Few technologies have proven really disruptive to the translation business, and often enough not the ones raising the highest expectations. It seems that the ultimate task of the language professional – transporting messages from one language into another unaltered – is still hard to support let alone replace by technology. So why is it that the 3 C’s, Crowd, Cloud and Collaboration, are gathering this amount of interest?
As a rather down-to-earth language professional, I’m convinced that a technology can be disruptive to a business or profession in many ways, but only if it does the things we want to get done in an intelligent way that makes our lives easier. Kitchen robots able to do the shopping, slice the carrots and fry the steak à point have so far never made their way to modern households, but our fridges are stuffed with convenience food. Get the idea? Same challenge (I don’t want to cook), different solution. One successful and disruptive, the other rather not.
So whenever new technologies emerge that pretend being disruptive, let’s have a look at what problem they solve and how.
Crowd translation came up in the context of small apps translation and to cover the translation needs of startups or nonprofit organizations. The idea is to invite a “crowd”, so either the entire internet community or a group of colleagues or buyers of the product, to a platform where they can translate text strings into languages they master. Quality control is carried out by peer-to-peer review, meaning that everybody can leave their comment or correction to the translations. Obviously, this entire model depends on the interest of the crowd members to put in their work for free. And unless you can be sure about the qualification and goodwill of your contributors, it’s a bit of a lottery. But it can work. Sometimes.
Cloud computing has influenced our daily lives much more than any of the other concepts by enabling everyone to be permanently online and in possession of information, pictures, files, applications, and even in remote control of other devices. If you have a moment, during your next coffee break or when driving home tonight, give it a thought:
How much of your daily routine, of your work and leisure time and how many of your social interactions have completely changed due to cloud applications?
Just compare the many, many reasons one could previously find for not being able to react, to answer, to inform, to watch something, to know something or to share something. Today, all you have in your favor is “I had no signal”. Do I see heads nodding? Good, I’m not the only one around who’s passed 28.
And collaboration? Haven’t we collaborated in the past as well? Yes, we did. We gathered in meeting rooms, shared open-plan offices and worked in interdisciplinary teams. As soon as collaboration across remote offices was required, we distributed information and files. Do you feel the difference? We distributed. Not: we shared. We copied. Forwarded. CC’d. Versioned. Added comments and added answers to the comments. We had team members responsible for merging it all in one document. We discussed project content for 50% of the time and logistics for the other 50%.
Collaboration in the modern meaning of the word is different. It’s real time. It’s as if everybody was sitting in the meeting room around a flipchart, just without the donuts. Oh yes, and you don’t have to be there at any particular time, because “there” is in the cloud. Which means: wherever you want, whenever you want. No more logistics.
Does it mean that you get better results? No, not automatically. But you get more time to work on them. And maybe you get this brilliant colleague on board who works in this office you have up there in Norway. And maybe you spread this important information a tiny little bit faster and clearer and it makes all the difference for your project’s outcome.
So that’s pretty general, I agree. Nothing particular or disruptive in it for the translation industry, right?
Translation management is about logistics. Translation is about content and meaning, I agree. But translation management is about intelligently and efficiently bringing the right information and the right file package to the right person at a particular stage of the process in order to get the actual work done. And the longer the distance between content owners and translators, the more difficult it becomes to really, really make the important information pass.
Process automation? Yes, of course. No Language Service Provider (LSP) survives without process automation. The most competitive ones are those who really manage and control their logistics and the ones with the best logistics experts. But what do they get in the end? Automated translation management. Pay people or pay automation, whatever you can afford. Butler or kitchen robot. Rickshaw or high-speed train. But always driving from A to B.
No more logistics!
So what’s so different about the 3 C’s then: Crowd, Cloud and Collaboration? They have the potential to turn a translation manager’s life upside down: no more logistics!
In a collaborative environment, you can imagine a team of content authors, translators and reviewers working autonomously on, say, a website translation project. Content is directly provided into the collaborative translation platform as it is generated. And content includes context: Real-time previews that show where the text segment needs to fit, pictures explaining the concept, glossaries with definitions and further explanations that interact with the texts to translate.
- Translating repetitive text in a team? Get the colleague’s translations from the Translation Memory as soon as they finish a sentence.
- Changes or updates? Directly visible to everyone.
- Have questions? Raise your hand and start a chat with your fellows or supervisors. Contact the authors or experts on the customer side. Leave notes or comments.
Who says that revision starts after translation is finished? Make sure the translator gets the tone and wording right before thousands of words have been produced. Start checking quality in parallel with translation and save time down the line. See the progress of work at any time. And publish the translated and already validated content with just a click or even automatically.
Sounds futuristic? No: it’s here. And it’s not that futuristic after all: Remember the flipchart? Everyone in the same room. Again. Just without the donuts.
The disruptive factor is the effect of this collaborative work environment on LSPs’ business models and ability to deliver to their customers’ expectations. Heavy processes, carefully automated and with strict quality controls at a variety of checkpoints, reflect a mechanistic or even “tayloristic” approach to a mostly creative task, which became industrialized by the need of solving the logistics issue. Service Providers have invested considerable amounts of money to shine with processes and translation technology. If the logistics issue disappears, their strength loses market value until becoming obsolete.
Facilitating instead of micro-managing work
Tomorrow’s translation management will be about facilitating work instead of micro-managing it. Translation managers will chair temporary teams of professional linguists, customer-side stakeholders or experts that autonomously collaborate in delivering language products that fulfill their purpose: reaching the communicative objective of the customer company. Creating, building and leading such teams to success in an efficient, secure and controlled way is the art that Language Service Providers and their managers will have to bring to perfection.