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Smith's Blog

Posted Aug 15, 2012 at 7:01 AM by Smith Yewell

In June, I attended the Localization World conference in Paris.  In conjunction with the the event we also conducted our own vendor conference as well as a client conference, and with strong representation from both our clients and vendors, we decided to do something unique this year. I am not sure it has been done before.  It was certainly the first time we had ever done it.

The experiment began with the challenge of finding a taxi in Paris during the morning rush hour.  The long line of available taxis we saw conveniently waiting in front of the hotel the day before had vanished. Not a taxi in sight!  Ten minutes passed and still no taxis. And thus began our Paris Metro experience. Taking the Metro is no problem, but trying to coordinate a large group of people in getting on and off of packed trains, at the right stop, without losing anyone – was a true challenge in logistics.  The feeling was strangely familiar to managing a large translation project.

Once we arrived and got settled in the conference meeting room (everyone made it), I kicked-off our first ever combined Client-Vendor summit!  I started by thanking our staff, clients and vendors for the excellent achievements we have made so far this year:

* Revenue in the first half up by 12.4%
* 4 upgrades to GlobalSight and 10 new GlobalSight clients
* Machine Translation Innovation: We are developing our own automated MT scoring tool (beta already running) 

I then discussed our new format for the meeting.  We have been conducting separate client and vendor summits for years, but this was the first time we had ever combined the two meetings.  Our clients and our vendors suddenly found themselves sitting together in the same room.  Yes, many of our client’s reviewers quite often meet our translators, but this was something different.  For an entire day, the Welocalize staff, our clients and our translators met together and discussed key business challenges that we each face at our unique points in the supply chain.  The result was outstanding with one client telling me “it ended too soon”!

One of the really interesting sessions was during a panel comprised of both our clients and our translators.  Antoine Rey, our Sr. Director of Europe & Asian Sales, Lyn Carroll, our Sr. Director of Global Vendor Management, and myself moderated a series of questions put to the panel.  The following question sparked an interesting debate: how necessary is a client review step in the translation process?

The client review process can be very expensive.  I have heard some clients say they spend up to 20% of their budget on this step while I have heard others say they have eliminated the step entirely.  Why are there opposite opinions around such an important question?  We put it to the panel.  One client on the panel informed us that they had stopped doing the review and suggested that time spent on creating a better upfront process produces better quality in the end, and that what they found to be more useful was “allocating more time and authority for the translator to do their job properly.”  The opposing view on the panel was also interesting.  This client pointed out that their review feedback was not intended to be critical but was intended more specifically to help educate the translator on the language that is unique to that client’s products.

I think both points of view are valid depending on the maturity of a translation program.  Naturally, a program that has been running for years will have experienced translators who have learned to “speak the language of the customer.”  In addition, much of the actual translation itself may become less and less new words, and a large and reliable translation database lends itself to greater confidence in eliminating the review step.

I think that what is most important in delivering “quality” is structuring a translation program around a candid assessment of the “maturity” of the program.  Naturally, new programs require additional steps and time to fix the bugs in the program.  Some of the steps become unnecessary as the translation supply chain gains more experience.  This necessary experience comes from patience and investment during the inevitable highs and lows of a translation program life-cycle, and the strongest partners are those you can count in either case.  I want to thank those partners, clients and vendors alike, who have helped us create a truly unique company in our industry and for your willingness to try new things such as this combined summit.  I want us to innovate together wherever possible!

Andrew Henderson said...

Very interesting post! Apologies upfront for my extended commentary...but I can't help myself... :)

Having had the pleasure of attending one of your client events a couple of years ago, I fully appreciate the value that they represent. The relationships built, and the resulting discussions/breakthroughs achieved, through face-to-face interaction are truly invaluable. Combining the vendor and client meetings into one is potentially a stroke of genius Smith! What better forum in which to discuss such important topics as this?

I wrestle with this question all the time. I've been working on the buyer side of the localization business for the past 12+ years, and I've had the opportunity to see many ways of operation in that time...some good, some not so much. :)

One thing that strikes me though is the concept of arming your translation suppliers properly. Too frequently, I see cases where translations are done out of context, followed by an internal review done in context, resulting in negative feedback on the initial translation. I think it's clear to most that the failure in this case is not with the translator, but with the overall process which was followed. By not giving the translator the opportunity to review their own work in context, we've turned it into an unfair game. Even if we don't trust the translation supplier enough to forego the secondary review, we really should give the translator at least that level of respect...unfortunately, schedules don't always allow for best-case scenarios.

I continue to face situations where it appears that there's no time in the schedule to allow for the extra step. That's to say that, with the ongoing (perceived) need for an internal (or 3rd party) review of the work, it appears that the schedule is too tight. And the appearance is real, within the context. The problem is that this context is flawed...

Maturity is the key word, and you've nailed it on the head. My belief is that maturity is gained through 2 avenues - first, with the integrity of the client's internal processes, and second, through the integrity of their vendor relationships. Until you have full trust in the ability of your vendor to deliver quality results every time, it's difficult to justify walking away from the internal/3rd party review. However, the efficiency which can be gained through doing it right the first time can be significant, and this deserves some attention. It's related to authoring, it's related to arming the translators, it's related to your vendor relationships, it's related to lots of things, but in the end, it's all about producing high quality results, at a reasonable price, within the prescribed time limits. And I firmly believe that, when all of the pieces are playing nicely together, you can achieve great things - and the idea of removing the post-translation review becomes less daunting, relative to the efficiencies which can be gained. Even if you never choose to remove it, your reliance upon it can shift to the point where it becomes a questionable need.

While I'm not currently in a position to be able to turn my back on these lingustic reviews post-translation, I've been there before, and I am endeavoring to get there again. I know, without question, that the key to achieving it is largely related to establishing this level of trust, and it's that which I am actively seeking to build.

Thanks for providing the forum to share my thoughts! Keep up the great work!


Thanks very much Andrew; I appreciate your comments. Yes, our Forum has been a very productive way to share ideas across the whole supply chain. We are conducting another Forum on October 17th in Seattle. I look forward to seeing you at another event!


Andrew Henderson said...

Thanks very much for replying Smith. While I won't be able to make it to Localization World in Seattle this year, I certainly am looking forward to crossing paths sometime soon.


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