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Customer centricity is paramount at SAP, placing our customers at the center of everything we do, aiming at providing support in a way that fosters a positive customer experience at every stage of the customer journey. However, we are living in a more diverse world where people all over the world are becoming more multi-lingual. While many enterprise support organizations have resolved themselves to providing support in English, we at SAP Support embarked on a journey of creating machine translation and making it available for multiple uses.

A huge enabler of a positive customer experience is customer personalization, the capability to deliver customized services that cater to the specific needs of customers. With that in mind, there’s nothing that beats personalization to the customer’s preferred or native language.

Nelson Mandela’s famous quote comes to mind: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.” Hence SAP’s quest to provide a personalized experience in the customer’s local or native language.

My history developing machine translation services

About 15 years ago, I had my first encounter with machine translation. My organization was then providing local language support in 20+ languages to our customers. Scalability was an issue when faced with so many languages to support and we started looking at technologies to reduce the human effort and to allow us to scale up as demand increases and as more languages were added.

Back then machine translation was a new concept and the test results were comical at best. It was not even remotely close to our expectations! The technology worked for plain conversational translations but fell very short when translating highly technical content. There were third parties available as well that could do real time interpretation but yet again failed massively when the conversation was of technical nature. The project to use machine translation was quickly abandoned and we kept relying on human translations to deliver support in multiple languages.

Modern use of translation in technology

Fast forward to today, there are so many tools and apps available to us online, even smart phones have a translation application. Though the technology has evolved by leaps and bounds, it was still not optimal for technical translations. For proper and quality translations, content in the original language must be fully captured in the target language. Translation is not a simple word-for-word substitution. A translation engine must interpret and analyze all the elements in the text and understand how they relate to each other.  Even though it is widely accepted by our customers that our support is provided mainly in English and that our content and knowledgebases are also in English, our goal is to provide a more personalized service to our customers.

By 2018, machine translation usage was increasing at a very rapid pace at SAP and was rolled out for SAP Notes and SAP Knowledge Base Articles (KBAs). When implementing an SAP Note or Knowledge Base Article, customers would now be able to read the content in their native or preferred language removing language barriers for many customers. By the end of 2019, we were providing machine translation to SAP Notes and SAP KBAs in ten different languages: English, German, Korean, Brazilian Portuguese, Spanish, Simplified Chinese, Japanese, French, Italian and Russian. Using real-time machine translation powered by SAP Translation HUB, customers can on the fly translate any document into their language of preference. We proceeded cautiously as we wanted to ensure the quality of our translations before proceeding into new areas.

Machine Translation for Expert Chat Conversations

SAP Support has added automatic translation for Expert Chat conversations. When starting an Expert Chat session, customers have now the option to turn on automatic translations in the chat sessions. If they agree to use, their chat conversation with the SAP expert will be automatically translated based on the selected language. This new automatic bi-directional translation feature is currently available in Brazilian Portuguese, Simplified Chinese, Spanish, Russian and German with the intention of adding additional languages later on.

Machine Translation for Customer Incidents

SAP Support is offering a new feature to automatically translate the last reply from Support to customer incidents. With this functionality customers around the globe can interpret context of the incident resolution provided by SAP in their native language capturing the same meaning, rather than simply translating words. This functionality is live with the following languages: English, Brazilian Portuguese, Simplified Chinese, Japanese, German, Spanish, Korean, Italian, French and Russian.

SAP will carry on releasing a new generation of neural machine translation (NMT) models for SAP’s machine translation with the vision to enable a considerable quality improvement compared to the previous models. The advantage of our translation solution is that it is an engine finely tuned for the SAP business context. Will we get to a point where we do not need humans in the translation loop any longer? Only time will tell, but at least we are no longer lost in translation.