ULG's Language Services Blog

CSA Research’s Don DePalma on Industry Trends & Keeping LSPs Relevant


Common Sense Advisory (CSA Research) has made a name for itself as one of the big players in language industry news and research. The Massachusetts-based company produces research and blogs relating to all things localization, with a focus on helping companies expand to global markets.

Each year CSA Research provides a sought-after market overview for the language sector, showcasing the biggest LSPs and hot trends in the industry. From blockchain to vendor management, CSA covers it all, and is often found as a source in major news articles about translation and localization.

We got to talk with CSA Research’s founder Don DePalma about the firm and the future of the language industry. DePalma gave us some insights into how CSA Research got its start, as well what he thinks LSPs need to do to stay relevant in 2017 and beyond. Our conversation is below.

When and why did you start CSA Research?

DD: I started CSA Research over 15 years ago as Common Sense Advisory, with two colleagues from Forrester Research. We initially focused on e-commerce consulting, where we saw a big opportunity to help companies that were transitioning their business models to the internet or starting new businesses on the web. That was the origin of the name, as well – our mission was to bring “common sense” to what was then a very chaotic, shoot-from-the-mouth kind of market.

Our focus was to help companies deal with some business and technology basics – rigor of development process, reliability of the outcomes, and return on investment or, more commonly, ROI.

As the internet market grew and became more international, we became more specialized and, over time, we shifted the focus to an area for which we had a passion – language and the global commerce that it enabled.

In the course of our own transition, we found that the guiding principles of our e-commerce consulting – rigor, reliability, and return on investment – had a particular resonance with companies reaching out from their home markets to global ones. We raised many of these themes in the book “Business without Borders: A Strategic Guide to Global Marketing” – and are still writing about many of them today.

When we began writing research for this sector, we brought those concepts to the companies building products and websites for international marketing and sales. As we interviewed market participants on both the demand and supply sides, we realized that the language sector – translation, localization, interpreting, and all the supporting pieces – would benefit from the same kind of market research that is available in so many other markets. So, we brought the science of mainstream IT and business market research to the language sector.

How can the industry gain more exposure in mainstream media?

DD: Too often we see LSPs focus their messaging only on language, so media miss the connection between what LSPs do and whatever their coverage area is. When we do hear or see language industry outreach or promotion about more than language and translation, it is full of terminology, such as localization or globalization, but not tied into real-world business experiences.

Mainstream media will pay more attention to language services and technologies if it is tied into current, real-word needs and pain points. For example, artificial intelligence is trending in the media, immigration and government needs are always relevant, and, of course, how businesses can make more money or make their customers happy will always find a receptive ear among business reporters.

How do you decide what research topics to cover?

DD: We have a constant flow of suggestions from our research team that is always talking to buyers and suppliers, getting briefings, advising clients, and reading a wide variety of technical, academic, and business journals. Our account managers are constantly talking to our clients about what they need, and our sales team is always hearing from prospects about what keeps them awake at night. And we get a daily stream of requests and suggestions from random sources in our mail, message, and feeds.

Periodically we gather the team to sift through this input and plan the schedule for the coming six months to a year. But that schedule is never set in stone since we’re always tracking what’s going on in the market. Some topics have to wait for a report, while some may find their way to our blog. For example, when we saw the intersection of machine translation and new computer-aided translation tools early this year, we wrote about the emergence of “augmented translation” − our term for this new mode of MT-enabled translation has been picked up by the industry and publications covering it.

How have you seen the language industry change over the last 10 years?

DD: The growth has been strong, largely due to the increased requirements for language in written and spoken interactions. We have seen a voracious appetite for data about the industry and information about best practices, both signs of a growing professionalism as companies on both the demand and supply side.

On the operational side, we’ve seen far greater acceptance of the value of technology in scaling the language business to the huge volumes of content that their clients want to translate. And the trend toward consolidation continues – our first report on mergers and acquisitions was in 2007, at which time we analyzed the hot market of bigger companies buying smaller ones. That’s an evergreen topic as companies strive for scale, efficiency, and reach.

In your opinion, what does an LSP need to focus on to stay relevant in 2017 and beyond?

DD: While the word “language” is part of what we call language service providers, the reality is that the quality of its language translation or interpreting isn’t something that an LSP can use to differentiate itself from other LSPs. There are so many human sources of translation and interpreting around the world – not to mention the massive amount of investment in machine translation that will put less qualified firms at risk.

If they’re going to thrive, today’s LSPs have to identify the services that distinguish them from the masses of other LSPs. One way that we’ve observed companies doing that is through the concept we’ve described as “global content service providers” or global CSPs – in which they leverage their skills and processes in systematically taking text from source to target languages to help their clients manage content across its entire life cycle. We first identified this broader role for LSPs in our annual market analysis a few years ago, and in our most recent report we highlighted this emerging category.