MARKET INSIGHT: Indian language market review and prospects for coming year

Although the year 2020 has been hard on businesses in general, I am happy to see how reasonably unscathed the language industry has managed to come out of it, writes Sandeep Nulkar, (pictured) President of India's Confederation of Interpreting, Translating and Localisation Businesses (CITLoB), one of the EUATC's strategic partners. That being said, the first three of months of the Indian financial year that starts in April were very hard on the economy with over a billion people and millions of businesses in complete lockdown and everyone getting used to working from home.

From July onwards, however, we started seeing signs of economic recovery with businesses limping back to some semblance of normal. Today, business outlook is back to being reasonably positive as economic activity is picking up, thanks to the fact that India is largely a consumption-based economy and barring the lockdown, there was not much that was fundamentally wrong.

As we come closer to the end of an extremely hard year, I look at the year 2021 as the one that will be an antidote to the year 2020. Although there are a couple of major challenges, there are many more opportunities awaiting us. The biggest challenge I see is how the pandemic might lead to leaner localisation budgets. No matter how well we might have recovered, but economies, the world over, are yet to go back to pre-COVID levels. In such a situation, there is a tendency to prioritise business needs over business wants and this can affect demand in the short to mid-term.

The other major challenge I see is the impact working remotely will have on speed and efficiency. No matter how well we might have adapted to this new normal, we are losing out on the ease of communication, the speed of decision making and the control over quality and productivity when everyone used to be working from the same place. This is bound to slow down the return to normalcy of both larger language service providers as well as the businesses we work for.

On the brighter side, there is much to look forward too. We still have over 550 million non-English-speaking Indians waiting to be dished out content in their language. If anything, their hunger for content has only grown owing to the pandemic and the resulting lockdown. Learning, buying and entertainment have largely moved online, and we are already seeing a terrific surge in demand for localisation of content in the e-learning, e-commerce and OTT segments. This is over and above the significant demand from the fintech, agritech and government services segments. The M&A space also seems to be heating up in India with India becoming an increasingly attractive market for global LSPs to be in. There has also been buzz around some leading Indian LSPs exploring the M&A route.

Last but not the least, the government continues to be focused on building a robust language and language technology ecosystem despite the pandemic. The several initiatives that the government has been taking will now also be backed by projects with significant funding. This will mean more opportunities for Language Services Companies to increase revenue.

As we come out of the aftereffects of an ongoing pandemic, the future still looks as promising as ever and CITLoB has its role cut out. We will work towards creating better visibility and credibility for our association and its members, increasing members so as to be more inclusive and truly representative of the profession, entering into mutually beneficial partnerships with like-minded bodies, organising events that offer members a platform to voice their opinions and concerns and making representations to trade bodies and to the government on behalf of our industry

I am looking forward to 2021 with both hope and excitement.