The language technology company uses Dropbox for Business to share scripts and recordings easily and securely around the world, significantly cutting down on shipping costs and lost hard drives.
Appen's key results
Accelerated transfer of large files
Significant time and cost savings
Less time spent on troubleshooting
Lost in translation
In order to capture accurate speech patterns, dialects and word pronunciations for client technology - such as speech recognition and speech-to-text systems - Appen regularly sends teams on location throughout Africa, Asia, Europe and North America. Employees can be in the field for up to six months, recording conversations and scripts that equate to huge amounts of data. Given that some Appen clients need projects turned round very quickly, employees on the ground must be able to get recorded material back to the Appen offices in the US, Australia and the Philippines as fast as possible. Initially, the company tried using hand-coded FTP solutions, shipping hard drives and even flying employees back and forward with data storage devices to ensure nothing was lost or stolen. But each of those methods posed its own problems in terms of speed and efficiency. Stephen Norris, Appen's VP of Operations for Language Resources, explains: "Tools we created for copying data all required manual intervention and weren't terribly reliable. With varying time zones and logistical difficulties, it could take three to four days to coordinate our IT team with teams in the field - which wasted a lot of time." During one particularly cumbersome project, Norris found himself thinking about how much simpler file sharing would be if "it just worked quietly away like it does with Dropbox". Appen's business development team was already using Dropbox and had reported great results. "I was a little concerned with how Dropbox would cope with the big amounts of data we transfer" Norris admits. "But the business development team said it was so much faster than the old system. They gave us the confidence that Dropbox just works."
"Dropbox Business is so reliably robust. I've been in the technology industry since the 1990s and it's startling to find a product that claims to do these things and then really does just work."
Reliable sync in action
Norris decided to roll out Dropbox Business to everyone in the Language Resources team and quickly realised that Dropbox could sync terabytes of data without issues. Because Dropbox sync accelerates transfers by beginning file downloads while uploads are still in progress, thousands of hours of audio interviews can be shared quickly with Appen's headquarters in Sydney. "Dropbox lets us transfer massive amounts of data without anyone really having to get their hands dirty" says Norris. "Before, people might have had to ask if a transfer had worked but now, when they look inside folders, they can be certain that what they see is up to date". No matter where Appen staff members are stationed around the world, or which devices they use, Dropbox Business keeps them connected. Norris says "Dropbox Business is so reliably robust. I've been in the technology industry since the 1990s and it's startling to find a product that claims to do these things and then really does just work." Even when Appen employees are in locations with slow – or no – Internet access, Dropbox sync doesn't falter. Auto-resuming transfer technology ensures that files get fully synced. As Norris explains "When the Internet connection goes down and comes back up, Dropbox notices and just resumes syncing right where it left off".
“We have offices in Sydney, the Philippines and Pakistan, with staff in New Zealand, Australia, Europe and the US. Trying to coordinate across all of these locations with any solution other than Dropbox Business would be maddening.”
Time and cost efficiency
When Appen used shipping services to transport hard drives, it was forced to spend tens of thousands of dollars to ensure fast delivery of its files. And, according to Norris, "Everything had to be backed up because, inevitably, drives would go missing. It was a real pain in the neck." Dropbox Business not only prevents Appen from worrying about lost files, it saves the company having to pay shipping costs. It also eliminates labour costs associated with FTP solutions. "For at least a year, the guy who maintained our FTP spent about a third of his time just troubleshooting and training people on how to use it" adds Norris. With Dropbox, employees can operate more productively and focus on keeping projects in motion. According to Norris, Dropbox reduces the time it takes to get data to Appen offices, which accelerates the rate at which products can be produced. It also reduces the risk of data collectors getting too far ahead of the people doing quality assurance – helping eliminate the need to re-record bad data. "It's really been an all-round great application" he says. "We have offices in Sydney, the Philippines and Pakistan, with staff in New Zealand, Australia, Europe and the US. Trying to coordinate across all of these locations with any solution other than Dropbox Business would be maddening."