Client Talk: Finning International

When we chat with the people who buy (or should buy) language services, do they say professional translation is worth it? By talking with clients outside the sales environment, we hope to uncover what really drives purchasing. The challenge in each of these columns is to find patterns from one issue to the next. Together, what do these interviews tell us about how clients see our industry as a whole?

The client

Nick Hilderman is senior security analyst for Finning International, the world’s largest distributor of Caterpillar products and support services. As part of the manufacturer’s cybersecurity team, Hilderman oversees an internal awareness campaign that educates Finning employees on security’s importance. Posters, videos, enewsletters and other marketing-style collateral address a different topic each month in English and Spanish.

Hilderman oversees translation for this program but stresses that he doesn’t speak for the entire company, where spend is not consolidated between departments.

Like Finning itself, Hilderman is Canadian. He says, “My travel has been limited to mostly North America. I have a basic understanding of Spanish and French, but do not actively speak anything other than English.”

The client’s solution

How Hilderman has handled translation has changed a lot since the security awareness program started three years ago. Originally, he ran content through Google Translate. But between the emails, notifications, posters, video subtitles, presentations, guidelines and news articles that all need translation, he says, “I just thought it was getting a little bit too much.”

He then turned to a third-party consultant who resold translation from an unknown provider. “Since we had engaged with their services for something else, we just used one of their resources to perform our translation services…so we did not have to go out and find an additional service,” he explains. “It worked on the small scale but would never be a large scale solution.”

Next, he brought translation in-house. An Argentine employee in the IT governance, risk and compliance department — which Hilderman heads — now performs all the company’s translation.

When are professional translators used?

Never, Hilderman says, because of cost. “Since we have active employees capable of reading, writing and translating both English and Spanish, it made sense to bring it in-house.”

Previously, the consultant charged less than $500 a month for translation, a price Hilderman admits “was not significant,” but he continues, “Anywhere I can lower spend I will.”

So 1-5, how important is professional translation? 

Despite not working with professional translators now or — since we don’t know who the consultants used — possibly ever, Hilderman says 4: “Depending on what is being translated, the message can sometimes be misunderstood or lost in translation. This can hamper progress of initiatives if clarity is lacking.”

Regardless, the security initiative has shown progress. A major campaign goal was to lower the number of employees clicking through phishing emails, protecting the company from hackers looking to steal data or money. Hilderman says after translation started “our [South American-based] corporate controller received [an email] posing to be from our CFO and CEO, and he recognized it. Had he not recognized this, this could have cost us upwards of $300,000-$400,000 American.”

The problem with the solution

According to Hilderman, there is no problem. The employee currently translating loves it. Hilderman says, “I asked him if he’d be interested in taking translation services in and he’s done it for us and it’s been working swimmingly.” Finning operates in Chile, Bolivia, Argentina and Uruguay, so the only issue is one many translation clients face: balancing differences across Spanish dialects with the impracticality of having too many versions. But, Hilderman says, “Because our translator understands the various dialects, he has been able to properly balance the message in translation so all employees understand our message.”

An emerging pattern

Hilderman cares deeply about his work and, from a security standpoint, gets results. Phishing click-throughs were above industry average pre-campaign, but now are below. And the controller did catch that $300,000 scam — something he likely wouldn’t have done without localized security education. If translation’s goal is to fulfill business and operational needs, Hilderman’s approach meets it. In an industry that markets on the value of professionals versus ad hocs, this is hard to hear, but it’s true.

For other profilees, having bilingual employees translate has created pain points. In our February/March issue, for example, the work kept IRD Balancing’s bilingual salesman so busy he drove less revenue. But in Finning, we see a prospective buyer who has never worked with professional translators and very well may not need to. If so, what does this tell us about a translation company’s actual value?