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Making Translation Efficiency "Real"

Robinson Kelly, Clay Tablet Technologies

One of the greatest challenges in business is transferring strategic good intentions into real-world wins. It all sounds great when you read the article on the plane, see the visionary interview, or hear the podcast while on the bike at the gym. You get inspired, fired up—motivated. We HAVE to do things differently! It’s gonna be great!

Or perhaps you have simply been tasked with implementing senior management’s latest, loosely defined new direction. You might not entirely understand the overarching goal—let alone have concrete steps to achieve it. In either case, the biggest challenge is how to translate lofty goals or hazy directives into actual business processes that deliver on the vision.

And one of the trickiest of all is achieving “efficiency.” After all, it’s not that crisp a goal. What is efficient? Aren’t we already efficient? How do I know if we’re more efficient? “How am I gonna deliver on this?!?” Let’s examine one important business process in detail and recommend some actual steps you can take to achieve some real wins. Yes, you guessed it—the translation process.

For many of you, translation isn’t something you actually do. It’s handled by folks like the experts at McElroy. But there is a potentially complex and often terribly inefficient set of business processes that you do have to complete—in order to get your content translated. How can you do better? And is there anything you can do to help make your translation partner more efficient as well? Let’s see…

First, we need to understand the operational impact of translating content. Typically, this involves human effort in selecting or creating the content to be translated, collecting all that content together, organizing it, attaching appropriate instructions (target languages, due dates, etc.), and then somehow sending it all over to your translation provider. Hmm, lots of steps here—all of which seem manual. That is to say, a human being has to do each one—and for each file, asset, html page, document, XML file. If you or someone on your team is doing this, you know the amount of effort they’re spending on it.

And let’s spend a moment considering that last step—one which is so often glossed over by some language service providers (LSPs) and software vendors, and appears as a simple line in the system diagrams they’ll show you. It represents how you “just send your content over for translation.” But what does that really mean? How do you actually get that done? Typically it’s MS Office to the rescue—sort of. Since over 90 percent of content is sent for translation manually, there are an awful lot of folks using applications like Word, Excel, and Outlook to execute the step of getting the content to their LSP. Let’s drill even deeper into the implications of manually moving content over to your LSP using, for a common example, Excel and Outlook. (If you’re thinking, “What have these applications got to do with efficient translation processes?” you’re on the short track to more efficient processes!)

Here’s our scenario. Jane is a product marketing manager at a midsize high-tech firm in the valley. They’re launching a new smart phone and they know that the Hispanic market should love this new version. But they also see Canada as a key market—so French is key too. And no one in their right mind would ignore the Asian market these days—so add Chinese and Japanese. The goal is to translate all the marketing materials for this new product into four languages. Now, this firm is pretty tech-savvy, and they manage all this sort of content in two large applications—an enterprise content management system and a product information system. These store all the product info in all the various formats required: InDesign files for brochures, HTML and XML for the website, MS Word documents for press releases, etc. Jane’s team is sharp: all the copy is written and even approved. All that is left to do is translate it. To do that all she has to do is send it over to the translation team. Except there are two teams. Jane’s company has a team of in-house translators who translate into Spanish. They use an in-house developed translation management tool to streamline their processes. All the other languages will have to go out to a translation firm. Sorry for the nitty-gritty detail here, but it’s this very complexity that makes the process inefficient, insecure, and not at all scalable—for Jane has to somehow collect all this content, organize it, and “transport” it over to not one but two teams.

Jane is a “get stuff done” player and will use whatever tools are at hand to make this happen. She spends the better part of two days collecting the various files, HTML pages, text strings and documents from the two systems, laboriously creating e-mail after e-mail and attaching the files, then hoping they get through. Some files are too big, so she has to use FTP servers to upload them. Several times she mistakenly sends content twice, but she will not realize this until it gets translated twice and therefore charged for twice.

Both translation teams have adopted translation management systems to make their processes faster, but Jane’s content has to be manually imported to their systems, and projects have to be created and assigned. They lose valuable time doing all this, and have to charge project management time to do it.

With the launch date looming, translated content starts to come back from both teams. But instead of the hundreds of files she sent, she receives a multiple of those reflecting the number of languages she ordered. And she has to be very careful to reinsert content into the right place and in the right system. This takes time and slows her progress. Launch is imminent, but looks impossible. Jane simply cannot manage all the content fast enough. There has to be a better, more efficient way.

After launch Jane commits to achieving translation efficiency. She never wants to suffer through this again. She has heard that integrating systems can now be achieved and all that manual effort could be eliminated. In skeptical disbelief, she digs deeper. She finds out about connectivity software that can tie directly into both her content management system and product information management (PIM), allowing her (and her team) to send content to the translation team from right within the application! Better still, content is not only automatically imported to the destination translation management system, translated content is returned directly into the source application. She commits to implementing this approach and talks to her language service provider about how it can be achieved. I encourage you to do the same. Language service providers like McElroy can help you achieve this sort of translation efficiency through the integration of your content systems with their translation technologies using vendor-neutral connectivity software. Contact them to find out more and take your first step to translating the lofty business goal of increased translation efficiency.

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