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Business Collaboration Software Breeds Productivity in the Localization Industry

By: Daniel Nackovski (Across Systems) - Across Systems GmbH

16 March 2009

In an information society, maintaining knowledge worker productivity is a common problem. How do companies focus to gain the best results from their experts?

According to Basex, a research firm specializing in the knowledge economy, the US economy in 2007 suffered a loss of more than $650 billion due to information overload and unnecessary interruptions. Specifically, this figure is comprised of "unnecessary interruptions plus recovery time." Recovery time is the time it takes the knowledge worker to return to where he was before the interruption (not merely to resume work) and typically takes 10 to 20 times the duration of the actual interruption.  

Language service providers (LSPs), in particular, understand these challenges. LSPs face the overriding issues of productivity and quality on a daily basis, especially in such a subjective area of expertise as human communications and translation, which requires attention to detail. Add to that the challenges of collaboration within multiple business components – that of client, vendor and support systems – and effectiveness becomes a tangled web, indeed. How can these challenges be overcome to result in a productive workflow, high quality translations and solid localization work, as well as to produce happy, productive workers whose output can be measured?

The key is collaborative business environments, or the intersection of content, knowledge sharing and collaboration within the enterprise. The research firm, Basex, looks specifically at processes and tools that provide an infrastructure for knowledge sharing and communications that facilitate efficient collaboration and increased productivity.

“The best collaborative business environments are those that allow knowledge workers to easily locate expertise, information and resources, including people,” says Jonathan B. Spira, CEO and chief analyst at Basex. “Software that offers a single environment, friction-free knowledge sharing and embedded community has the best chance of being successful and actually enhancing productivity.” 

Translation management systems (TMS) that integrate not only a translation memory and terminology system but also authoring tools, automatic workflow and quality management, all (human) resources involved in the process, plus upstream and downstream corresponding systems meet the criteria established by Basex for productive business environments. TMS platforms provide the collaborative environment needed by LSPs and their customers to create a smooth linguistic supply chain and comprehensive, high quality output.

Common issues that drive the adoption of translation management software are control, manageability and productivity. Gerald Salisbury of SMA Solar Technology and Peter Argondizzo from Argo Translation, who represent the enterprise customer side as well as a translation service provider, have shared lessons learned from the implementation and use of their translation management platforms.  

“When all personnel have access to the same approved knowledge base and work in the same environment, with clear business rules to set workflow, it resolves issues of information overload and inconsistency, eliminates inefficient email chains, and makes processes and costs transparent,” says Salisbury.

SMA Solar Technology, a solar inverter manufacturer with the highest sales in this technology worldwide, manages about 3,000 translation projects annually using the Across Language Server. According to Salisbury, SMA works with 19 LSPs, has five internal translators and also uses about 25 freelancers. SMA’s primary concern is being able to maintain control and to integrate corresponding systems.  

“We want to be involved at the beginning and end of the process,” said Salisbury, “and we like to know what’s going on in-between, so transparency to project managers is very important to us. In addition, we have the requirement to update memories on the fly, capture permutations of memories across languages, and make them available to everyone.” 

Using TMS software and its workflow process, SMA and its translators have been able to work in a common network on real-time creation of product-related documentation in nine languages simultaneously. Translators receive tasks automatically through the system as soon as a new project is initiated and can use comment functions to coordinate work directly with project managers and reviewers. External language service providers, using their own editions of the software, are directly connected to SMA by means of the collaboration module, facilitating the exchange of relevant data from server to server. Even freelancers can connect to the process workflow at SMA to seamlessly exchange tasks and use the translation and terminology system.  

Terminology is now much more consistent and time-to-market has been shortened, according to Salisbury. “Formerly, it might have taken us up to two months after product release to do the translations of an 80-page operating manual, for example,” he said. “Now the final version of the translation is available within a few hours of release, even if modifications are made to the product at the last minute. So now we even equip prototypes with multilingual information.” 

Peter Argondizzo of Argo Translation, a Chicago-based translation agency with a network of more than 800 professional translators, explained that Argo’s concern is one of simplified processes with maximum efficiency. Argo knew it needed an enterprise solution in order to acquire new customers and elevate the level of service they provide. Because they do a substantial amount of work in the medical and healthcare industries, a system with strict terminology management was critical to the company.  

“We wanted an independent technology solution, however. It didn’t appeal to us to use a solution that came from a company that could later compete with us for the services business,” said Argondizzo. “We also thought that additional capabilities, like translation-oriented authoring assistance and even some forms of machine translation, could be helpful to us now and in the future. And ideally, we wanted a system where clients can review the work in the same environment.”

So, Argo also decided to implement translation management software, using a concurrent license model so they can enable and disable each translator as each project completes. This saves them money by allowing them to purchase a block of licenses but not more than they need at any given time. Client reviews can be performed online in side-by-side comparisons with comments made in the margins or as actual edits by any person in the chain who has been identified as having editing functionality. As a result, productivity has been enhanced and costs minimized.

A concern for independence from the LSP is not surprising. In a recently released report from Common Sense Advisory, more than 60% of translation buyers indicated that technology independence was “somewhat important” or “very important” to them. Over 80% of buyers indicated that a “guarantee of independence” from a vendor would influence their purchasing decision.  

Companies that have not used TMS software previously may find it difficult to calculate an exact percentage of productivity increase, but the manageability and control solutions are clear. By having a centralized database and transparency, progress of each project becomes obvious. It is easy for the project manager to see the percentage of translation completed on each document via a simple-to-use dashboard that allows sorting by projects and languages. Most companies find they can add several new languages and increase word count multiple times, using the same number of personnel.  

For LSPs, the main advantage of translation management software that meets the Basex criteria of a singular environment, friction-free knowledge sharing and an embedded community is that it allows the service provider to have options for process automation and to eliminate or minimize non-value tasks so that knowledge experts can concentrate their focus and efforts on quality improvement, consistency, and faster completion of projects. With these goals met, cost savings from increased efficiencies and happy customers, now seamlessly included in the process, are certain to be the results.

Daniel Nackovski is the president of Across Systems, Inc.