What the Future Holds: Localization Trends and Expectations in 2024

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In this article, we chat with a variety of experts from different areas – Renato Beninatto (Nimdzi) in research, Loy Searle (Workday) as a localization buyer, and Dave Ruane (XTM International) in technology and localization services. Together, we explored the major events of 2023 and shared our thoughts on the exciting localization trends for 2024. 

2023 Layoffs and Expectations for 2024 

To start with, 2023 was kind of a tumultuous year for many in the localization industry because of the layoffs that we saw in the beginning. So we decided to ask our experts. What feelings do they have? How does it affect their industry? And what is more important is it over?  

Enterprise Response To Layoffs

Almost all of us on the client side, and I believe many on the supplier side, have experienced budget cuts early in the year. This trend has continued for some in the industry throughout the year. It’s been a strange year indeed. In the beginning, we were all wondering what would happen. There was a lot of preemptive action, as we braced for what we thought would be a major economic storm. Fortunately, it didn’t turn out to be as severe as we feared.

Even though many of us feel that the worst is behind us, there’s still a sense of cautiousness. We’re seeing a kind of conservatism in the companies we work for. This means we’re not planning to hire a lot of people in 2024. We’re aiming to be conservative and stable. We’re all watching to see what will happen globally with the economy and how GenAi is going to impact our world. 

While we feel like the worst is past, there is still a kind of cautiousness. There is still a kind of conservatism in place around the companies that we’re working for.
Business Repositioning

In 2023, despite widespread layoffs in the tech industry, it was a strong year for technology companies in terms of stock performance, revenue growth, and quarterly achievements. The layoffs, frequently discussed on platforms like LinkedIn, were seen more as a conservative approach to control costs and increase profits, rather than an indication of declining business or economic recession. 

Contrary to expectations of a recession, the industry experienced what can be described as a ‘soft landing’. For instance, RWS reported a minor decrease in revenues for 2023, indicating stability rather than a significant downturn. The first half of the year was slower compared to a recovering second half, and expectations for 2024 are positive. I would consider these developments as a repositioning rather than a crisis for the industry, the worst of the layoffs probably are over.

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It was not something like we’re laying off because our business is going down because clients are not buying my products, because the economy we have is in recession. I would see this as more of a repositioning rather than a very bad situation for the industry.

AI – A New Elephant In The Room? 

AI has rapidly integrated into our world. But is it merely overblown hype, similar to NMT, or does it present a tremendous opportunity for change? What impact could these changes have on processes and effectiveness? How do enterprises adapt to these changes? 

Embracing Change at the Enterprise Level

On the enterprise level company leaders are keenly exploring every possible avenue for AI application in their businesses. This has led to a period of extensive experimentation to determine where and how AI can be most effectively utilized. Since the localization teams were already familiar with neural machine translation (MT) and similar technologies, we are at the forefront of this AI adoption, being seen as the most obvious initial target for demonstrating AI’s capabilities.

The Impact of AI on Localization Processes

Traditionally, localization teams directly manage machine translation (MT) work – either through direct requests or established connections. However, with the advent of AI, a shift is occurring. Tasks might bypass these teams, moving straight from generative AI to trained MT engines.  It doesn’t feel like that’s going to happen to a critical marketing campaign. But that can happen to the things that localization teams just would have never done before.

Localization Areas Where AI Can Be Good
  • identifying suitable candidates for neural MT, 
  • assessing the quality of results at the backend, 
  • enhancing content upstream, 
  • applying AI in voice, tone, and style guides. 

Language Dubbing and AI

Traditionally it is a costly and specialized domain, involving a small, highly skilled group. The need for this professional will not go away completely, but AI introduces a transformative potential in the broader scope of dubbing.

In the past localization teams turned down many dubbing projects due to their low ROI and high costs, leading to a preference for subtitles. With AI entering this space, we see the same effect that the introduction of machine translation had in the past. This technological shift is likely to lead localization teams to adopt a more affirmative stance, saying “yes” to projects that were previously declined due to financial constraints.  

Will AI Take Our Jobs?

I look at what we’re going through as an industry here, kind of like we looked at MT in the past and kind of like we looked at translation memory in the past. Initially we’re all panicked about what it’s going to do about our jobs, but ultimately in the end the result is – more work. So the main question is how do we accommodate that? How do we scale for that?

Localization areas where AI can be good 

Currently, there is no universally recognized ‘killer application’ of Generative AI within this field. However, there are indications that promising areas for AI application might include quality estimation and quality control. This leads to the consideration of optimizing traditionally inefficient processes, such as the QA process.

The industry may shift from a traditional approach, which primarily focuses on minimizing errors compared to competitors, to an approach that emphasizes the success and effectiveness of content.

How does AI affect the localization industry?
  • AI will improve productivity – “We can do more with less. We can do the same but more efficiently.
  • More work, but different kinds of work. – “The way how we generate deliverables will change.”
  • Language industry professionals will not necessarily be engaging with prompting. – “More likely that localization tools will be improving our environments and making AI something that we click a button and it’s solved.”
  • AI is anticipated to become an integrated feature rather than a standalone technology. – “It is going to be something that is embedded in XTM, Trados, Google MT, and DeepL, it’s already embedded in Lingoport Localyzer“. 

AI Adoption In Localization

AI is expensive. We have a fantasy that it is not because we interact with ChatGPT that it’s free or it’s 20 dollars a month, but that is NOT what is going to work on an enterprise level. Konstantin Dranch has recently attended Siemens’ AI-focused hackathon and shared an interesting insight. Numerous AI projects were discussed there, but none focused on translation. Why?

Enterprises prioritize activities with the potential to save hundreds of millions of dollars. They tend to allocate their Gross Profit (GP) to areas that significantly impact production, development, and key financial statements like the balance sheet and P&L. But localization which as we know usually doesn’t show up in the financial reports is not that area.

What do customers want? 

what customer wants. l10n & g11n director

Content Control and LLMs

As LLMs enable the production of content on a larger scale, questions arise about content ownership. Is this content owned or earned? Who holds the rights to these assets? Who is responsible?

Imagine if an LLM creates an offensive translation, and it goes public. That could seriously harm a brand’s reputation. Because of this, there’s a growing anticipation and a real need for transparency about how vendors use LLMs. Knowing if they’re using LLMs, and to what extent is crucial. This isn’t just a nice-to-have; clients are starting to demand this level of transparency. They want to know that the systems are under control.

And it’s not just about knowing. Customers will need proof. They’ll want evidence that vendors are using well-managed, well-controlled systems. Initiatives like “Human Approved” by Creative Word are emerging as a result of this need. Such measures aim to provide proof that the content generated by LLMs meets quality and reliability standards, ensuring that vendors uphold their clients’ brand integrity.

What The Future Looks Like

I think the future looks very busy. The plans that were laid are not the plans that are in place right now. So I think maybe bright but disrupted. Bright but focuses shifted.
Traditional Pricing Model

In 2024, a key discussion within organizations will be around how to protect the revenue of service providers. The traditional pricing model based on a per-word rate is becoming increasingly problematic. This happens because of a significant rise in productivity levels. The real value brought by a Language Service Provider (LSP) in the production chain is no longer just about capacity. It’s about the capability to process efficiently, manage effectively, and handle complex tasks and projects.

Strategic Business Realignment 

We’re seeing a real focus on analyzing value more intensely, not just for new business but across the board. 

Five years ago, we didn’t have that many security questions about our technology’s adaptation by the client. Today it increased to over 300 questions! All these changes are feeding into a strategic realignment. 

We’re also rethinking how we use generative AI, understanding what it’s good for and what it’s not. At the same time, we’re getting back to setting up key success factors for growth, trying to return to normal business operations.

How Should the Localization Managers Act

Adaptability And Continuous Learning

The way we adapt to change is going to differ greatly, and there’s this one skill that’s becoming super important for everyone in the localization industry – that’s the eagerness to learn. So with everything shifting so quickly, clinging to old ways just won’t cut it. We need to be open to learning, ready to unlearn the outdated stuff we picked up in school, and agile enough to embrace new approaches.

One of the most worrying things is to hear someone say, “This is how we do it, it’s always been done this way.” That kind of thinking just doesn’t work anymore.

Key Considerations for Project Managers

There are several critical questions that Project Managers (PMs) should consistently ask to ensure they neither overdo delivery nor underdeliver, particularly in terms of quality and relevance.

  • “Will this project change minds, influence people, or significantly impact? Or is it a short-lived piece, like a blog post, with a fleeting lifespan?”
  • “What are the quality expectations for this project?”
  • “What is the most appropriate process for this work?”

These questions help PMs maintain the right balance, ensuring they meet the mark of importance without compromising on quality or exceeding necessary efforts.

Watch the full version of this discussion on our YouTube channel:

Author

Kate Vostokova
Kate Vostokova
Kate is a seasoned B2B content marketing manager with a five-year journey in the localization industry. She is passionate about crafting various types of content to educate people about internationalization (i18n), localization, and the latest technological advances, including Large Language Models (LLMs).