellers. The information he discussed was particularly relevant to many people in the room as over 30% of the delegates were at the CEO level.
Esther Bond of Slator was short-changed so to speak and only had a few minutes due to scheduling issues. She discussed her activities as head of research at Slator. I had the chance to talk with Esther at the drinks session and heard about some of the exciting projects she is working on.
Harmut von Berg of LogMein spoke about the evolution of the 6-person localization team he is heading up. How the team consolidated after several mergers at the corporate level and how they managed to merge various departments in the process. I thought that he started out slow but gradually picked up speed to make a very effective presentation. He then ended with what I thought was a brilliant twist: he outlined some of the challenges that his department is faced with now and invited the conference attendants to propose ideas and help them with these efforts. One of the topics on his list was International SEO, which we will get to in a moment.
Panel on Enterprise and Ecommerce localization
The next part of the conference was the panel on Enterprise and Ecommerce localization. The panel was very good but I thought that the stage was a bit small for a 5-person panel. The panel was chaired by Slator’s Florian Faes. The panel members were Andrea Guisado Muñoz of Kayak, Vinicius Britto of Bose, Alvaro (Al) Villalvilla Merelo of Nike and Balázs Benedek of Easyling.
Florian got the panel started by discussing how large multinational companies approach the topic of international SEO. This topic seemed to energize the floor and several people had followup questions and comments. The consensus was that this is a very important issue. After all, what good is a localized website if it is not visible on the search engines? Andrea from Kayak said that her team worked with the internal SEO team to provide language support, but that the responsibility was with the SEO team. Vinicius of Bose and Al of Nike also seemed to indicate that this was not a top priority for their departments. Clearly, this is an an issue which requires close collaboration between localization and SEO teams. But ultimately, localization departments are not focused on this activity.
Another topic discussed in the panel was the use of MT in the localization work process. Clearly MT is being adopted and looked at by all of the large multinational companies. But the consensus on the panel was that this adaptation was in the early stages and did not yet go mainstream. My own thoughts on this are clear and it is my feeling that MT will not replace human translation in our lifetime.
I particularly enjoyed hearing Vinicius Britto (Bose) view on the customer-LSP relationship. LSPs should be solution-oriented. Customers should never have to chase the LSP and wait for the results to happen. I liked this no-nonsense approach.
The penultimate speaker was Michal Antczak of Paypal. I was a bit confused at a comment that Michal made at the start of his talk, that the views he is expressing are his own and are not those of Paypal. Nevertheless, Michal gave an interesting, somewhat tongue-in-cheek presentation about the relationship between LSPs and their customers.
The final talk was given by Yaron Kaufman of One Hour Translation. This was an effective talk on the selective use of NMT (Neural MT). Yaron made a compelling argument about the benefits of using NMT in a production environment and how companies can save between 30 and 70% of their translation costs. Yaron provided some metrics that supported his claim and made this workflow sound very real and feasible. What I did gather between the lines is that this approach is geared towards clients with millions of translation dollars in the their budget. One statement by Yaron that I found interesting (even as I disagree with it): MT will eventually, one day take over human translators. When? That Yaron could not predict.
Drinks and After Party
As I mentioned previously, there was a two hour drinks and networking session at the close of the conference. This was a very cool session which ended up lasting well over three hours. After so many talks and networking, we all deserved a relaxing drink. At about 9:30 PM the party relocated to Dante Kitchen and Bar which was a short 5 minute stroll from the Andaz. Did I say cool? Indeed it was. Unfortunately for me I had to cut out quickly and prepare for my early morning flight.
My networking experience
I met with a good number of the conference attendees. My own estimation of the breakdown: about 30% were LSPs, 30% were customers who buy localization services, 20% were tool vendors and the remaining percent were financial people and industry observers/consultants. One thing that stood out in my mind was the focus on website localization. I counted at least four vendors that sell website localization connectors-the magic software boxes that connect between a CMS and translation providers.
Josef Kubovsky is an industry consultant who invited me to visit him in Prague. I actually think I may take him up on his offer as we share numerous professional, personal and cultural interests.
I connected in a meaningful way with Balazc and Peter Farago of Easyling due to the Hungarian connection (my Mother was born in Budapest and Hungarian was my first language as a baby). We promised to set up a video conference soon to review their innovative website localization proxy software.
Note: An earlier version of this post had referred to this Hungarian company as Smartling. This was due to a typographical error.
Lucy Taylor of Bayer had some interesting things to say about the life of a British expat living in Germany and about her work for the pharmaceutical giant. Lucy agreed with the idea that MT would replace human translators, at least for some tasks (like email and internal communications for example).
I enjoyed talking and drinking beers with Andrew Hickson of Ludejo BV, a Netherlands-based translation company. He gave me some interesting facts about life in Holland and the state of the localization industry in that country.
Amsterdam and Slatorcon were a great mix. I really hope that Slator does this in Amsterdam again real soon.