The Opportunities and Pitfalls of Full Project Management Automation



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With the rapid advancement of technology in the translation world, there has been a growing trend towards fully automating translation project management, also known as “lights out project management” (no human intervention) or “project management by exception” (humans still intervene when a project does not go as planned).

However, both of these automation levels are only used for some translation projects. In 2021, a study by CSA Research showed that, out of all the language service providers using full automation, it was used for less than 10% of projects. With the rise in translation demand and technological advances, this percentage is expected to increase — though not to the level one might expect.

How much it will increase depends on the types of translation projects companies are processing. As a general rule of thumb, the simpler a project, with fewer exceptions and options, the better suited it is for full automation.

But that’s not all! While full automation in translation project management presents unique opportunities, it also comes with risks and downsides that must be considered.

Opportunities of Full Automation in Translation Project Management
  • Increased Efficiency and Productivity: Automation can significantly increase the speed and efficiency of translation project management. Automated tools can handle repetitive tasks, such as sending job requests, POs, delivery notes, and even automating quotes, freeing up time for project managers to focus on more strategic tasks.
  • Scalability: Full automation can help organizations scale their translation projects more efficiently. Automated translation project management tools can handle large volumes of projects, making it easier to respond to growing demand without hiring additional project managers on short notice.
  • Global Service Offering: Automatic project processing can allow LSPs to offer services they weren’t able to offer before, e.g., in a time zone they do not have project managers in. For example, if a client in Asia orders a translation with full automation from a US-based LSP, they could receive their quote and finalized translation within hours, while the business itself is closed. This creates new business opportunities that would otherwise not be possible.
  • Business Flexibility: If demand fluctuates, full automation can help during busier times, while a more personal approach can be reinstated when teams have more time to focus on manual tasks and relationship building.
  • Standardization: If you like to standardize your processes and reduce human error, automation can help achieve additional cost savings and better quality of services.

But of course, full automation comes with some risks that need to be considered for each business and scenario.

Risks of Full Automation in Translation Project Management
  • Loss of Human Touch: Even with the most customized and friendly templates, the majority of customers and vendors can tell when an e-mail is automated. Depending on the stakeholder, this can lead to frustration and sometimes even a lack of response. Freelance translators especially have voiced that they prefer a human touch when it comes to translation requests. For frequent, recurrent requests, there might not be another option. However, it’s important to focus on vendors’ needs if you plan on building strong relationships with them, especially since we often rely on vendors to jump in and complete an urgent translation task on super short notice.
  • Dependency on Technology: Full automation can lead to dependency on technology. If the system goes down or malfunctions, project management may come to a halt, causing delays and a potential loss of revenue. Besides finding the right software, ensuring the infrastructure has minimal risks is also essential. Though hosting on-premise might sound more secure than “going into the cloud,” a large hosting provider such as AWS and Azure is usually a safer choice than an in-house server at the office.
  • Lack of Flexibility: While full automation might mean more flexibility in terms of business opportunities, its lack of flexibility regarding operational approaches is another pitfall. Automated translation projects may lack the flexibility to handle unique or customized project requirements, especially if they come from an inexperienced or uneducated buyer. For projects that require a more personalized approach, full automation rarely brings in any time and cost savings (or of project manager nerves!).
  • Quality Concerns: Automated translation project management tools may not be able to handle complex project requirements or unexpected changes that may arise during the project. This could lead to quality issues if the automation “runs” in the wrong direction and requires human intervention. Imagine clients accidentally selecting the wrong domain or language pair, which no AI or rule-based automation would catch (an unlikely but not impossible mistake), whereas a project manager who knows the client inside out might get suspicious if they see a legal project for French that they never had before!

And while on the topic of automation risks, maintaining a clean database is another critical consideration for LSPs when implementing full automation in translation project management.

Organizations must maintain a clean and organized database to ensure accurate processes, as technology makes decisions based on data and pre-defined workflows, which rely 100% on the accuracy of the database.

While a correctly configured workflow with impeccable data reduces the risk of error, technology won’t be able to spot the difference and can go wrong if configured incorrectly.

While the accuracy of the database can present a risk, it’s also an opportunity because it forces LSPs to take a critical look at their data and do an — often overdue — spring cleaning of client and vendor data, price lists, properties, and other metadata.

Here are some reasons why maintaining a clean database is essential beyond the scope of automation:

  • Lower Dependency on Staff: A clean database ensures that the data is accurate, up-to-date, and (with the right access settings) accessible for everyone in the organization. This helps colleagues cover for each other during vacation times and lowers the risk of a loss of knowledge when employees leave the company.
  • Accurate reports: A clean database improves reporting functionality, providing project managers with accurate data to base decisions on. Sometimes a slight error in data can create false reports that can lead to lengthy manual clean-up processes or, worst case, bad decision-making if not caught early enough.
  • Optimizing System Performance: A cluttered database can slow down system performance and cause delays. Regular maintenance and cleaning can optimize the system's performance.

In conclusion, full automation in translation project management presents both opportunities and risks for language service providers. It can increase efficiency, real-time tracking, improved collaboration, and scalability. However, there are concerns around the loss of human touch, dependency on technology, lack of flexibility, and quality — especially if databases are not well maintained.

Organizations need to weigh the pros and cons of full automation before implementing it into their translation project management processes. Best practice in the industry is usually a hybrid approach that combines the strengths of automated translation project management tools with the human touch of project managers to achieve the best results.

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Sophie Halbeisen

Sophie Halbeisen is the global Head and Sales of Marketing and oversees all business development functions; including new sales, account management, as well as digital and offline marketing at Plunet. She has 16 years of professional experience in B2B sales, marketing, and consulting in the USA and Germany, which she uses to implement sustainable growth strategies, both for Plunet's customers as well as for Plunet as a corporation.