Wayne Bourland
Director of  Translation at Dell Technologies

Interview by Cameron Rasmusson

40+ bidirectionally

Number of languages supported in translation department

48

Number of employees

1.2 billion

Number of translated words processed last year

Porto, Portugal, for the port, of course

Favorite place

Video games, when I get the time!

Favorite hobby

Texas barbecue

Favorite food

Advertisement

ENVISIONING THE FUTURE OF LANGUAGE WORK

A company as massive as Dell Technologies has no shortage of need for translation and localization services. And Wayne Bourland, director of translation, is the man heading up that operation. Though he didn’t originally envision a career in language service, his career took him in an unexpected direction, and now he oversees the translation of words by the millions or even billions.

We spoke to him about his work history, what drew him to language work, and how he envisions the world of translation and localization evolving in the future. 

Tell us a little about your background. What was the career path that brought you to work at Dell? 

I was in the US Army working in JAG, Judge Advocate General. I was the military equivalent of a paralegal. I did lots of different things: labor law, international treaties and status of forces agreements, criminal law, but one common thread was computers. I loved working with them and on them. When I decided to leave the Army, I knew I wanted to work in the computer industry, and Dell was in my hometown. Both of my younger brothers worked there, so it was a natural choice.

Before your current work with Dell, you served in the military. Do you think there were elements of your military service that helped prepare you for language work? And if so, what were they? 

Language specifically, no, but I got to spend two and a half years in Korea. I had hardly ever been out of Texas at that point in my life, much less out of the country, so it was eye opening, and I loved exploring the different culture. That love for different cultures has stayed with me, and is a big part of why I love what I do now.

You were more or less thrown into the world of translation when you were asked to step into the role. Is that correct? What did you do prior to that, and how did you become involved in language work? 

I started at Dell in the tech support queues, became a call center manager, helped setup call centers in India and Panama, then moved on to managing escalations, and from there into managing content teams that were developing content for our support reps and our customers. We had a small translation operation as part of the content organization that I was tangentially associated with, but I really didn’t know anything about translations when I was asked to step in. I knew Martin Luther translated the Bible into German in the basement of a castle, so I figured, couldn’t be that difficult. I was completely ignorant of the complexity of the industry, the tools, and the process. But that ignorance also meant I had a fresh perspective. I came from a background of metrics, I understand business processes, and that’s really what I manage. I am not a language expert, I am a language industry expert; I understand the business of translation and leave the linguistics to those smarter than me.

You’ve mentioned that most of Dell’s translation needs flow through your team. How do you manage serving so many different departments? What does that structure look like? 

A lot has changed in the past 15 years. Today, we do as much volume in a week as we did all year back then. We acquired EMC, and they already had a very large translation operation, and we had two operations at Dell, what I ran on the content and marketing and .com side and our product docs division. All of that is combined today under me. But the fundamentals are essentially the same. There is no charter or mandate to run translations through my team, but everyone does because we said, “Look, we know the translation industry, you don’t need to. We work with you to understand your needs, and you hold us accountable. We are responsible for the cost, the quality, and the turnaround time, we will manage the suppliers, the cost negotiations, the tools, etc. We are the single point of accountability.” 

Logistically, each team we support has a project manager (PM) that works with them, they have their own configuration in our translation management system (TMS) assigned to them so we can keep the money straight, report on their specific metrics, manage their work. We have more senior PMs who manage the overall relationship with our larger stakeholders, and we have invested heavily in the relationship with our suppliers. They have all been with us for a long time, they understand the account, they understand our expectations, and we work collaboratively with them. We run separate quarterly business reviews (QBRs), of course, with each, but we also have joint QBRs and annual executive business reviews. We task them with working together to bring us insights. It’s a team effort. We share everything between them except for cost information of course.

Last year, you turned around something like a billion words of translated content. How do you manage that output, and how does technology, AI, and machine translation fit into that structure? 

It’s 1.2 billion, actually, and about 800 million of that is system-to-system analysis — for example, translating customer feedback to English for sentiment analysis, support call log analysis, and our internal portal for anyone in the company who needs a quick MT translation.  The other 400 million was through our TMS, much of it leveraging MT for post editing of course. A big percentage of that work is handled through integrations, so most of the file handling is automated. It still requires project management and oversight, but there isn’t a lot of manual effort involved. The remainder is where the real work is for my team, what we call managed services, where we are much more integral in the file handoffs, pushing to publishing systems, etc. AI is the future. I can’t say we have robust AI systems in place today, but we are making meaningful progress.

You’ve spoken about considering the entire lifecycle of content and not just the pieces your team receives. Could you talk more about that? 

We have stepped back from thinking about translation and managing translation work from the standpoint of just what is in our black box — the area between source handoff and returning the target files — to looking at the entire ecosystem. We need AI to understand the source and tell us how “translatable” it is. It isn’t so much about how good or bad the source is — that’s important, but right now the focus is on how easy or hard it will be to translate. It might be poor source content that won’t hit the mark, and we are thinking about how we feed that back, but it might still be easy to translate, and that will dictate how we route it through the workflow. Does it need human translation or post edit, or can it run through pure MT? Then we are looking at AI that will help us determine, when we are done translating it, how good it is. It’s a risk assessment: Can we push it out, or does it need to loop back? 

But we aren’t stopping there. We want to tie the outcomes of the target content to key performance indicators (KPIs) and understand if the target content performs at least as well as the source. If not, why? All of that data will allow us to continue to tweak the machine. We are really talking about moving from a human-driven process to a machine driven process with human oversight. Freeing the team to focus on higher value tasks, getting more embedded with our stakeholders, influencing their decisions about what they translate into what languages. Moving from doing the work to a seat at the table helping decide what work should be done. AI is how we will get there.

Advertisement

While you don’t describe yourself as a language expert, you do have a background in tech support that has served you well in Dell. How did that prepare you for the work you do now? 

I wouldn’t say there is a direct correlation between the different domains, but what I did bring with me is a focus on metrics and data. In a call center, you measure everything, how many calls a rep is taking, average talk time, their resolution rates, customer satisfaction score (CSAT), etc. There was a dearth of data when I got into localization. One of the first things I did was get a data analyst on board and start building out metrics. I remember we had a supplier that was challenged to meet their service level agreement (SLA), and they were struggling to figure out where the problem was. We dug into the data and said, “Hey, you are looking in the wrong place. You are focusing on your translators, but your biggest hit is coming from the DTP step.” 

They were shocked we were able to provide that level of insight. That was a long time ago, and now, data is everything. I can’t tell you the number of times my MT guy reiterates that point to me.

You’ve achieved an impressive degree of scalability with your team. Could you describe that, and how did you achieve it? 

I have a very bright team from all kinds of backgrounds: supplier side, client side, folks that have degrees in translation to those that have degrees in marine biology. Scale is really what this industry is about — it’s the message I carry internally. 

Translation is a force multiplier. You spend a lot of money and resources putting a marketing campaign together, and you hand it off to my team, and you get it back in a dozen languages in just a few days for the fraction of the cost of creating the source content. I know that is not exactly what you were asking, but it’s an important aspect of the value we deliver.

How has Dell’s globalization strategy changed from the time you started to now? How does that affect your work? 

We have always had a strong web presence from a language standpoint, and that has continued to expand over time, but where the real change can be seen is in the understanding of the value of translation. There are fewer and fewer conversations about how this can be cheaper — what is the minimal number of languages I need? — and more conversations about how we leverage the technology and process to expand languages, to expand the content we are translating, and what markets we should be focusing on.

You’ve spoken about rethinking the business approach to language work, making it more fundamental to the strategic process as opposed to an afterthought of necessity. How do you envision that? 

It really comes down to how our organization interacts with our stakeholders. Today, in most of our interactions, we are order takers. “We need this translated into these languages” and off we go. What we really want is a seat at the table. What is being translated, why, what languages, and why are those the right languages. Stepping back even further, what are you trying to accomplish? What KPIs are you trying to impact? I think in that mode of operation, we would find that a lot of what we are translating today isn’t the ideal content, or it isn’t going into the ideal set of languages that will have the desired impact. We need to think about the end-to-end customer journey and ensure that our translation strategy is aligned to it. You can look at just about any large corporation operating globally and find instances where the learn/buy content is in local language, but support isn’t, or documentation is translated, but the country site isn’t. It’s a disjointed experience, and until someone is at the table asking the questions and advising on local country needs, it will continue to be that way.

There’s been much recent discussion about the idea of LangOps as a new language paradigm. What do you think about this, and how does it or does it not tie in to your vision of the future? 

LangOps refers to a centralized translation function with tools and technology that enable just-in-time localization in support of real-time needs such as customer support interactions. It encapsulates a lot of what large mature loc teams have been striving to do for some time: centralize the efforts across the company and move to AI-driven technology that allows us to deliver translation where and when they are needed. 

None of its concepts or components are new, but hopefully, if nothing else, it will drive a better understanding at senior levels of the value of what they already have sitting in their language department. It could also increase awareness of the capabilities and value of leveraging these tools and technology to do more than just translate marketing and product material, knowledge bases and whitepapers, but rather incorporate them into everyday interactions that will deliver a more “local” experience for customers and employees.

Interview by Cameron Rasmusson, editor-in-chief of MultiLingual Media.

Advertisement

RELATED ARTICLES

WEEKLY DIGEST

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter. Subscribe to stay updated