Can Translation Firms Deliver Innovation, Service & Price?

Translation technology is not the answer to all challenges

Translation Firms DilemmaEvery now and then I take calls from prospective clients indicating that times have changed and that translation firms can no longer command the rates of a few years back. They quote industry pundits who argue the benefits of machine translation and crowdsourcing. They relate cases of firms charging single digit cents per word for translation. They demand steep concessions in price and quick wins.

State of Translation Technology

While many in the translation and localization industry are building translation environments that leverage machine translation, crowdsourcing, or large public-domain translation memories, no such solution has yet proven effective across the board, despite of the many years of trying.

Before GlobalVision opened its doors for business 20 years ago, having come from engineering backgrounds, we took a serious look at the state of technology in the translation and localization industry. We quickly realized that it was a obvious to invest in translation memory tools and we promptly built our entire process around them. Payback for these tools was recouped within months.

Today, no other technology has produced the same efficiency effect and predictable output on the localization process. Yes translation management systems are streamlining the process, facilitating collaboration and optimizing project management, but they are costly and have not created the efficiency gains experienced with translation memory tools. Translation continues to be the critical path of any localization project and unless translators’ efficiency is improved, no serious benefits are obtained throughout the overall process.

Statistical machine translation and translation collaboration tools have over the next decade the potential to produce these efficiency gains, but not today, not with the current state of these tools, not across all industry verticals.

Translation Firms’ Dilemma

Treacy and Wiersema in their book The Discipline of Market Leaders talked about three values:

  1. Value proposition, leading to operational excellence, leading to cost reduction and lower price
  2. Value-driven operating model leading to product leadership, innovation and quality
  3. Value disciplines leading to customer intimacy and excellence in service

They argued that no business can succeed by trying to be all three to all customers.

In hard economic times, many companies will continue to reduce budgets and seek trimming expenses. While considering renewing or altering your partnership with your translation firm, heed the advice of Treacy and Wiersema. Don’t hire the lowest cost vendor and expect excellence in customer service and product leadership. Similarly, don’t call on a company with excellence in service and process, then expect them to offer the lowest rates.

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