Cloud computing is changing our lives. It has already started changing the industry we work in. Soon, offering cloud-based translation solutions will mean more than just having translation tools in a web environment or moving machine translation engines to the cloud. The changes will be deeper, more significant and might even redefine the relationship between translation providers and buyers.
The powerful functionalities found in cloud products elsewhere will inevitably influence the customer expectations when dealing with translations. Static, noninteractive, file-based or email driven processes will simply not be enough any longer. Translation buyers will expect more.
But what could this “more” be? Among other things, the translation business can become more transparent, secure and cost-effective for all parties involved, without any file exchanging, emailing or other decentralized activities. More importantly, we may witness a new trend of end-clients mixing or alternating translation providers as they see fit, depending on the requirements of each and every project. The interactions between translation providers and customers will change if powered by cloud technology. This forecast is not a mere speculation — all of the above has already been happening to some extent.
Not so long ago, internal translation departments exclusively used desktop or server-based translation management systems (TMSs) and tools. Despite numerous solutions being available to customers, almost all of them seemed more suitable for translation agencies than client companies. Also, with traditional translation technology, additional users in a company almost always meant having to purchase more software licenses, which inevitably drove the translation technology costs through the roof. However, the core problem that caused this was not with translation technology companies but elsewhere — traditional server infrastructure was simply never cheap. Servers required facilities, hardware, software, staff and maintenance, and the price for setting them up within the company premises could only have been substantial.
Additionally, when these companies outsourced translation projects to agencies, it always seemed as if those files had been put into a closed box. The customers could never see who was doing their translations, for what price. They couldn’t see what the status of their project at any particular moment was. The translation industry was a proper example of an “information asymmetry” business. On top of all of that, this process demanded constant file exchanging, emailing and language resource synchronization or parallel maintenance.
And then the cloud came. For translation tech companies, a new playground without any of these infrastructure or process-related restrictions suddenly opened up. Among all the cloud-based TMSs, translation tools, marketplaces and other innovative concepts that sprang up, our company took the approach of making the translation process fully internal for clients. They could have the option of working with external resources without assigning the management of a company’s linguistic resources to those third parties and thus creating security risks.
This concept materialized into a product called Translation Framework. This was a closed translation system that could be used by companies to order and manage translations. Translators could also work in it at the same time. It contained a TMS, computer-aided translation (CAT) tool and a terminology tool, and was intentionally designed for manufacturing companies and not translation agencies.
What was planned versus what happened
The target companies for this experimental idea were those working in high-tech industries. The first ones started using the system in 2011. In the beginning they used it as was intended — for internal translations, for outsourcing jobs to our translation services department, or both. But soon the customer behavior showed patterns that had not been anticipated.
While analyzing the end-client requirements, we often found clients who said they did not need a translation system at all, only translation services. They mostly viewed translation as a simple “text in, high-quality text out” process, with no interest in participating in the process. To accommodate those companies, a free version of the tool was created — allowing them to use the system just to obtain translation services. For development reasons, this free version still had to include basic translation management functionalities. This little “bonus” was not considered a problem, as these clients showed no interest in using translation systems anyway.
However, as these functionalities were right there, at their fingertips, some clients gradually started noticing them. After awhile, they even began using a couple of them on quite a regular basis to translate occasional files with the translation tools integrated in the system or to have an overview of all the ordered translations listed in one place, in real time. Eventually, several customers realized that these translation features are indeed useful. Clients could search for the translation of company-specific terms and sentences, or track old projects in the archive. They also discovered transparent translation processes. For the first time, they could see who was doing their translation, check the cost structure and even translators’ public profiles and references. And lastly, they were able to include their employees or partners from abroad into the translation process too, and ask them to do the in-country review of the translated content, all within the system. All of this might suggest that affordable tools, enabled by the cloud, can effectively bring translation technology much closer to companies and, consequently, encourage them to become active users.
This might also indicate another thing — the concepts that the translation community takes for granted are often not familiar or natural-sounding to an “average” client. Our industry promotes translation systems, but without relaying exactly why they can be useful, especially to those customers that pay little attention to translation processes within their companies. It is the umpteenth proof that the translation technology industry tends to be too technical in its approach, and too focused on selling features instead of benefits. For example, many customers did not know that specific features or translation systems in general could help them, until they had actually used them in everyday situations at work. It is only then that they can connect their productivity with the benefits of translation technology. The previous examples of user behavior can corroborate such a claim. And precisely because of this, the fact that cloud-based systems seem to facilitate the user onboarding is of paramount importance. Cloud-based translation systems easily create a user experience that exceeds customers’ expectations from translation tools, in terms of simplicity and functionality, making it more natural for them to adopt translation technology.
One would think that surprises might stop beyond the entry-level clients. But the more technically advanced clients who used our tool as their internal translation system offered an even more important insight. For them, all the system features were unlocked and available for an unlimited number of users. In spite of this, these clients usually constrained themselves to using only a fraction of these features. At least, that is how it was in the beginning.
For example, some companies started out by sending translations to our translation services department. We then assigned that job via the cloud to verified technical translators registered in the database. Since it was all done within one system, the client was able to see who was selected for the job, monitor the status of the project and check the exact cost structure. However, at one point in time, a “direct outsourcing to freelancers” feature became available to the clients too, right in their accounts. Thus, they were able to send smaller translation jobs directly to freelancers, without contacting us at all. They just had to enter the email address of a registered freelancer instead of an internal translator while creating the project, and he or she would be added to the project and would be ready to start working immediately.
It was not long before a few clients realized this, not minding the fact that the feature was far from being prominent. Although direct outsourcing required an extra effort from them — they had to organize projects themselves instead of just handing them over to an agency — they thought it was well worth the effort. By cutting out the middle man, these companies managed to speed up the translation process, find qualified translators and lower their translation costs. It gave them power to choose the appropriate cost/benefit ratio for each individual project, depending on the time or budget they had at their disposal. Since the clients could see which freelancers had translated their content before, all they had to do was to look these freelancers up in the system, contact them directly and pay directly afterward. Clients even started inviting their preferred freelancers to register in the system, so that they could continue working together. More difficult projects, such as those with complex file formats or desktop publishing work, still required the assistance of experienced translation specialists. But even with that limitation, the direct outsourcing option still proved to be a massive resource-saver, at least for smaller projects or those with the most common file formats.
Interestingly enough, the direct outsourcing feature benefitted all parties involved — clients could get smaller translations faster and with lower costs, while skilled freelancers received jobs from trusted clients without paying anything for this privilege. Last but not the least, our company obtained valuable feedback on which direction to go with our technology.
A new approach to
doing translation business
It was important for us to allow clients to send jobs to their internal translators, freelancers or agencies, who then have to log in and translate within the system. With this concept, no content ever leaves the client’s account since the files for translation, translation memories or terminology cannot be exported from the system by unauthorized users. Everything is done and monitored in real time, owing to the cloud — for instance, clients can see the progress percentage or even the translation segments as they are entered by translators in real time. On the other hand, translators working together on a project can immediately reuse translated segments or terminology the second another translator commits them to the system. Another important part of our business model was that all translation providers (internal, freelancers or agencies) be able to register, receive jobs and use the translation tools free of charge. This ensures that the best possible translation resources are always available for a client, without being chased away by license fees or other limitations.
The cloud undoubtedly brought two important benefits: it made translation systems more appealing to “entry-level” clients and also provided unique, new functionalities to the more advanced users. In practice, this resulted in what might become a new approach to doing translation business — clients are able to explore different translation workflows and mix internal and external translation providers as they see fit, while the translators have free tools to translate, even with everyone still using the same translation infrastructure.
Now, this will certainly lead to an important question being asked — just how much of this is applicable or viable on a more general scale? The available data and concrete evidence suggest that it might be. Our company carried out an analysis among the companies using our Framework, with the results published on our website in September 2014, to determine how exactly the major clients are using the Framework and who they send translation jobs to through it. The survey included clients that used both the free and paid editions of the Framework — editions differ only in the monthly quantity of text that can be translated through the system, ranging from 10,000 to unlimited. The results are in Figure 1, indicating which clients use the following features:
Using the system and translation tools to do translations internally
Sending translations directly to freelance translators
Sending translations to Text United or its partner agencies
Sending translations for an in-country review, done within the system by their employees abroad
Using the central translation memory server
Using the central terminology repository
So, what do these results tell us? We can see that 33% of the surveyed companies have already adopted the “outsourcing to freelancers” feature, despite the fact that this is quite a recent functionality. Secondly, the survey has confirmed some patterns that are already known in our industry — the majority of companies still use the services of translation agencies. But this seems not to be enough, as more and more companies have strengthened their internal translation capacities, at least for language combinations and markets that they work with the most. Particularly interesting is the case of one company from the list — it has totally internalized its translation process, avoiding external translation resources altogether. The reason for this decision, as the company’s management explained, is the fact that they have unique products and terminology which simply could not have been translated adequately by anyone outside their company. They then decided to find a translation system that would integrate into their content creation process, but also allow them to translate everything within their company and, especially, the subsidiaries abroad.
Perhaps the most striking finding is that, out of 12 companies listed in Figure 1, there are so many different uses of the system. Each company created its own mix to fit its translation needs. Of course, even those usage scenarios that look identical on paper are in reality probably different from one another due to different processes and internal procedures.
It appears from our survey results that a centralized cloud translation system gave these companies independence they did not have before — they are now able to mix providers, while still using the same translation tools, data and environment. With the previous examples, we saw how advances in technology can effectively change the way translation services are provided and, more importantly, how companies can use translation technology in a more customized way.
Cloud technology and its effect on translation buyer experience
The cloud is not only improving different areas of human activity, such as technology products, software development or communication — it completely changed the way things are done today. Everything seems to be quicker, more customizable and more efficient. The cloud has already become the main tool for an ideal holistic marketing concept with its increased efficiency and just-in-time information sharing. With real interaction and speed, it has brought the customer relationship model to another level. Consequently, raising customer expectations in terms of flexibility, transparency and excellence through the use of the cloud will slowly raise expectations regarding translation processes too.
Customer experience in translation-related activities will certainly need to get much better than it is now in order to keep the translation buyers satisfied. Translation business needs to have more speed, more flexibility and more real-time interaction. The model that we have described in this article is only one approach to achieving this. It is reasonable to expect that other translation tech companies will soon create similar arrangements, probably developing them even further.