The boom in globalisation gives firms tremendous opportunities, particularly as the internet means that selling and marketing to growing economies is easier than ever.
Translation software technology can help support growth abroad but has traditionally been difficult to use, and in budget-constrained departments has struggled to demonstrate return on investment.
It’s still the case that translation software is not perfect but its promise is compelling, especially for companies with a need to reuse information. The software can add an economy of scale by getting translations correct first time – usually with the assistance of experts – and applying the same terminology to subsequent documents. Most of the world’s population does not speak English fluently and technical language can be complex even when it comes from a native speaker. Translating often means that subtleties are lost and there can be unforeseen consequences: the long words of German can mean document overspills, for example.
Using software at least saves time and so-called translation memory technology offers a way to spot and store phrases so that consistency improves and more reuse is possible. Supporters of the sector claim that about 80 per cent of content can now be automated. Costs are cut, review time is reduced and there is superior control of processes.
However, although translation and global information management technology would appear to be of paramount importance to firms of all sizes as they expand on a global basis and publish sales and marketing literature, support documents and so on, it has typically been a hard sell. CIOs have struggled to get the importance of the seemingly ‘bolt-on’ technology across to the board, despite its obvious (to those in the know) benefits.
As well as ease-of-use issues, there is a variety of standards in the area, the market has taken a while to mature, and unlike many pieces of software, translation tools have never been truly automated, always requiring a keen set of human eyes to monitor and assess its work.
So is translation software an expensive folly? Not according to experts in the field who say translation tools can actually -improve, advance and empower the CIO, and become a key factor in organisations’ global plans.
Mick MacComascaigh, research director at analyst firm Gartner, believes that not only are the tools necessary if a firm is to expand, but they are also great enablers in other ways.
“The role of the CIO will change because of [translation software],” he argues. “It will bring the ‘I’, for Information, back to the role. Rather than just being an administrator or datacentre manager, the CIO will be able to stop thinking about processes and start to think about how the firm gets more return on its information.”
MacComascaigh adds that translation will help the CIO play a strategic role in overseeing international expansion.
“Getting globalisation and localisation right in a smooth way will be key to this,” he says. “Translation is huge for CIOs. Localisation and content management will accelerate the path to the board for the software, but the CIO must come up with the technical recognition and selection of products to drive business, not just do -business. In order to do this satisfactorily, they need to start with a goal in mind, and work backwards.”
Paul Hampton, product marketing manager at SDL, a leading software provider in the translation arena, agrees. In order for a firm to be able to show a return on investment, he says, they must consider all elements of their expansion, and especially the local languages involved. Because of this, he advises firms against launching into areas where they cannot support the language, or can only support it in a pidgin format. Fortunately, advances in technology such as building in reporting tools have made this much simpler to achieve, and, made it easier for CIOs to calculate their effectiveness.
“Global businesses need to provide localised services,” Hampton says. “Customers want everything available in their local language and for the business, consistency within the brand is key. You need a consistent customer experience and if you can manage it effectively you can do much more to enhance the user experience. But you have to approach it step by step to show a return on investment and until recently translation couldn’t really be reported on. But now, with reporting, you get a clear return on investment. That means that it has to be shown to be providing a good service.”
Keith Jackson, head of publishing at electronic products distribution firm Premier Farnell, says that when his firm first began using translation software, it suffered slightly from an early inability to see a return on investment.
“When we started to use translation software, we couldn’t show any savings from using it, just cost. I had to say, ‘If we don’t look to the future now, we will have a much bigger bill ahead of us’.
“It was hard to get it through to the boardroom but when we looked at expanding into new markets, translation was always a potential bottleneck. Being able to solve that got the CEO, and the board, on-board”.
SDL’s Hampton adds that traditionally the board has not had a good understanding of the benefits of the software, and indeed has rarely had its benefits explained to them, “Translation software has never really been shown to have a key impact on the business,” he says.
However, some firms have been using the software for years, and already see it as an integral part of their business.
Fred Hollowood, head of language research and deployment at Symantec, says that translation software is now a standard business tool at the security software giant. “Symantec is a global company, and we have been doing translation for many years. Globalisation is an expectation. You have to be able to handle 20-plus languages to do business,” he says.
Hollowood says buy-in from management is crucial: “It has to be important to the people at the top.”
MacComascaigh agrees that it is important that the CIO has a good understanding of how to make translation software relevant to the firm as a whole. “We have seen a number of trends sweep the business market,” he says. “The consumerisation of content management combined with a high demand for localised content means that we have seen a transition in translation. It has gone from being a project concern to a requirement.
“It’s a trend that is discussed in the boardroom because translation and localisation are needed to achieve goals. This is fortunate as, if it was in isolation, it would have taken a lot of time for it to move up to the boardroom. Until recently, that is what it has been: an aside, or an afterthought. But in the last year and a half there has been a real acceleration.”
MacComascaigh advises CIOs to stress the software’s potential effect on the company’s global image. “Link the benefits of [the software] to the high-level business goals of the company. Think about your brand consistency: for all firms, brand is all important, as is the message behind it. A combination of content management and localisation, and the ability to control this through a consistent channel is essential to the strength of any brand.”
Translation tools can also improve the standing of the CIO as they can be used to show how other areas of the business can be made to run smoother. At both Symantec and Premier Farnell, the tools had unexpected benefits, not least in the time taken for the firms to perform what in retrospect seem like onerous tasks.
Both companies have aggressive global plans, and for each, the ability to communicate with a large, disparate audience had involved a lot of man-hours and a load on company systems.
Translation in Action
Uses of translation software are generally quite broad but most firms use it for internationalisation of websites, knowledge bases, sales, marketing and support documents. Here are some examples:
Lincolnshire County Council uses Systran software to translate web content in 10 languages. The county has many Polish and other eastern European residents, who often work on local farms. Without automating the process, Lincolnshire says that human translation of even 10 per cent of its website would cost over £100,000 per year, “which we simply can’t justify”. Pages are currently available in French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin, Chinese, Russian and Polish, and Lincolnshire also plans audio and magnified content in foreign languages.
Chip giant Intel and customer relationship management software firm Salesforce.com use SDL’s technology and services to translate website content into multiple languages. Intel claims it is able to leverage over 80 per cent of existing content.
Electronics goods maker Bosch says that it has developed a ‘terminology portal’ that ensures consistency over 23 languages
Network equipment maker Avaya says it has improved efficiency by 30 per cent by automating translation of content in 35 languages.
Car maker Volkswagen uses SDL software to provide personalised owner manuals in local languages.
Database software giant Oracle uses Systran software on the Oracle.com website to allow customers to translate documents.
Avon and Somerset Constabulary uses Systran software in information kiosks to translate help information in 14 countries.
Ectaco makes handheld devices that help travelers with language problems when abroad.
Premier Farnell’s Jackson says, “It used to take us 120 emails to get one piece of content right, and this was for 23 countries.” Symantec’s Hollowood adds, “We got 200 emails down to 20. If you consider that we sent 7000 marketing messages last year, you can see what a saving that is.”
Translation software will never completely replace people, but with so many firms seeking to take advantage of new economies which are growing faster than mature markets, the time for CIOs to sit up and take note has come.