Continuous delivery for emerging markets

Global continuous delivery of content for emerging markets requires a different mindset to get results in real time. GetYourGuide (GYG) is a young travel tech company with a startup attitude, even after seven years in business. All content is in the cloud, accessible globally through mobile and web platforms, and is updated regularly. It is a pure play continuous delivery organization and firmly sits in the innovators’ group if you look at how it deals with continuous delivery of global content. 

When thinking about emerging markets and continuous delivery, it may not always be possible to apply the data-driven, almost live, continuous delivery approach as does the innovator company GYG. However, anyone who follows the technology adoption life cycle will know that eventually what innovators do, we all will. In the fast-changing world of continuous delivery, it may just be a decent barometer to start measuring against.

Anne-Cécile Tomlinson leads the global content operations department at GYG. She has experience in translation and localization both at linguistic and management levels. Her main focus areas are localization strategy, process optimization and business efficiency. I caught up with Tomlinson at GYG to dig into how they provide continuous delivery for emerging markets. 

Ruane: At GYG you are in the business of providing live content, and live purchasing for tours and attractions around the world. People are inspired to buy tours by how attractive your content is. On what basis does your organization decide to go into emerging markets? 

Tomlinson: Customer demand. We have analytics that we track; for example, where our customers come from, which language they are viewing our site in, which device they use and what they book via our website. Our customers visit our website to gather information — our pages display lots of valuable travel destination information — and of course to buy products. When we see certain levels of trends from a region, we review this at board and C-level and then determine a plan of action. We run such analyses regularly.

For example, when we localized into a Nordic country, we got a great response even though the English proficiency index for that market is extremely high, and this is not a common choice of translation priority for many companies. 

Ruane: Sounds a little counterintuitive. Many companies tend to use market research and English proficiency to make informed decisions about new market entry, thinking on a soft entry to a market or a way to manage costs by not translating. What you are saying about this Nordic country seems to go against the grain. 

Tomlinson: Exactly. I would intuitively never have prioritized a Nordic country on my own. Sometimes you have to do the unexpected to stay relevant and differentiate. In particular when you are in a fast-changing and very competitive industry such as travel tech. 

Ruane: Do you apply the same “do the unexpected” mantra to your global continuous delivery approaches? 

Tomlinson: I would formulate it differently — I do what I have to do in order to achieve the business goals that we have. This includes disruption and unexpected actions. This is not just true for localization decisions, and many other young companies have the same spirit.

Ruane: So it’s a “shake off the shackles” approach?

Tomlinson: Right. You have freedom to make and break processes and decisions as it makes sense in the effort to get content to market ASAP. As long as the content fits some basic company constraints, of course.

Ruane: What is the decision-making process when you’re deciding what products and content to localize for emerging markets? 

Tomlinson: The decision is data-driven; it is not about intuition or vision. In more detail, we assess the business value of products for markets. We conduct live tests and we gather data to measure the expected impact. This enables us to prioritize the right content at the right time in the right market. It also means we allocate and scale our linguistic resources according to business needs.

Ruane: So you almost have a control room type view of the data, which you can react to and make decisions on. How important is this live business intelligence to be successful with continuous delivery for emerging markets?

Tomlinson: For us, business intelligence is crucial and enables us to make sound and rational business decisions. Again, we follow what data shows us. We don’t guess. We test, we prove and we implement. 

Ruane: How does your continuous delivery program look?

Tomlinson: We ship content as soon as it is ready. We do not wait for an entire project to be ready to start localizing. We also don’t wait for all languages to be ready to publish. It is a continuous flow. It means we need solid process and project management in place, as well as strong resource management in order to adapt quickly to alternative plans. Since we work in an agile environment, it means that we can’t always prepare all the work a long time in advance. Agile means flexibility and rapid changes of scope depending on the advances on the developer side. It doesn’t mean improvised and not thought through. 

On the coordination and management side, there is a lot of juggling and adaptability in order to provide the translators an experience that is as smooth as possible. 

On the global content delivery front, we ship every piece of work produced as soon as it is ready, on a language level. It means immediate release for most of the projects. 

Ruane: Is this not semiorganized chaos? How does this work, practically speaking?

Tomlinson: We act fast. What we consider chaotic inside the team, people from the outside may consider as control and flexibility. For example, imagine that a customer buys a tour on their phone with our app in the early afternoon, two hours before the start of the visit, because it is close to where they are at the moment of the booking. Now, let’s imagine that the same morning, the tour guide changed the meeting point because of construction work at the usual meeting point. If we can’t have it ready in the customer’s language before they book it, they will go to the wrong location and not have a good experience. Continuous delivery for us means releasing content before it affects a customer. 

Ruane: Do you have to make corrective language related decisions on published content regularly?

Tomlinson: Yes, all the time. Accuracy is a top priority. If we display erroneous content, we lose customers and money. 

Ruane: Once you have decided based on your review of analytics that a new market looks attractive, how fast could you decide to go into an emerging market?

Tomlinson: There is no fixed rule and it mostly depends on the return on our investment. Once the decision has been taken on a company level, we can have the new language online quickly. For example, we recently worked on a project where we translated over one million words in less than three weeks. That is the new standard if you like, no fixed rule.

Ruane: Do you have different approaches you take depending on content usage?  

Tomlinson: Depending on the purpose and placement of the text, we give different levels of care.

Most of the volume of translation comes from the inventory, where fast delivery is a key driver. We have other projects, like marketing translations or transcreations that follow a more conservative flow, since for such projects, quality is paramount. We can make on-the-fly modifications to an online page, but we can’t do this to an email or newsletter sent to a customer. 

In some cases, notifications have to be published and translation can be done retrospectively in order to have content out there. During the Paris attacks last year, for example, we had to put up a banner in a very short time to alert our customers about the situation and send global cancellation notifications in many languages. Our customers expect us to be proactive on these things. They rightfully demand to have the information they need at the time they need it, which usually means instantly.  We had to put some banners in English in order to have the information out. We replaced the English with the translated version as soon as it became available.

Ruane: So priority is on getting valuable content out and then adapting it within a cycle or two?  

Tomlinson: Yes, in the sense that we prioritize the production of content according to needs. Our cycle-times can be very short (sometimes close to real-time). We also prioritize languages; some emerging markets are more strategic than others, we invest where we know we will see a return on investment. On this topic, one of my own personal concepts is “Invest, don’t waste.” I won’t spend resources on translation, post-editing or review for a page that will not get more conversions with higher care. 

Ruane: When planning your continuous delivery products for both emerging and more mature markets, do you apply consistent processes across regions or is it customized or enhanced market to market? 

Tomlinson: Our business is not centered at all on the words, but on delivering amazing experiences to our customers. Therefore, our processes are highly adaptable and customized depending on the type of content — again, depending on the purpose of the content. The processes are similar between languages. 

Ruane: Are there additional considerations you take when defining the process for a first time emerging market?

Tomlinson: Many! Localization goes way beyond words as mentioned earlier. Depending on the language and market, there might be a lot of technical or design work involved: how do you deal with URLs with non-Latin alphabets, how about the fonts or the text orientation, which search engines should we work with for marketing purposes… All of these topics require technical expertise as well as time to be implemented and to reach full efficiency. 

As Johannes Reck, CEO of GYG, has said “I believe in data. People want great experiences that will be delivered within the first three taps on a device. The key to moving into new markets is having people with the ability to execute on strategy – it is all about discipline. Entering a new marketplace is like operating an army.”

Ruane: As head of content at GYG with ownership for translation, localization seems well integrated across your content processes. How is this achieved?

Tomlinson: Our team is fully integrated in the business side of things. The goal of the localization team is to allow our customers to buy products in different languages that will allow them to have a great experience, rather than reach a predefined pass-rate on a predefined scorecard. Also one advantage I have at GYG is that I control the entire content production, which includes not only the translation but also the source content production.

Ruane: How deep is automation in your processes?  

Tomlinson: We have a custom content management system, built by us for us. This is our main tool. To prioritize and work in symbiosis with the other agile teams in our company, we use Jira (scrum and kanban) to plan, execute and release. In terms of automation of translation, we still have a long road to go, which means we have many more opportunities to grow even more.

Ruane: At a granular level, what is your take on quality?

Tomlinson: The Facebook motto “Done is better than perfect” applies. One of GYG’s mantras is “Speed as a habit.” Continuous delivery allows us to fix quickly as well if it’s needed. We don’t always produce perfect content the first time, but we iterate and learn from our experiences, which makes us stronger for the next project.

Having said that, different types of content require different quality processes as mentioned. An advertisement on Google is not the same as an email template for the confirmation of a booking. An element of the user interface is different from the app store description. We customize the quality process according to the visibility, intent and lifespan of content.

Ruane: For customer experience and engagement, how is this managed with continuous delivery content? 

Tomlinson: I believe that continuous delivery improves user experience. It is there to build trust in the brand. If information is available in real time, accurately, in your language, then you are seen as a trusted source of information. Seeing our customers disengage gives us a signal that something is off, and then we investigate why. 

For example, we monitor the metrics on our website regularly. We launched eight new languages last year at the same time, and after a few weeks noticed that one of them was not taking off like the other languages. We did a third party linguistic audit and discovered quality issues on the language level. Within two or three weeks, the website was updated and we saw improving performances. 

Ruane: So it is an “action – reaction” methodology but in almost real time because you have live data?

Tomlinson: For me the key to success is strong planning. I always go for a very lean process: as simple and straightforward as possible. But when we find an issue, yes, we react fast. Time is always ticking so everything is driven by that. 

Ruane: What does success look like for the first 12 months in an emerging market?

Tomlinson: Success is when customers book tours. It’s that simple! Success is a business metric: how many people convert, engage and come back. 

Ruane: What is next for continuous delivery unopened markets?

Tomlinson: This is a big topic. For sure, we will see more automation and high-quality predictions from data science. The analytics part will help us determine faster and with more accuracy the value of emerging markets and to better prioritize the translations we produce. That is what pure play continuous delivery is about.  On the automation side, I am amazed by the potential of machine learning in machine translation. It will probably play a big role in the future as well. 

Ruane: Any last words of advice?

Tomlinson: Always go for a very lean process: as simple and straightforward as possible.