The translation leverage model

For many years now we have heard of the tripod model for translation services, with the three legs representing price, quality and turnaround time. Conventional wisdom has long argued that these factors were interdependent. For example, you could reduce the price, but that would affect the quality or the speed.

However, the three-legged model is due for a major revision. The “leverage” model of service is now the dominant paradigm in the translation industry, creating less interdependence of price, quality and speed. What do I mean by “leverage”? I mean the ability to use linguists, processes and technology to deliver improvement in quality, consistency and speed as usage increases over time.

First, let’s consider a more traditional translation workflow.

1. Client emails a document to the language service provider (LSP) and requests a quote.

2. A project manager (PM) receives the document, does a word count, calculates a cost, creates a quote document and returns that to the client.

3. The client approves the quote.

4. The PM searches for available translators, negotiates a price and then assigns the project.

5. The translator receives the document, translates it and returns it.

6. The PM sends the file to another translator for quality assurance (QA).

7. After QA, translation goes back to the PM.

8. The PM does a final check including checking layout, and then returns the document to the client.

Each step in this process requires the manual work of either a PM or translator, and there is no use of technology to create leverage. Furthermore, since different translators are used for each new project, their brand-specific linguistic knowledge is inefficient.

However, if you were to utilize a system whereby the client simply uploaded a document, then received an automated word count and quote, there would be a substantial savings of time and cost. Taking it a step further, if the file was automatically run through the client’s translation memory (TM) to produce a weighted word count quote, and then forwarded to a predetermined pool of translators who were all familiar with the client’s preferred style and terminology, you’d have a more efficient translation process.

This probably seems like a common-sense use of commonplace technology and processes to most readers. However, it’s surprising how many companies still don’t use processes like this.

Let’s look at a more complicated example. In this case, the client is translating web content into 15 languages on a daily basis and uses a content management system (CMS) to organize the company’s content. The LSP employs a fairly sophisticated translation management system (TMS) to automate much of the work.

1. Client uploads file package to the vendor’s TMS.

2. The file is automatically parsed into individual files for each language and each file is run through the respective TM for that language.

3. The client automatically receives a quote and the files are automatically forwarded to a preset pool of translators who all have access to the client’s TM, glossary and style guide.

4. After the translation is complete, the file is automatically forwarded to a human QA checker, and then through an automated QA process.

5. The file is then automatically returned to the client’s CMS, where end content is automatically created and sent for a final internal review.

In this example, the automated processing saves time and money, and reduces opportunities for errors. In fact, the more work that is done, the larger the TM becomes, and the greater the leverage. By using the same pool of linguists who become increasingly familiar with the client’s content, the linguistic quality and turn-around-time will also continually improve.

In the old three-legged paradigm, a client might be at risk any time someone offered them a reduced word rate. Under the leverage model, clients will see increasingly better quality and pricing the longer they work with a given LSP. This makes the relationship between the two parties “stickier.” In fact, given the current transparency in the market for word rates and salaries, it’s almost impossible for any one company to continually outperform the competition under the three-leg model.