Found in Translation: Creating Fast, On-Demand Video Interpretation with Cisco
We may live in a global village, but we still face great challenges in facilitating communication and understanding. Founded in Austria in 2014, SAVD video interpreting arose from a need to resolve the confusion caused by language barriers.
Demand for SAVD services skyrocketed in 2015 alongside a dramatic increase in the number of refugees arriving in Europe. Meeting that demand wasn’t easy, but we are a company that isn’t afraid of a challenge. We always look forward and create new, holistic solutions to meet our customers’ needs.
Before 2015, video remote interpretation wasn’t a commodity in Europe like it was in the U.S. Even in public institutions where people often need an interpreter, like hospitals, schools, and government administration, people relied on relatives or anyone else who happened to be around. If a janitor spoke a common language, for example, then the janitor became the interpreter. But that’s not the way this should work—the janitor isn’t being paid for that work, and the fact that they aren’t a professional could lead to inconsistencies, or worse, misunderstandings.
Today, SAVD provides qualified interpreters in more than 50 languages, including sign language, and can deliver interpreters in 17 most wanted of those languages within two minutes. Why? Because you can’t predict who will walk into a facility needing help, and when that’s going to be. As the need grew, we needed to be there for our customers, and fast.
Scaling Up Led to More Specific Requirements
We didn’t have to start completely from scratch. In the early days, SAVD used Cisco as a partner in our video conferencing solution, but it was solely endpoint to endpoint, which was difficult to scale. As you grow, you realize what you are missing and what could be done better, and we were growing quickly. The increased desire for on-demand video interpretation meant we had to switch to a professional contact center solution.
We looked to the U.S. translation market to see who the leading IT suppliers were there, and whether they could meet our needs. That’s when we realized that we should stick with Cisco. All of our desired functionality could only be achieved at scale in a Cisco world.
One of our key requirements, for example, was that the solution should work with multiple video conferencing systems. There are many video remote interpretation platforms out there that will work with a web browser, but we also needed to support SIP calls, Microsoft Teams, H.323, and VoIP—anything that our customers might use. We don’t want our customers to have to adjust, download, or install anything to work with our system. We have such a wide variety of customers, from schools to medical facilities to correctional services, that many would be excluded from our services if we tried to impose one system on everyone. By using Cisco, SAVD is system agnostic and can help everyone the same way.
We also required a sophisticated routing system with automation capabilities to help accelerate the process. From our webportal, our clients can pick from a number of filters, such as language and the gender of the interpreter. The system then routes the call accordingly, without the customer having to speak to a service-line employee. It’s important for our customers that we accelerate all flows, and that was something we could get only from Cisco.
The Right Solutions for a Seamless User Experience
Because of our pre-existing relationship with Cisco through our use of Cisco and , all we had to do was add Cisco’s Unified Contact Center Enterprise (UCCE). The significance of UCCE is that it’s on premises, which allows us to achieve all the functionalities that cloud solutions lacked.
There are still privacy and surveillance concerns around cloud services in some parts of Austria, Germany, and greater Europe. Regardless of whether the technology actually warrants those concerns, we have to acknowledge that a cloud solution can present a barrier for our customers, many of whom have a strong preference for on-prem solutions. Since SAVD was founded, we have used an ISO27k-certified data center here in Vienna. We bought Cisco hardware, including UCS servers, which are located in the data center.
This all laid the foundation for a smooth and easy user experience. Imagine a non-German speaker arrives at a hospital in Austria or Germany needing help, but they cannot communicate with the staff. The practitioner at the hospital can log into our system via web browser. (There are multiple ways that customers can log in, but most access the portal through their browser.)
Then, because the patient arrived at the hospital unexpectedly, the practitioner selects the ad hoc service, which is for immediate interpretation. Our customers use ad-hoc services most often, but we also have an appointment feature, to reserve an interpreter ahead of time and to access the interpreting session solely by using a meeting ID. Most other web-based translation services don’t offer that at all. The practitioner will be prompted to select a language, test their mic and camera, and join the conference, where the interpreter will be waiting. Within just two minutes, communication begins.
Throughout this process, Cisco UCCE performs the routing. One of our partners in the deployment, Webquake, developed the website interface that interacts with UCCE and sets out the parameters for the interpreter. After finishing routing, UCCE waits for the call detail records, which it sends to our ERP system every 15 minutes. We’ve built in that automation for transferring the data. The conversation between the interpreter and the user happens via the Cisco Meeting Server Guest App and Webex Meetings or Cisco Jabber, which provides superb audio and video quality.
The Commitment of Our Partners Led to Our Success
We deployed this solution in six months, working with four local Cisco partners. It was a very fast ramp-up phase, and Cisco Austria told us they had never seen something like this done so quickly.
In addition to Cisco and Webquake, who developed the website interface, we partnered with NTS, CONET Communications, and our ERP partner, Danuvius Consulting. When we initially set up our ERP, it was never our plan to integrate it with a Cisco videoconferencing system. We always thought of them as separate entities, so for years, we ran the two databases in parallel. We had to manage all the data twice, which was exhausting and caused errors. Now that we have merged databases into a single system and can manage our videoconferencing solution through our own SAVD-ERP, our everyday work is comfortable and easy to manage.
All of our IT partners showed a deep level of commitment to the project. Working on an on-prem solution with a very specific configuration wasn’t always easy, but our partners treated our project like their own. They also shared a high level of knowledge and expertise, which helped us get it off the ground much faster than we could’ve done otherwise.
Their dedication carries through to the ongoing support we receive. Support is handled primarily through NTS, but we always know who is responsible for what if an issue arises. Using Meetings to connect with our partners has been a huge advantage for us, especially as we used all Cisco-certified partners from within Austria. We never need to open a ticket and wait for an issue to be resolved, because it’s so easy to get in touch. If we can’t immediately chat with one of our partners over Meetings, we can just ping them and leave a quick message.
Together, we created an IT solution that can handle up to 4,000 simultaneous calls and can scale up as needed. More significant to me, though, is that the technology fades into the background. Instead of an obstacle that a user has to jump over, the technology enhances person-to-person understanding.
Our Biggest Achievement Is Our Positive Social Impact
Recently, we embarked on a project with the Ministry of Education in Austria that involves facilitating communication between educators and students’ families. There are many young children whose families speak a different language than their teachers. Now, if a child needs additional assistance, a language barrier doesn’t prevent the families from understanding why. With our services in schools, we can break down those barriers and ensure that every child gets the resources they need to thrive.
During the pandemic, the ministry received funding from the EU to try out our services in schools. After the success of that trial, every kindergarten and primary school in Austria can now use our system for free. In addition to kindergartens and schools, SAVD also serves more than 900 customers in the public sector. When we include our project with Austria’s Ministry of Education, that number doubles.
Schools aren’t the only places where our services have a positive impact. One of our customers in Vienna, neunerHAUS, cares for homeless people. Some of their clients cried with happiness when neunerHAUS turned on our services because it was the first time since living in Austria that someone understood them. Hospital employees used to get frustrated by their inability to properly communicate with patients and knowing the health repercussions that could come from that. Now, that frustration is no longer an issue.
We are having a big impact on an entire industry, and we must care about the needs and concerns of interpreters. Many of them are skeptical of digital tools/services, so we want to continue to have open conversations with them so they aren’t afraid of this new digital reality. Rather than taking away their jobs, we have created dozens of jobs as employed interpreters. This is very unusual in Austria and Germany, because typically a lot of interpretation work is done as freelancers. We’ve created a strong base of full and part-time interpreters and we add freelancers as customers’ needs ebb and flow. It’s been important for us to create a holistic solution that makes everyone comfortable. The more success we have, the greater the public awareness of the value of professional interpretation.
Everyone who works here is motivated by the positive impact we have on society, and the glowing testimony from our customers speaks the loudest of all. We have created a platform that no one can see, but we can all feel how well it’s working.