Being “disruptive” in the translation industry is a glamorous idea. Many of us want it, and the idea of having a revolutionary approach and taking market share from competitors is seductive. A multitude of conference topics have been devoted to this topic over the years, but we as an industry seem stuck on speaking about enhancements, or even innovations, in machine translation, API’s and cloud-based translation memory for example, instead of true disruptions.
What's the difference between innovation and disruption, anyways? Forbes has a succinct article that explains a disruptor can be an innovator, but an innovator is not a disruptor.
Don’t get me wrong, innovations are critical in addressing client desires for more automation, technology integration and improved process. We as an industry must do as clients ask in order to keep their business and gain efficiencies in our day to day business. But an innovation does not disrupt or flip an idea completely on its head of how translation or localization is managed.
I don’t believe a Language Service Provider truly wants to be disruptive. It’s painful. You have to keep your current clients happy and innovate to keep them there, which takes most of your resources anyway. Going through the process of reinventing the way your company operates takes a lot of resources and a long-term investment. Your first prototype, second release or major launch won’t be mature enough to serve your current clients; it won’t provide all the services clients need now and won’t be reliable enough. There is an endless list of reasons why not to do it. I believe innovation, while critical, often becomes a shield that prevents true disruption.
Hélène Pielmeier from Common Sense Advisory summarized the conundrum perfectly in her post for the Q1 2014 GALA Newsletter:
“LSPs see themselves as the keepers of a proven method to produce translations and often push back on what they see as unreasonable customer requests. They strive for stability and predictability instead of providing solutions that will rock the client’s world.”
Hitting a Scary Nerve
Since I believe most LSPs will continue to innovate instead of disrupt, new entrants will enter the marketplace because they have a modern vision of how client needs can be met. This happens in every industry. Naturally we think of Uber and AirBnB , companies with no previous experience in the taxi/transportation or travel industry!
I personally think one of most disruptive ideas in our industry that we don’t want to talk about is the concept of removing the project & vendor managers in translation and localization workflow. Imagine a world where clients, expecting excellent quality and top service, who “on-demand” start translation and localization projects where a professional PM isn’t required to start or deliver a project to a customer.
Many experienced translation and localization CEO’s I’ve talked to over the years tell me this is a future of our industry. But many also scoff at this idea. Who controls the project to make sure it runs smoothly? Who coordinates the translators? The quality won’t be good. It’s not for professional buyers!
These comments only go to reconfirm my belief that this concept truly hits a nerve of disruption.
An Example from One Hour Translation
As some of you may know, or have tried, clients can upload a file and receive an instant quote on onehourtranslation.com. Once submitted, their project is automatically allocated to professional translators who have the subject matter expertise to perform a quality translation. The client can communicate with the translator and once the project is finished, the translator or copy-editor makes the delivery to the customer directly. There is much more to it, we have more bells and whistles such as integrated translation memory, account and support staff as well as in-country workflow, but this should suffice as an introduction.
To make this “simple” work-flow function well in a highly competitive industry, we developed three core concepts in everything we do.
- Automation: A global platform is the foundation to automate the otherwise manual work of project hand-off, query management, in-country review and project delivery. You must be able to handle hundreds of thousands of projects a month.
- Scalability: We have systems in place for using data analytics to dynamically assign projects to translators based on experience, expertise and past-performance. We have systems and processes in place to measure performance on each translation project to continually give feedback to our translators.
- Robust Translator Community: Our clients expect just as good translation quality from us as any other LSP. Often times, clients request building their own translation communities that are exclusive to their projects only, kind of like in-house translation at your fingertips. We depend on our translators to provide excellent quality and service, and do our best to treat them right.
If you still believe the workflow is too simplistic or unsophisticated, here are some examples of some OHT projects.
- One client may need 20 words into 20 languages for same or next day delivery, which costs only $18 since there are no rush or minimum fees. Another may require 140 words into two languages with delivery from professional human translators within two hours. OHT does this each and every day. And we make a profit doing it too.
- Clients often contact OHT with projects no one else can or wants to do. 100,000 words in 5 days over the weekend. We do it more often than anyone thinks.
- Full API integration for blogs, website content, customer service inquiries, Agile SW dev, that automates workflow with dedicated translation teams and not a vendor TMS.
I recorded some interesting comments from enterprises on what their future will look like or which needs of theirs are unaddressed.
- Citrix: “Just-in-time” translation: small, iterative sprints of content translated across languages professionally to respond to changes in content, often with a same-day turnaround.
- Citrix: Rush job and minimum charges don’t make sense when all jobs are urgent and small.
- Women of Localization tweeted at an Event of theirs that their future reflects “automation, internet of things, quick content, user generated content.”
It’s a classic example of the Innovator’s Dilemma.
Currently, I’m working with customers to answer this question: "What if you could push projects (content + translation assets) via Worldserver directly to global translation teams instead of a vendor TMS? Would bypassing this step, instead having your projects be sent directly to you dedicated translation teams around the world, improve speed and cost?
Naturally we have support and account managers and many things that are not managed by our technology. Not everything is perfect and we still have lots of work to do. In upcoming posts, I will be sharing new innovations from our disruption that we look forward to bring to the marketplace, which will not only benefit customers, but translators as well.
In the meantime, look also at LT Innovate and the work and research that the member companies are investing to solving linguistic challenges for the future. Or take a fresh look at new entrants and companies to our market. They may not seem like much at the beginning, but in years down the road, they could be your biggest competitors.