Localization vendor management

When considering localization management, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? Is it managing assets, adjusting pipelines, implementing technological solutions, applying automated tools, incorporating cloud modes and testing machine translation engines? Probably, but the human factor cannot be overlooked.

Oh yes, there are project managers and coordinators who pull strings and make sure timelines are met, prevent budgets from blowing out and deliver top-notch quality in a timely manner despite project slippage. Additionally, depending on the localization process, the language testing and quality assurance resources need to be incorporated into workflows for the successful launch of products. However, what in fact brings some extra spice to clients’ everyday fast-paced communication environment are people on the other side of the wire actually creating the localized content. The graceful term localization service provider (LSP) refers to an extremely diversified pool of resources, including multilingual agencies and freelancers, and all of them require some amount of localization vendor management.

The main duties of vendor management are dedicated to vendor relations, focused on balancing linguistic quality and financial efficiency, ultimately aiming at the satisfaction of the end users. Video game localization provides a great battleground opportunity to deal with creative mindsets, even though, the whole process is subject to automation, machinery takeover and the cost consciousness objective.

What makes a difference are the people striving to deliver the highest standards of culturally adapted translations under constant time pressure. Localization vendor management involves dealing with various nationalities and personalities, as well as facing different territories’ specifics and development trends. Vendor allocation and project preparation are crucial aspects of the localization management responsibilities and require thorough execution for shifting schedules, skyrocketing volumes and last-minute content refurbishment. Due to the basic features of game localization, including culturally sensitive elements with the challenge of simship release for 16 languages, the real challenge is to cram a bunch of diverse individuals, not only in terms of national specifics but in terms of different lifestyles, into one sack, if you will — and nowadays into one cloud.


Localizing cultural sensitiveness

In fact, nothing can be more enriching in the volatile localization environment than working with an army of creative people, letting your cultural sensitivity grow vigorously and at the same time merging it into your localization framework to ensure accomplishment of the project’s financial goals. In everyday communication, translators tend to make you laugh. Vendor management can become less about business-oriented facts, and instead involve knowing people’s holiday plans, favorite travel destinations, arrival of new family members and even the names of their pets. You may be very surprised at this, but some translators do not speak fluent English, and even a standard phone conversation can pose unforeseen challenges. However, the extra effort of getting to know them and ensuring proper setup pays off in the end, as they master their respective country and culture specifics, which result in top-notch localized products. In-depth knowledge of your human resources leads to incremental accomplishments without compromising on quality. You may, for example, be able to shoot off the top of your head the French translator’s whereabouts and the reasons for his delayed reply to your e-mail. In the twinkling of an eye, you recall he has a dentist check-up this morning, because yes, you have already discussed his toothache and its potential influence on his ongoing project.

It may seem that vendor management is a never-ending chat with translators and reviewers, including sharing family photos and holiday postcards. In fact, this is the most pleasant part of the job, and although these details do not fall into the trackable category, you tend to remember them. However, managing the extensive vendor pool for highly diversified content would not be possible without applying some special tools. Without developing robust database tracking solutions and applying online tools, vendor management could turn into a state of commotion, especially as decisions need to be made instantly and there is often little time to scan your memory to search for the proper translator for the task. The set of accordingly adjusted project management tools is used to take advantage of the stored data: language combinations, working hours, including weekends and bank holiday availability schedules, emergency coverage options and related financial expectations. In order to maintain efficiency, the records of each individual must cover all necessary contact details and particular strengths, as well as the results of quality checks run systematically to monitor the vendors’ performance.

Other types of detail tracked by vendor management cover genre preferences and the outcomes of corresponding test translations, any additional service types included in the portfolio, major achievements and accomplished titles. When a 10,000-word legal assignment needs to be returned in seven languages by the end of the day and it is already lunch time, meticulously stored data allows for swift action. After an appropriate period of time, certain facts happen to be also automatically stored in your memory, but to achieve smooth coordination, easily accessible data is crucial. Therefore, exploitation of the latest technological solutions for tracking and coordinating and reporting purposes become the bread and butter of vendor managers.


Regional trends and dynamics

Localization vendor trends are not only about mapping availability and adjusting working hours across the time zones, like in case of South America, they’re about introducing industry newcomers to the complexities of localization content and business culture requirements.

From behind the commercial spectrum lurk surprising peculiarities, such as a great challenge for some Middle Eastern vendors related to working on a project with female counterparts. Working with freelancers can pose its own pitfalls. For example, there appear to be traceable patterns pertaining to Nordic countries, where freelance translating is not pursued as a long-term business venture and the intrinsic liberties of the working scheme are strictly guarded. Freelancers may enjoy going to the gym or massage classes, or they may simply log off to indulge in scarce sunny moments, and they often cherish this unconstrained way of life.

The real fun starts once bank holiday coverage is required, as game development timelines do not know the term unavailable, and despite the fact that all Norwegians may be waving their flags and parading along the streets, the Norwegian job still needs to be done. If you’ve planned ahead, you’ll know about these holidays and hunt for people who will be available anyway. Owing to appropriate vendor mapping, the publishing demands of timely launch into new territories is not affected.

Evolving localization markets never cease to unveil new resources offering unlimited availability and unmatched eagerness to act. The contrast between “I am at Pilates class and cannot accept the task; talk to you later” and “No problem, we will skip Carnival this year” is striking. In fact, very few freelancers can afford the luxury of refusing assignments in the highly competitive localization environment, especially with the constant pressure of keeping up with the pace of technological advancements.

Although nobody can chain free spirits to their computers, mobile communication devices help to ensure fast reactivity, which means a new working pattern is emerging. In the business dictated by the rule of swift responsiveness and unlimited availability, those who are not taking long lunch breaks and can meet the most important requirement of same-day turnaround thrive, especially as focus on cost consciousness does not cease. The utmost quality excellence attributed to the localization veterans is replaceable by this new wave of available industry buffs.

Another interesting localization vendor management case is related to the 24-hour localization coverage endeavor. Due to the growing demand of round-the-clock localization support, one of the golden vendor management rules needs to be stretched and the task not necessarily handled by in-country resources.


Freelance vs. agencies

The diversity of the LSP setup allows unlimited constellation options. Choosing to work with freelancers rather than agencies provides a variety of advantages, but at the same time may cause some headaches. There are many pros to working with freelance translators, mostly due to the benefit of direct contact with the actual content creators. This ensures they know the product by heart and avoids the additional link in the chain of dealing with a project manager, who often only slows down the process and negatively impacts process efficiency. There are a few LPSs that can, however, ensure smooth communication and excellent production workflows due to their robust solutions.

Granting full ownership to freelance experts is a big win for localization efforts. As a result, the translator’s subject matter expertise can also be propagated for projects that require localization of audio content and assistance during recordings, for example.

To prompt evolution of the freelance solution, vendor management develops backup setups dedicated to enhancing freelance networking. Linking together freelancers results in operational optimization and service proficiency. Benefiting from a higher level of flexibility means that even large localization volumes can be handled by groups of independent translators without involving LSP structures. Of course, working with freelancers can get very complex. Applying the freelance model for localization efforts of 30 million-word volumes annually into 30 languages turns into a roller coaster thrill, and real juggling skills are highly recommended.

However, there are still territories where agencies prosper. Russia, the fifth largest European localization market, serves as the prime example. Some clients still keep outsourcing localization undertakings, vesting their projects with the large local agencies or even acting via other multilingual middlemen to save themselves the additional trouble. The Translation Forum Russia that took place in Kazan in September 2012 proved that the local localization market is highly monopolized by large agencies that generate about 97% of the business profits. It requires massive effort from vendor managers to incorporate young, inexperienced translator-wannabes into the process.

Fresh translation studies graduates explaining their visions for the future mentioned fear of direct interaction with western clients, complexities of the internal fiscal and legal policy and lack of familiarity with the required localization tools. As a result, the mighty agencies incorporate flocks of overwhelmed translators and absorb the lion’s share of the localization projects, including in their offer extensive engineering support and impressive automated asset integration solutions. At the same time, the large conglomerates fail to ensure the desired level of visibility into their internal processes and adversely affect confidence of business partners that may even lead to canceling localization efforts.

A similar pattern is traceable in growing South American markets, especially in Brazil, where in order to keep up with the increasing demand, global multilingual localization players set up local entities lured by tempting profits. For overseas companies, the road to establishing direct contact and benefiting from freelance resources is mostly affected by bureaucratic corruption and lack of sufficient technological industry insight among localization amateurs.

The examples of Brazil and Russia show that the freelance vendor pool requires evolving together with customer expectations and awareness. Development turmoil hampers other localization related undertakings, such as in-country review, measuring end-user satisfaction and evaluating reception of the localized product. The developing markets definitely require extra effort from localization vendor management, and not necessarily the same tools and approaches can be applied to create the desired production outcomes in every situation.