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Becoming More Agile in Old Age!

By: Robert Etches, CIO - Semantix

30 November 2017

In the fourth installment of our "If I knew then ..." blog series, Robert Etches writes about insights he gained while building language solution software. 

The lesson learned: listen to millenials!

“Wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then!” - Bob Seger, Against the Wind

I haven’t been able to get this line or song out of my head since I began contemplating what to write for GALA’s new blog series, “If I knew then …”. If nothing else, my listening to Bob Seger is proof, if proof were needed, that there are still a few dinosaurs wandering the remoter corridors of the language industry!

I suppose after 28+ years helping customers to enhance their value globally, it’s not a bad moment to reflect on whether, given a second chance, I would have acted differently.

Three things have characterised my approach to business:

  • Doing better business
  • Work in communities
  • Sell solutions, not words

Regarding the first: what do I mean by doing better business? Well, in the framework of Sustainable Communication® (as formulated by Britta Aagaard and myself) doing better business involves opening up a client’s linguistic assets to as many stakeholders as possible and thereby leveraging greater value from them. Why allow only translators access to memories, terminology and MT engines, to name the obvious candidates. Sales staff, consultants – pretty much everyone in an organisation – can benefit from being able to recycle texts created by the professionals. Doing better business also involves creating an innovative place of work, a place where people are quick to laugh and eager to present new ideas; and it demands that we build up communities of peers around our brand. All of these factors are fully commensurate with financial success. In fact for me they have driven financial success. So I wouldn’t change that.

Regarding the second: it came naturally to me to bring together groups of peers with whom to share ideas: the Word Management Group in the 1990s, the Nordic CAT Group and LETS Communicate in the Noughties, and the TextMinded Group during the last decade, to name the more formal groupings. During this process I was extremely fortunate to meet Gunnar Carlsson, former owner of Translator Scandinavia, Sweden. Gunnar was a true giant when it came to living and working according to the ideal that the more you give, the more you get. This has always stayed with me, and we even used it during my time as GALA chair to work actively at bringing GALA much closer to the other industry associations. Together we are stronger! I wouldn’t change that approach, either.

Regarding the third: here’s where we get to the real topic of the blog! None of us is in any doubt that the word rate/CAT analysis equation has merely led to the commoditisation of our industry and a long-entrenched view that we are a cost, rather than a profit centre. This hole is of our own making, so shame on us. The way out is to sell solutions, not words. This transforms the relationship with clients from one of being a Language Services Provider to that of a Language Solutions Partner -  a concept I first put forward at GALA Monaco in 2012.

To try and create such solutions I’ve been driving software projects since the early 1990s, working with some incredibly talented people. But what I’ve only learnt within the last few years is how to structure this work in a truly professional way. The move from tying software together with pieces of “code string” to setting up and working with development, testing, and production platforms fed by a systematic stream of releases from agile sprints based upon a detailed backlog … well, that’s been a slow train coming for me!

Don’t get me wrong: my companies (English Ink, EICOM, and then TextMinded) created some great solutions. But it took too long – the execution phase was too torturous. Yes, we were and still are innovative, both at the conceptual and solution level. However, my inability to move products from the whiteboard to becoming new solutions meant that we were providing our clients with one or two scenarios, rather than the four or five that we had lined up in our heads.

One of the main reasons why TextMinded is now part of the Semantix Group is an ambition to speed up the time it takes to move from inception deck through epics, user stories, and programming tasks to a minimum viable product, beta, and then the launch!

Agile development, kanban, sprints, backlogs, SaaS? I had no idea!

For those coming into the industry today, building platform companies – global companies – from Day 1-… these ideas are no-brainers. There are many advantages to being a millennial selling multilingual intelligence, rather than thinking in word counts and CAT rebates.

So, what I would have done differently? I would have created a small team of software project managers capable of running teams of programmers (external or in-house depending on the assignment and skillset required), working in agile development teams in close dialogue with Sales and our customers. Simple, really.

And … what do I wish I didn’t know now that I didn’t know then? Perhaps a blog is not the right medium in which to answer that one!

Robert Etches

Robert Etches is currently Head of Translation Innovation at Semantix, the leading language company in the Nordics. A part of the industry for 30 years, Robert has worked with every aspect of it, from freelance translation to top management and everything in between. Always active in the community, Robert was co-founder of the Word Management Group (1996), the TextMinded Group (2007), and the Nordic CAT Group (2011). He served four years (2013-2016) on the Board of GALA (two as Chairman), and is currently a board member at LT-Innovate. The power of sharing, innovation and a passion for language: these are what still get him out of bed in the morning!