Interprefy is actively involved in the ISO Technical Committee ISO/TC 37/SC 5 working on the international standard to regulate Simultaneous Interpreting Delivery Platforms ISO/DIS 24019. What is ISO and what does it mean to be involved in such a Technical Committee? We address these topics with the Head of Development at Interprefy, Joao Garcia.
Can you give us a crash course on what ISO is?
Sure! ISO stands for International Organisation for Standardisation and is an independent, non-governmental organisation that brings together experts to share knowledge and develop standards that support innovation and provide solutions to global challenges. The work it performs is voluntary, based on consensus and relevant to the market.
ISO is organised into Technical Committees or TC, each of which is focused on a specific field or activity. The Technical Committee (TC) devoted to the broader field of languages is TC 37 and it was created in the late 40s. It focuses on technologies and services related to terminology, translation, interpreting and other language-based activities. To date, it has published no less than 73 standards and is currently developing 31 more.
It may seem like a lot of standards to interpreting only, but just consider conference interpreting - the industry has changed so much since the 1940s (..)
So interpreting is regulated under this TC?
Not exactly. To better focus specific branches of the translation and terminology industry, TC 37 is organised into what ISO calls sub committees or SC. Interpreting is regulated by SC 5 that also regulates translation and related technologies. Out of the 24 published and developing standards this SC is responsible for, 13 are devoted to interpreting, from guidelines for community interpreting to the requirements for RSI platforms, such as Interprefy.
It may seem like a lot of standards to interpreting only, but just consider conference interpreting - the industry has changed so much since the 1940s with new types of equipment, materials, locations and technologies. It’s not only useful to establish commonly agreed quality standards but also drive procurement processes and ensure compliance so that companies such as Interprefy can be independently vetted.
How is Interprefy involved?
Each SC has working groups of experts on the topic who meet regularly to agree upon a set of parameters and best practices to regulate the standard they are knowledgeable on. One of such experts is the Globalisation and Localisation Association, also known as GALA. Interprefy represents GALA with regular participation and contribution in meetings and the overall decision-making process.
We were first involved in the development of PAS 24019 aimed at determining the requirements for RSI platforms or, to use ISO terminology, Simultaneous interpreting delivery platforms, which was published in early 2020 and we are currently participating in the development of DIS 24019.
TC, SC, PAS, DIS. What’s with all the acronyms?
ISO does love an acronym! PAS is an early stage of an international standard; it stands for Publicly Available Specification. It has a similar structure to an international standard but a faster development model, so essentially it is aimed at responding faster to an urgent market need. I can hardly think of better examples of a fast revolution to an industry than the hyper growth of RSI due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
After a PAS is published, as long as it is still relevant for the market, it is converted into an International Standard or IS, but it first undergoes a draft version, which is what the letter D stands for in DIS. At the end of June DIS 24019 has been approved for registration and will enter the approval stage shortly, so after it is published the official name will be simply ISO 24019, similar to other well-known standards like ISO 9001.
You mentioned regular meetings, can you tell us more?
Well, with the pandemic these meetings were moved online, as everything else. I remember the last in-person meeting in Ottawa which went on for almost a week and was an excellent occasion to meet up with other company representatives, industry experts and colleagues. Although 2020 has given birth to a large number of RSI platforms to respond to the market need, back then we were only a handful of companies providing this technology and it was a great occasion to exchange knowledge and get to know your competitors in a fun and friendly environment.
We were focused on learning from one another and improving the technology as a whole, rather than competing against each other!
Dining with the competition?
Indeed! There was very little market for RSI back then, as most interpretation assignments were taking place in person, so the competition was not as tough as it is today – we were focused on learning from one another and improving the technology as a whole, rather than competing against each other!
The current meetings are still very enriching, don’t get me wrong, but it’s now down to a 2-hour online meeting which doesn’t leave that much scope for networking.
What is the hot topic during these meetings right now?
In line with what we observe from other stakeholders, especially interpreters, audio and video quality is the most debated item on the table. We are picking each other’s brains on how to best emulate the on-site experience, especially in terms of audio quality and it is not an easy task. Audio that is broadcasted, be that for television, radio or any form of distributed sound, is necessarily compressed. But it can be just as crisp and clear as perceptible to human beings, especially when the right equipment is used by speakers.
Is it difficult to agree on issues?
Sometimes, especially with so many different stakeholders. Conference equipment manufacturers have a strong voice and tend to push the text toward their direction. There was also a case of re-speakers [voice professionals who repeat what is being said into a computer to allow captioning] advocating for their requirements to be included, which was ultimately rejected. In other cases, it is quite easy to agree on issues, such as the inclusion of requirements that are specific to sign language interpreting.
Over half of our (Interprefy's) manpower is exclusively devoted to product development, sound engineering and coding (..)
I believe the best approach during the development of these standards is not the how, but the what. For example, there was an attempt to define a common interface across all companies which is difficult to achieve among private providers and puts a cap on differentiating values across competitors and ultimately providing competitive advantages, which is already a challenge among such similar products. Another time we spent most of the meetings arguing about what colour the microphone button should be!
We can debate and agree upon this or that, sound quality level, or this and that functionality, but how it can be achieved, should be left for each platform to determine. At Interprefy over half of our manpower is exclusively devoted to product development, sound engineering and coding, so we are confident in applying the best know-how to comply with the requirements.