The Role of the Translation Supply Chain

By Stacey
Nov 9, 2013 · 3 min

Translation may be a largely virtual activity in the modern world, but the supply chain it requires is very real.

The Role of the Translation Supply Chain | One Hour Translation

Language is powerful, and language is slippery. Believe me; as a translation professional I know better than most the awesome energy of language and how it shapes and defines our world – as well as how difficult it is to ride that bull for more than eight seconds.

Take your eye off the ball for a moment and language will leave you in the wilderness with no idea what’s going on. For example: Using real-world metaphors in a virtual-world setting. As a translation worker I am always hearing about the ‛translation supply chain,’ which is, of course, not really a thing that exists, because translation these days is all done via computer and Internet. That’s why I can sit here with a mug of coffee and work on texts delivered to me overnight via Cloud Storage, instead of receiving packages in the mail.


The ‛supply chain’ metaphor has roots in the real world, of course; prior to the Internet translation work did, in fact, involve the shipping of things around the world. A company engaged in a localisation process would hire a translation firm as part of their efforts, and documents would be shipped by the truckload for the translators to process. That means there was literally a supply chain that involved logistics – sometimes very complex logistics, especially when the documents in question were sensitive and the security of data was paramount.

Today, logistics still matter, but the supply chain is largely virtual. But logistics are part of the supply chain concept, so I suppose in a sense we still have a supply chain to deal with – and it’s absolutely vital. It’s simply about getting the source text to your translation workers, it’s about setting up a system where source texts come in, translations go out, and everyone knows exactly where the other is at all times.

Supply Chain Software

While my focus is, naturally, on freelance translators such as myself, there are still many small, local translation firms who do very well renting their services to larger corporations seeking localisation help. And that creates an opportunity: The corporation likely has internal systems and tools they have invested a great deal of money in which are probably not shared by the translation firm they’ve hired. That means there is a need for a ‛virtual supply chain’ that both can access and utilise. Indeed, many companies exist to supply such a service (SDL being one of the largest). These systems don’t do translation work themselves, they simply provide a coherent way of moving documents back and forth between two entities, providing tracking and security services along the way.

Of course, many of these supply-chain services are also being incorporated into suites of software that do everything: Manage the supply chain, offer translation tools such as translation memory services, and integrate with content management systems. The idea of course is to sell the systems to both the companies hiring translators and the translators themselves. And why not – that’s business!

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