Wednesday, September 14, 2011

From Managing to Monitoring - From Drops to Drips

After the recent IMTT Conference in Córdoba (Argentina), my friend Cecilia Piaggio was kind enough to offer me a ride to Rosario the next day. During the five-hour drive, we had a chance to talk about some changes that have happened in the translation industry in the past several years and to think about the changing roles of translators, project managers, LSP owners in a world where content is ubiquitous and streaming constantly.

She told me that one of the things that she noticed is that more and more clients were moving from the traditional project model — where files are dropped in an FTP server, work is done, and files are delivered again by FTP or e-mail — to a continuous flow of strings and small files that need to be picked up, processed and published within a short period of time. Or, as she aptly put it, we are moving from drops to drips.

If we combine this with the constant advance of automation of processes and repetitive activities with the use of tools like Plunet, XTRF, and Multicorpora, it becomes clear that the role of the project manager is also shifting. In fact, if you look at the performance of highly efficient companies like LanguageWire in Denmark, you will notice that project managers have become a lot more productive in the last few years. And the explanation for this is that instead of managing projects or drops, that traditionally require manual preparation and a lot of file shuffling, project managers can now focus on monitoring the process.

In other words, we are moving from active involvement in tasks to managing by exception. The project manager only interferes in a process when the systems show that something is not going according to plan. This allows a PM to work on many more projects, just monitoring his dashboard for red flags.

More projects and more automation lead to fewer human errors and higher yields. Good times!

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Revenue Opportunities for LSPs

Innovation and new services are regular topics in my consulting engagements. My clients want to know how they can differentiate and increase their margins. They want to go beyond calling prospects and offering translation for cents per word.

Recently, while on-site at my clients, I happened to come across requests that I thought could become opportunities for starting new conversations with potential translation buyers. After all, calling a prospect to offer translation services is a losing proposition. To use the words of Anne-Marie Colliander Lind: to be successful in sales, you have to talk about activities that will generate translations, and not translation itself. Here are some examples:
  • Video subtitling. In the middle of my consulting session, a project manager asks permission to talk to the LSP owner about an urgent project that required subtitling in two languages. Using the traditional processes, the transcription, translation, and subtitling would have taken four days and cost $3,000.00. I introduced them to dotSub, a site that I first mentioned here back in 2007. In a few minutes we had an account and I walked them through how to do the job. Few hours later, the translation was ready and we downloaded the HD video to deliver to the client for no cost at all (except our effort). 
  • Tape transcription. Same scenario: PM brings a client's request for the transcription and translation of the recording of a Board Meeting that was held in English. Finding foreign language transcribers is not always easy, especially on short notice. Enters CastingWords, a crowdsourced web-based transcription service with fast turnaround and prices varying from $1.00 to $2.50 per minute. Low cost transcribers can also be found on Elance and other freelance sites. The result was that the transcription was done in 24 hours by native speakers and the translation was ready the next day. Point, set, match! 
  • Streaming content. Hot day, no air conditioning (you guessed, I was in Europe!), my client tells me that he recently lost an opportunity because his client had short sentences that needed to be translated within 5 minutes for the duration of a sporting event every Sunday. These were newsflashes and game statistics that needed to be broadcast in several languages and my client lacked the infrastructure and the linguistic resources to fulfill the need. The project never materialized. I explained to him that companies like SpeakLike specialize in this type of service, and that he could have outsourced the solution for as little as $0.06 per word, giving him enough room to mark it up and make a profit, without having to invest in the technology infrastructure.
The action item following these three events was clear: Productize the request and call potential buyers asking questions that will generate translations. 

So in the first case, the question could be: "Do you ever receive training videos in other languages that you need to share with your employees?" 

In the case of transcriptions, the LSP could call administrative assistants (or secretaries as they are still called in some countries) and ask if they ever have to transcribe audio from meetings in English (if you ever had to do it, you know it is a pain).

As for streaming content, any website that publishes news is a candidate for on-demand translation. Financial sites, sports associations or events, news organizations, all need to provide information fast and accurately. After all, news has as very short shelf life. In theory, a Czech hockey player in Canada might want to have his Twitter feed and news published in Czech, English, and French to satisfy his fan base.

Using creativity to transform project challenges into new and innovative products is a good practice. All you need to do is say yes to your client requests, and maybe give me a call.