Monday, April 25, 2011

Globalization German Style: 75% of Sales Come from Abroad

A new study by Ernst & Young analyzing the annual reports of the 30 German companies that compose the DAX (German Stock Index), indicates that three-quarters of sales for 28 of the 30 companies come from outside Germany.

The study also shows that − with the exception of the two banks in the index − international business grows faster in terms of revenues and number of employees than business in Germany. Companies reported 19% growth abroad, compared to 9% domestically. International sales for Adidas, for example, accounted for 95% of the total; and reached 91% at Linde.

The detailed study also shows that German companies have performed very well in 2010, with pre-tax profits almost doubling from the previous year to 87.3 billion euros.

It is interesting to compare the results from this study with last year's S&P 500 analysis of 250 American companies in which 46.6% of all sales in 2009 were produced and sold outside of the United States.

From a language services perspective, the message is clear: International business is good business and requires translation and localization. So, instead of talking about translations in your next sales call, learn to talk about what is going to generate translations in a larger business context.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Framing the Discussion about the Future of the Industry

Earlier this week in Budapest, during the MemoQ User Conference, I participated in a panel discussion about the future of the industry. It seems that this is a favorite subject in recent events and I suspect that people are so interested in what is going to happen either because they are bored with the present or because there is a sense of insecurity in the air.

At a dinner with Kirti Vashee in the Trastevere the previous week, David Orban, CEO of dotSub, gave me an inspiring quote by William Gibson: "The future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed."

I couldn't resist and started using it the next day in a presentation to the students at LUSPIO. That quote helped me frame several of the ideas that are popping up in the global discussions about industry issues in events, associations, and online venues like LinkedIn and Twitter.

I particularly like that quote, because every time that a problem is raised, someone comes up with a story about a company that has already found a solution or is working on it. Combined with my favorite disclaimer that “The closer your vision gets to a provable future, the more your are simply describing the present. In the same way, the more certain you are of a future outcome, the more likely you will be wrong,” — which I took from The Visionary’s Handbook by Wacker & Taylor — William Gibson's axiom explains why we seem to be stuck: We never really talk about the future, we are only talking about a present in which we don't participate.

In a recent interview, Nassim Taleb, author of the Black Swan and one of the first to preview the collapse of the financial system in 2008, talks about the concept of "subtractive prophecy." He says that "to predict, you need to remove from the future what doesn't belong there because of fragility." This thought completes the triangle that I like to use in the recurring discussions of what will happen in the localization industry.
The questions that I pose myself are:
  • Is someone already doing it? (Description of the present)
  • Is it plausible that someone is already doing it or is the issue easily solvable with existing technology? (Provable future)
  • Do we really need it? (Subtractive prophecy)
Following these premises, here is what I think of the three favorite topics of the industry:

Machine Translation, My view is that it is a reality that is here to stay. It will improve over time and its uses will expand. It is not "evenly distributed" but it is widely available, and it is more of an ally than a foe to the language services space.

Standards. A laudable effort undertaken by organizations that have no power to enforce them. On the technology standards front, I think it is more likely that middleware will develop to broker conversions between translation memories and transfers between different content management systems. (I seem to have heard something about a product called Any2TM at memoQfest and ClayTablet already does some of it).

Crowdsourcing. A topic dear to translators who see it as a threat, as the encroachment of non-professionals into the language industry. Too late. People will do translations for free, just as you take pictures without the help of professional photographers. The reality is that there is more demand for translations than there are professional translators to handle them. Crowdsourcing -- like machine translation -- is just another way to address this market reality.