Shall We Become Transparent About Quality in Localization?

transparency has multiple facets

At the TAUS Quality Evaluation Summit in Dublin on June 8, 2016, a panel led by Antonio Tejada (Capita TI) discussed the topic of transparency in localization at large – and in multilingual content quality management in particular. The panelists who contributed to this discussion – and the co-authors of the below article – are Antonio Tejada himself, Anna Woodward Kennedy (Chillistore Technologies), Attila Görög (TAUS), Jeremy Clutton (Lingo24), and our own Kirill Soloviev (ContentQuo), who has also served as the article’s editor. 

The translation industry remains fragmented. Even today in our disintermediated era there are multiple participants in the same translation/localization workflow. Each participant (from the buyer through MLVs and SLVs down to the translator) has information that is not being shared up and down the stream. Yet, data on the impact, quality and productivity of translations is extremely useful to ensure efficiency and showcase the credibility of our industry.

Still, this type of information often remains a secret – or gets lost in the labyrinth of translation processes – because the mindset and the tools to unlock this data are lacking within companies. Why don’t we finally become transparent about the figures? And about our own quality and productivity and impact? An increasing number of buyers and their vendors, vendors and their translators have decided to collaborate on improving quality and productivity by offering each other full transparency, with mutual benefits.

At the QE Summit in Dublin, TAUS managed to gather several advocates of transparency from different parts of our industry for a comprehensive panel discussion of the topic: a localization industry veteran executive, an owner and operations director of a language quality services company, a global account director for a tech-savvy mid-sized LSP, and a co-founder of a technology startup focused on outcome-based localization quality management.

The panel was followed by a break-out session later in the day, where panelists were joined by like-minded audience members willing to discuss challenges with implementing transparent practices in their own translation & localization programs. Here’s a glimpse of the ideas that have been covered.

Why is transparency so important in localization?

Because localization is a complex system and it’s the only way to optimize it

Transparency enables a holistic view of this system that’s required to achieve optimal performance. If we only focus on a few of localization subsystems (downstream processes) and/or super-systems (upstream processes) while ignoring the rest, we can all too easily fall into a trap called “local optimization”: improving the performance of a single component while degrading the overall performance of the whole system. To prevent that, transparent sharing of data from all system levels is essential: it’s the only thing that allows us to truly understand all parts of the system and their relationships.

Because entire localization supply chain can strongly benefit from it

Each stakeholder, from customer-side management/sales/marketing teams to individual freelance linguists, already has valuable information to share with the rest of their business colleagues – but they seldom do. This information, when properly aggregated and equally distributed, has the potential to inform strategic decisions both for LSPs (because they will better understand what’s actually happening with their customers and with their suppliers) and for enterprises (because they can use it to influence budget allocation for their globalization efforts).

Because delivering real value to translation customers requires it

Transparency clears the confusion between translation buyers and translation vendors during the purchasing process, especially in a scenario with multiple competing offers around price, service, and quality levels. It also focuses the discussion on what the customer is hoping to achieve with translation (i.e. the value it will bring to her business) and build a tailored service offering (as opposed to only considering internal industry concepts such as process details – these might not make much sense, especially for less mature buyers).

What are some examples of data that we want to share transparently?

Sharing data about quality and productivity of localization projects already seems like a given, and is within easy reach of most companies nowadays: TAUS Quality Dashboard and other complementary tools already provide an easy and affordable way to do that. However, there are also many more subtle – and sometimes more important – data points that are not yet being explored enough.

For example, translation buyers’ global business goals. Customers seldom buy translations in a vacuum. Instead, they buy translations because they want to achieve a specific goal – be it sales, growth, employee engagement, risk management, or compliance. Each vertical and company will have a different set of drivers, and being able to have an understanding of the goal can help the language service provider match up with the outcome and deliver what’s right for the client.

Then there is the actual impact of translations on company’s global expansion metrics. In the digital world, it’s relatively easy to access and compare business outcome measurements that are driven by translated content (such as conversion, engagement, and even sales – e.g. in eCommerce) – for any language and country where a product, service, or piece of content is made available. Compare localization services to dentist’s services: if a dentist’s work has helped you cure your toothache, would you ever consider hiding this fact from her? If not, then why are we still not sharing the numbers confirming successful (and occasionally failed) outcomes of localization with our translation supply chains?

Being open about translators allows the supply chain to be efficient (for example, by significantly speeding up the linguist-sourcing process for rare language/subject matter combinations). Localization vendors that still cling to carefully chosen translators as their most prized possession (and a key to a particular client) will likely find themselves outsmarted by vendors who know how to add value to customers with other means, as well as by dis-intermediating solutions like translator marketplaces soon.

Too often, quality assurance efforts focus on showcasing deficiencies in translation. Negative feedback frequently passes through supply chains in a rather transparent fashion, unhindered. However, offering praise on a translation that was well done can work wonders for translators’ morale and motivation. So it makes perfect business sense to deliver it more often. TAUS DQF even offers a dedicated issue category for “kudos” – use it to compliment your translators today!

What barriers exist to transparency?

It’s the year 2016 now, with Internet of Things and Big Data marching loudly across the increasingly digital and interconnected planet – and localization has to keep up. Yet, in many ways, our industry still follows a mindset that dates back to the 1980s – when printing multilingual user manuals for a microwave was a still thing, and when storing, analyzing, and sharing even moderate volumes of data was practically impossible.

Freelance linguists have been so subdued for decades that it takes tremendous effort to simply have them respond to the rest of the virtual project team and start taking part in discussions as basic as saying “Hello!”

Silos inside organizations are unfortunately typical, especially in larger companies, and hinder the most basic kind of transparency: internal transparency (which is supposed to be easier than sharing across organizational boundaries!). Arduous evangelization is required to pull all these people out of their shells and get them to collaborate and share, as everyone seems to have some little secrets they are not keen on parting with.

After you invest significant efforts to achieve transparent relationships with an important stakeholder, they sometimes disappear (e.g. leave the company, or a new vendor joins in their place) – and you have to start the evangelizing work from scratch. If a new stakeholder has a different level of visibility into privileged corporate information (e.g. a contractor), you might not even be in a position to share the required data anymore.

What’s in it for me, the localization professional?

Transparency allows buyer-side localization managers to become champions for global business expansion

Talking about localization impact on business outcomes is key to making that happen, but it requires transparent access to relevant data and infrastructure. How do I make localization not just efficient but effective, and maximize value-for-money for my company or my customer? That’s the real question that today’s localization leaders have to answer convincingly if they seek to remain relevant in the convergence era heralded by TAUS.

Transparency empowers individual linguists and enriches their jobs

By becoming an openly acknowledged and transparently accessible element of large virtual project teams, they get a chance at working much deeper with larger numbers of important stakeholders on more complex and fulfilling tasks (as opposed to simply being an anonymous line item in some translation management system).

Transparency enables LSPs to build longer-lasting and more profitable business relationships with their customers

After all, what agency doesn’t dream of being able to clearly show how much its translations have contributed to its customers’ top line?

Are there situations where transparency might actually hurt?

In rare individual occasions, being transparent has a risk of negatively impacting the global team’s morale, but only if not handled carefully enough. Examples of this are:

  • Employee performance assessments
  • Unclean, irrelevant, inconclusive, or incomparable data
  • Negative ROI (e.g. low sales in a country with continued localization investment)
  • Confusing being transparent with delegating authority for decisions (e.g. expecting a stakeholder to choose a localization process for you, as opposed to simply informing him of the choice made)

However, the benefits of transparency described above are infinitely more valuable, and making a manager’s job slightly more complex is never a good excuse for not harnessing transparency’s full power – as our panelists and break-out session members have all agreed upon.

We do hope that our own experience summarized in this article was useful – and encourage you to take a step towards making your own localization programs and relationships more transparent starting right now, today!


This article is part of the TAUS Keynotes 2016 Summer e-Book. Republished in ContentQuo Blog under permission from TAUS. Download your copy of the full e-Book to get an expert overview of the present-day challenges and forward-thinking solutions for the global translation industry and multilingual content supply chains.

Published by

Kirill Soloviev

Co-Founder & Head of Product at ContentQuo