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Linking Language to the Technology and Communication Process

By: Gene Schriver (GLOBO) - GLOBO


02 March 2011

Gene Schriver discusses the changing role of technology and language communication. Integrating emerging technologies and practice areas with your business, he believes, will add speed and sophistication and extend your industry reach.

I can talk to just about anyone in the world these days. I can talk to them on my phone. I can see them on Skype. I can email, text, or IM them through any online community, email system, phone, tablet PC, or even video game. Often for free.

I could sell a lot of things to these people. I could buy a lot of things from them. So let’s do some business! Wait a minute. They don’t speak English. Well, I think I know a few people who speak Spanish, and maybe even a few other languages. I wonder if they’re available? I guess I could call a translation agency. But that sounds expensive. And slow. I need help. Now.

In this age of information, we’re able to communicate faster than ever before. Instantaneous connection, however, does not mean communication. In fact, the more we’re able to connect, the more apparent the need for comprehensive, quality language support. Technology may have brought us together and may make the world seem like a smaller place, but it takes in-language communication to unite people from across the world: person to person, person to business, and business to business.

I spent a long time cultivating the growth of a small ‘mom and pop shop’ into one of the larger LSPs in the world. The new global economy was just developing, and I could see that most services offered by our industry were not going to be fast enough, broad enough, or affordable enough to handle the changes in how people communicate that were brought on by developments in telephony and the web. Part of my goal in founding GLOBO was to utilize technology to meet those needs--fusing it with human linguistic talent in order to create immediate and reliable access in the cloud. But no matter whether you provide on-demand services or more traditional language services, the way you leverage technology can make the difference between you and your competitors.

The more you work in the clouds, the more likely your business will soar above them.

Shared technology has changed our fundamental approach to functioning as an LSP. Like many industries, ours has been built on proprietary technology and systems that have only served the elite few who have had the financial and human capital to invest in those systems. Today that’s not the case. Shared technologies have largely leveled the playing field between large and small companies, and small companies are far more poised to compete than they were in the past. In fact, right now small LSPs may have a small window of time in which they can leap over larger companies by building advanced workflows with technology created and serviced by others. There has been enormous growth in the availability of specialized hosted and/or cloud-based systems for just about any operational function of a business. Through such systems, as Krissi Danielson explains, “details are abstracted from end-users, who no longer have need for expertise in, or control over, the technology infrastructure ‘in the cloud’ that supports them” (Danielson, 2008).

Telephone interpreting, for example, was once dominated by equipment: server rooms, hard switches, wires everywhere. The investment in equipment required significant capital outlay, and essentially a live expert on duty at all times. Additionally, rooms of hardware meant worry: there were risks of outages and work stoppage, outdated legacy gear, and the need to understand and invest in the next generation of equipment.

Today, we have the advantage of this perspective and can approach our technology with options that simply weren’t available ten, five, or even two years ago. Telephone interpreting services can run partially or entirely on a hosted platform, giving us the time and ability to focus on the business of language, and not on the business of server equipment and PBXs. This model gives us access to technologically-advanced systems, without additional human and financial burdens. The service comes with more specialized experts than we could ever staff. We can migrate to more advanced equipment with little to no growing pains, and without impacting our current workflow. It’s also more secure and reliable than we could ever be on our own, thereby decreasing the number of emergency operations calls I get in the middle of the night. Perhaps most importantly, we’re able to move faster, our services are more flexible and scalable, and our reach is greater.

This same principle of using hosted systems can be said about other major areas of production, like translation project management platforms. On one hand, many companies take great pride in their “proprietary” or “home grown” systems. These systems may be great, but the fact is that most LSPs are really not technology companies. Even if they have a very good IT staff, the technologies which they have implemented may be limited in comparison to other options. I have often heard people who commend their companies’ own technology systems also complain that they’re stuck with something they have invested so much in, while the technology around them has moved on. Today we need to work with a model that does not anchor us to the past. In some ways, that also gives newer companies an advantage, since they are often just beginning to implement their own strategies, and they can do it by adopting someone else’s proven system.

It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.

Technology influences not only how we run our business as an LSP, but also the types of business that we do. A consistent concern in the linguist community is the value of human-based versus machine translation. This age-old debate of man versus machine has many people asking: will computer translation replace the men and women of our industry?

From my perspective, not at all. Machine translation has a very important place in our industry: it adds and creates jobs instead of taking them away. Language services can be unattainable to businesses due to ongoing cost, equipment, and accessibility concerns. Machine translation makes translation a possibility for companies that might not otherwise be able to afford it, and this helps to support the translation industry. Machine translation also adds speed and efficiency to an industry that requires pain-staking attention to detail, another fact which strengthens the value of our industry’s services. While the traditional notion of a translator’s process will likely survive for a long time, the biggest growth opportunities will be for linguists who adapt to new technologies that keep pace with the methods and speeds at which content is now produced.

My company employs several workflows that integrate human and machine competencies. Each of those workflows may have a different mix and sequence of both human and machine labor. For example, we’ve begun innovative work in consumer sentiment listening, an emerging practice in which a company or brand learns what the world is saying about them on the web. One leg of this competency is machine-based.

We’re able to scan massive volumes of text, generated by chat rooms and other online functions. Translating each comment would be both time- and cost-prohibitive. Yet understanding consumer sentiment is critical to growing and maintaining a global business. Our human translators are able to focus on specific paragraphs or comments and on frequently occurring words or ideas. Through our analysis, we can provide both general and specific examples of a corporation’s reputation from the perspective of its key stakeholders. We can also help our clients with analysis. This approach is not a stock solution, but rather the customizable approach that businesses worldwide are beginning to depend on.

As we look to protect our businesses by utilizing technology to our advantage, we can also protect against threats from technology and commoditization by offering services that are resistant to both. For example, our company is filling a gap between marketing/advertising and translation services. I’ve often seen clients who have a translation provider and an ad agency up for the same work. Neither has the core competency of the other, and the resulting work product of each can vary wildly. Uncertainty about the quality of these services presents too great a risk for any brand to take. What makes perfect sense is to use the services of both the provider and the agency, and thus to leverage the best of both worlds. This business process mash-up is a concept with which everyone has no doubt become familiar, and one which savvier LSPs have embraced whole-heartedly: transcreation.

In transcreation, translators aim to produce a conversion that stays true to a brand’s message, while also evoking the desired reaction from those who receive the message in the target language. Transcreation involves neither a strict translation nor creation of a message from scratch. Since it is an inherently creative process, a machine cannot touch it. Nor can anyone argue that it is a commodity or that anyone else could do the same job.

In the end, doing business globally requires flexibility. Business practices vary from day to day, market to market, country to country, and culture to culture. It’s about responding with processes that are more customized and efficient. It’s about providing scalable services that are available when and where the customer needs them.

The challenge for LSP company owners is to provide a portfolio of services that fits today’s customer. We think that sweet spot is in bridging the gap between technology and communication. Our range of services is a direct reaction to changing business needs and technological developments in a global marketplace, and we think that competitive edge comes from looking beyond what we can build ourselves. We want to leverage what other companies can add to our total solution, both within and beyond the language industry. Likewise, we want to be able to offer our competencies not only directly to our clients, but also to other LSPs. This collaborative, crowd-sourced attitude has often been missing in our space, and the day we get over our collective need to do and own everything ourselves, we will elevate our industry to a new level.

This is an exciting time to run an LSP. Changes are bound to continue in business and in the way we communicate, and advances will continue to be made. I strive to respond with flexibility and attentiveness to that evolution, as I continue to explore and incorporate industry best practices into our business model and workflow.

References

Danielson, Krissi (2008-03-26). "Distinguishing Cloud Computing from Utility Computing". Ebizq.net. http://www.ebizq.net/blogs/saasweek/2008/03/distinguishing_cloud_computing/. Retrieved 2010-08-22 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloud_computing - cite_note-0

Gene Schriver is the founder and CEO of GLOBO, a full-service global language and cultural communications service provider, with a specialization in global marketing, social media, and on-demand language support services. Prior to founding GLOBO, Mr. Schriver led the growth of a small family company into one of the largest LSPs in the world. He regularly speaks on innovation in language services and technology around the globe. Mr. Schriver received his B.A., cum laude, in Economics from Temple University, and his Juris Doctor from The Villanova University School of Law. Mr. Schriver would like to thank Jennifer Buchholz for her contributions to this editorial. She is the director of communications at GLOBO. Ms. Buchholz joined GLOBO following a career in advertising and public relations with several global firms. She holds dual Bachelor's degrees in English and Spanish from Rutgers University and a M.A. in Professional Communications from LaSalle University, where she has also served as an adjunct professor.

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