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Collaborative translation
Renato S. Beninatto & Donald A. DePalma

Common Sense Advisory contends that the challenges of global business require a systematic re-thinking of the translation process. Think of the web plus real-time collaboration as the avenue to higher throughput and consistent quality. Translation as traditionally practiced will be replaced by technology and process that allow a swarm of translators, editors and supporting cast to concurrently work on a translation.

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ranslation has traditionally been viewed as a craft. Today, as technical and business content increases logarithmically, language service providers are required to ramp up their productivity and throughput without jeopardizing quality.

Translation as it always has been
In the antediluvian days of Translation As We Knew and Loved It, companies would translate, edit and then proofread (TEP). TEP is based on Gutenberg’s printing requirements, where the author submitted the manuscript, someone typeset it, and somebody else reviewed the galley proofs as many times as necessary to make sure that no typos made their way to the final print run. Most translation agencies still operate this way — it works, it pays the bills, and everyone knows what his or her role is.

It does, however, have a few basic flaws that lead to degradations in quality, and we all know that quality is the major differentiator for most translators: Knowledge imbalance. People downstream in the production chain usually have less information than people upstream. If the editor knows less than the translator, he or she is likely to introduce errors instead of correcting them. Lockstep rotation. Each individual works on a task before handing it off to the next person in the process. Process-driven fanaticism. This approach creates highly compliant processes with lots of documentable steps, but very little added value. Quality improvement methodologies such as Six Sigma teach us that adding steps to a process only increases the probability of adding errors. Ex-post-facto error correction. The TEP process finds errors at discrete checkpoints or at the end of the project. At that point in the project, it may cost a lot of time or money to fix the problem.

The seeds of collaborative translation
Translation doesn’t have to work this way. Years ago some translation agencies began experimenting with a different model to replace this Gutenberg-based, time-motion Taylorism process model of TEP. We call it “plan, coordinate, translate, and publish” (PCTP), although we are still looking for a more euphonious acronym. This model relied on a few key principles for self-correction that worked on simple Netware networks in the 1990s. These same simple practices become supercharged on today’s broadbanddistributed collaborative networks. In the collaborative translation model, projects revolve around communities that come together for each project: 1) The project manager sets up a project

Renato S. Beninatto (left) is vice president of consulting, and Donald A. DePalma is the chief research officer of Common Sense Advisory. DePalma is also author of Business Without Borders: A Strategic Guide to Global Marketing.

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Comment

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in the community, runs the original document against translation memories (TMs), optionally uses machine translation (MT) to pre-translate the text; 2) uploads material to be translated; 3) checks vendor database for the best resources and invites them to join the project community: translators, consultants, client reviewers, desktop publishing (DTP) workers; and 4) monitors the performance of the community to ensure that questions are answered, files are available, and deadlines are met. The big differences are in how these communities interact as they translate jobs: ■ Lots of translators work asynchronously. PCTP pioneers put 20 translators on a project for five days rather than five translators for 20 days. They rely on each translator to proof and case-harden the others’ work. ■ Non-translator subject-matter experts vet the translations. The PCTPers hire non-translator consultants with subject-matter expertise to answer terminology and conceptual questions upfront. By focusing on doing things right the first time, the PCTP innovators eliminate the editing stage. Total quality is knowing what needs to be done, having the means to do it and then doing it right the first time, every time.

Transitioning from TEP to collaborative translations
None of these points is new or revolutionary, and nothing requires major investment. What is required is a change of mindset, an acceptance that there are no dogmas and that anything can be challenged for the sake of providing better service. Collaborative translation is a natural work method for the younger generation who is used to using instant messaging and online communities to do their homework. It is the current generation of managers who needs to accept and promote the change or it will be made obsolete by new competitors.

■ Enter the real-time subject-matter expert. This new addition to the team serves as the expert, consultant, “answerman” or project sage. His or her job is to answer questions in a timely manner so that translators don’t have to leave questions for editors and reviewers at the end of the process. The professionals who are willing to ask for directions and advice when it still matters might have a slight advantage here. ■ The lead translator segues into other roles. Good planning and project coordination will have taken care of standardization and stylistic issues before the project starts, so there’s less of a need for a person to unify the style after the fact. ■ The function of vendor manager emerges with a vengeance. Instead of sourcing linguists based on their constant availability and low price (read that as “trusted translators”), companies need the best professionals to populate their project communities — linguists who can translate right the first time, on time, and who can contribute to the performance of the community. Vendor managers will supercharge today’s simple databases of professionals with information about their performance, timeliness, compliance with style guides, and other critical metrics. ■ Teams form and disband by project. Translation communities will organize on a project-by-project basis instead of the traditional language-based organization of projects. Today, there are communities like Aquarius, ProZ.com and TranslatorsCafé.com where translators can post their questions, but all of these are outside the control of the agency and the process. These loosely coupled associations demonstrate the power of broadening projects beyond single languages and projects.

Conventional Wisdom
Traditional development teams

How Translation Will Happen
Scrum — small cross-function teams similar to a rugby scrum

The people: optimizing client-vendor relations and staff roles
In today’s TEP translation environment, companies adopt a sequential process where — in its simplest form — the work passes from the client to the vendor, who in turn hands it to the translator, who returns it to the vendor, who sends it to the editor, who returns it to the vendor, who delivers it to the client. In a collaboration-enabled environment these hand-offs become redundant as tasks need not be completed to be transferred to the next agent. Now the client becomes part of the project community. All questions and issues are addressed in real-time by all the parties involved in the process. ■ The project manager facilitates. Instead of just shuffling files and acting as a single point of failure, the project manager becomes a facilitator — the person who builds the team, keeps it on task and brings into the community the resources required for each phase of the project. ■ The editor and reviewer disappear. These functions go away. Real-time shared TMs, automated style guides, and subject-matter experts coexist and contribute to final translations in the first pass.

Client > Vendor > Translator Client > Community > Vendor > Client Project manager Editor and reviewer Lead translator Language communities In-country review Vendor qualification/trusted translators Translators selected on the “sales” skills to the vendor manager Community facilitator Project consultant, answer-man, project sage Community of translators Project communities In-country consultant Bad translators “voted off the island by the community” Translators selected based on their relationship to the community

Table 1: People-related issues for collaborative translation.
Source: Common Sense Advisory, Inc.

Process: improving project management through communities
Thomas Edison said that genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. In the language business this means that brute force, silver bullets and superheroes account for the

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delivery of most successful projects. In contrast, collaborative translation requires a lot of preparation and organization before a project starts: setting up communities, sourcing the best talent, providing training, configuring automated style and terminology tools, pre-translating material and populating TMs. These are just a few of the tasks involved in the planning stage of a project. With PCTP’s model of collaborative translation, the formula for success changes to 60% planning and preparation — and a mere 40% execution and delivery. The environment that the project manager creates will deal with parallel activities and processes executed in real time. For example, all translations done in the morning can be DTPed in the afternoon. Linguists can leverage work that their colleagues may have completed just minutes before in a real-time, centralized TM environment. A few core elements will drive changes in processes: ■ Self-correction. This is a fundamental shift that focuses on avoiding mistakes and collaboratively fixing any that show up in the process instead of trying to catch mistakes after the fact. ■ Issue tagging. Instead of reporting issues to the project manager, linguists can now tag and insert comments on the original

A company in Canada specializing in financial and legal translations has adopted a collaborative approach to handle its urgent translations and reports a significant increase in margins and a significant reduction in turnaround time without any effect on quality. A company in South America tells us that using consultants to answer questions upfront instead of reviewers to catch mistakes not only improved morale among translators, but most importantly productivity. Large companies like Oracle and SAP have spent a lot of money creating environments that allow them to develop in multiple languages at the same time. What is fascinating today is that any company can use free tools to achieve the same outcomes. In fact, our favorite story is the localization marathon by 70 people who localized the user interface and help files for OpenOffice into Macedonian over a long weekend.

Technology: leveraging automation
This vision of a world where translations are done more efficiently and more profitably is only possible because of innovative technologies that are widely available today, often for free. In short, translation will happen on the web, all the time, by the best linguists available regardless of location or ownership of desktop translation tools. In one sense, it’s not so much that translation is changing, but the technology infrastructure evolving as Web 2.0 allows collaboration, asynchronous processes, and remote operations is much more flexible and reliable than it ever was. Today’s technology literally allows a follow-the-sun, 24x7x365 translation community. Collaborative translation will be an easy conversion for some fast-moving translation shops, but many others will resist the substantive changes in process and staffing that it requires. Companies that are courageous or entrepreneurial enough to take a new approach can distinguish themselves. And this faster, agile, collaborative approach might be the best way to answer the number-one question from clients: “How are you different from the other 5,000 translation agencies out there?” M

Conventional Wisdom
Success = 10% inspiration + 90% perspiration Sequential process Asynchronous process Catch mistakes after the fact Silos of knowledge The fewer translators, the better to avoid mistakes and ensure consistency Comments flow back to the PM (single point of failure) Authoring happens outside the system Price per word More words, more money regardless of actual effort

How Translation Will Happen
Success = 60% planning + 40% execution Parallel/simultaneous activities Synchronous process executed in real time Avoid mistakes but collaboratively fix any that show up in the process Collaboration The more translators, the better — consistency is ensured by systems and more eyes to catch mistakes Tagging allows information to be shared by all involved in project Translation is an integral part of the authoring process Bonus and incentives program to stimulate change Compensation reflects contributions to the process that are not necessarily tied to translated words (answers, clarifications, edits and so on)
Source: Common Sense Advisory, Inc.

Conventional Wisdom
E-mail/telephone

How Translation Will Happen
Discussion group, chat, social and professional network, Skype, Wiki, Groove

Desktop TM applications Next-generation TM tools from suppliers such as Trados and Déjà such as Alchemy, Elanex, KCSL, Lingotek, Vu Lionbridge, and XML-INTL Style guides Writing coaches such as acrocheck and AuthorAssistant Ajax in-context translation environment leveraging augmented transition networks: live online TM available to the entire community; on-demand MT

Table 2: Process-related issues for collaborative translation.

document, thus helping translators in other languages who might otherwise face the same difficulties. Collaboration facilitates the elimination of silos of knowledge and makes the whole system or community smarter and more efficient. ■ Economic incentives. We don’t believe that the per-word/ per-line/per-page model will change anytime soon. Collaboration, however, allows bonuses to reflect contributions to the process such as value-add answers, clarifications, and edits.

Standalone TM

Standalone desktop content creation tools such as Word and FrameMaker

Open documents; XML everywhere; DITA

Table 3: Technology-related issues for collaborative translation.
Source: Common Sense Advisory, Inc.

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