Spotlight on a Localization Professional: from Translator to Chief Language Officer.
By: Mark Ritter (McElroy Translation)
10 October 2009
Late last year, our president, Shelly Priebe, asked me to consider taking on a new position, to which we ultimately gave the title Chief Language Officer. It was flattering, but a little daunting as well, like anything new. But over time I have realized that Shelly's challenge was not about me”it was about our company.
The CLO position was created during a time of change at McElroy Translation. We had just celebrated 40 years of successful experience in technical translation and localization. But we faced the strategic challenge of maintaining the company’s position in a marketplace that needs everything cheaper and faster, and with higher quality, too. The increasing pace of change in the language services market required a creative response to the key question: What does it take for us to provide our clients with the language solutions they need, when they need them, and at a competitive price?
I knew the issues first hand, having been with McElroy for nearly twenty years. I was first an editor and translator; since 1999, I was the manager of the Editing and Proofing Department. In that capacity, I was fortunate to supervise a group of highly skilled people who were intensely dedicated to assuring the quality of our product. My challenge in that role was to react flexibly and creatively to problems that arose.
With the CLO position, I moved from a mainly operational role into a more strategic one, focusing on what it would take to ensure that the linguistic quality of our translations would continue to meet the quality required not just by our current clients, but by the new ones we want to acquire. Now I oversee linguistic quality more comprehensively than I was able to do from the editing department alone, and with the knowledge gained, devise strategies for continuous improvement.
Where We Started
As the new CLO, I went to work with our project management team and our vice president of strategy to change the way we process work. Unlike much of the translation and localization industry, our company had a horizontal organization in which several departments do the work in-house that is often done elsewhere by a project manager and out-of-house resources. At McElroy, one group of employees was responsible for recruiting and assigning translators and getting their work in on time and under budget, another for editing that work and still another for formatting the end product. With the reliability that comes from a stable and experienced staff, this system allowed us to handle work more quickly and efficiently than if we had to outsource it by traditional means. It also was resilient, having successfully transitioned from receiving and delivering hard copy and faxes years ago, to automatically receiving source files via the Web and FTP and automatically delivering translations via the same means.
Nonetheless, limits were coming into view. There were too many repetitive manual steps in our workflow, too much of our corporate knowledge existed only in the heads of dedicated long-term employees, and most importantly, we were not able to feed the results of our extensive in-house editing and formatting back to our into-English translators because they were still largely working with the hard-copy supplied by our corporate and legal clients. In short, we were still tied in many ways to a quality control model, inspecting and reworking at the end of the process, but not coordinating sufficiently with the supply chain, namely the translators working upstream. We needed to transition into a quality assurance model in which all stakeholders work together for the common good. And that required breaking down, or at least lowering, the barriers between editors and translators.
Where We’re Going
Our first step was to rethink our workflow, from translator recruitment and assignment through delivery to the client. We needed to create a seamless technological web linking our contractors and our in-house staff from project intake to delivery. Our existing proprietary workflow management system, ELJOTS®, only worked in-house, and it was frankly beginning to show its age. While we knew that redesigning our workflow system would be beneficial, we particularly needed to streamline the most time-intensive and quality-crucial aspects of our work, translating and editing, if we were going to make a real difference.
To accomplish this, we moved the bulk of our work into a translation environment system. A key additional byproduct is the continuous quality improvement we would achieve by feeding the final edited translations back to the translators. We chose the MemoQ translation environment tool because of its advanced second- generation TM technology, easy implementation as a server system and built-in interactive features. As CLO, I oversee training and supporting translators and staff in the adoption process.
The interface between our in-house personnel and our translators is called, appropriately enough, the McElroyHUB. It is designed to meet our clients’ future translation needs by automatically routing each project to the best-qualified translator automatically (in most cases), or at least much easily and rapidly than was possible just a short time ago. I work together with project managers and the QA team to fine-tune the qualification and monitoring processes that make the system work.
The McElroy Quality Strategy – Collaboration, Flexibility and Scalability
One of the key features of MemoQ that attracted us was that it had interactive and collaborative capabilities built in from the start. Our translators benefit from our in-house editing and technical expertise, but also from the work of all our other linguists because they can access everything via the MemoQ server and can collaborate with colleagues via MemoQ, as well as via McElroyHUB. We have over 50 person-years of experience on our in-house technical editing staff. Our translators have an equally impressive store of knowledge. Being charged with coordinating the implementation of the TenT system is a bit scary, because there are so many different participants, each requiring a slightly different type of support and training. Nevertheless, I’m very excited about what we can accomplish by facilitating collaborative work.
As we move further and further away from traditional back-loaded quality-control model towards a front-loaded quality-assurance approach, we will be able to provide faster turn times and better quality with less drudgery for everyone involved. But quality is often in the eye of the beholder (the client in our case). Someone who needs rapid feedback from customer surveys in foreign markets does not need the intense QA of a traditional translate-edit proof system, but that is exactly what a firm filing a high-profile invention from a foreign affiliate demands. An important part of my job is to work with all of our stakeholders to develop more flexible quality assurance paradigms to match the variety of ways in which our clients define quality.
Finally and most importantly, McElroyHUB allows us to provide scalable language solutions to our clients. We can use it to quickly distribute small amounts of frequently recurring content to a large team, or to recruit a different kind of team for a massive multi-month litigation support project, and even to merge statistical machine translation with human translation. McElroyHUB has already enabled us to quickly devise new workflows for near-real-time translation with a minimum project management footprint, and we want to apply similar innovations to other spheres of activity. My number one current responsibility is to work with our IT staff and project managers to harness the power of McElroyHUB to accelerate recruitment and qualification of new linguists. Almost as important is our development of more sophisticated and faster interaction between editing staff, project managers and translators.
As an educator, a translator, an editor and a manager, I’ve been in the language business pretty much all of my life, but I never thought I’d have the position I do now. There have been frustrations, chief among them the effort it is has taken to train people to use our translation environment tool. Getting people to accept that sometimes things need to be fixed – even if they aren’t yet broken – is never easy. But altogether, working with everyone in the company, rather than just one department, has forced me to adjust a lot of attitudes. Being in this position has allowed me to connect with translators much more than previously, and I think that’s beginning to pay dividends for the company. I’m not sure what the next year or two will bring, but I doubt it will be boring!
Mark Ritter is the Chief Language Officer of McElroy Translation.