Translation cycles are short and getting shorter, meaning work needs to be turned around quicker. A good way of achieving this is by automating project workflows and cutting down on the time spent processing translation projects. Much has been said about lean project management, but what does it really mean for the translation production cycle as a whole?
Translation management systems are the primary means by which language service providers (LSPs) streamline and automate their project management processes, and many of these systems include an online interface.
There are online systems built by LSPs for their clients where multilingual content is managed and language resources are maintained. There are online vendor management portals where new jobs are offered to a pool of translators. There are translation project management portals for scheduling and tracking projects. And there are financial portals where bookkeeping for orders and invoices is managed.
As an LSP working with 400 other translation companies, we have seen a few of these. In fact, STP uses portals for over 170 clients. Some of these are great, but we have also worked with many that are unwieldy and convoluted.
This is why it took us a few years to develop our own supplier portal, STP Passport, which has just been launched. Our guiding light in the development of Passport was the vision of creating a supplier portal that is as intuitive and easy to use as possible.
Passport doesn’t have game-changing functionality, but what it does do, it does well. It allows our suppliers to update their profile and availability, accept and view translation projects they are offered, and invoice their work quickly and with minimal fuss. Crucially, it makes it easier for us to turn projects around quickly.
So we’re on the portal bandwagon now as well. It’s not difficult to see the attraction of automating workflows and using online systems from the buyer’s or the LSP’s point of view. Ease of buying language services is one of the key benefits that Multi-Language Vendors (MLVs) use as a differentiator when talking to their clients.
It is at the production end where the shiny portals and much-lauded automation start causing problems. We know how time-consuming it can be to process projects in multiple portals: the viewing, accepting, downloading, uploading, delivering and invoicing can be a complicated process. Automation often benefits the buyer and the first tier, but falls flat at the production end.
A solution that is meant to make a process simpler and faster cannot be called lean until it is lean throughout the entire production chain.
Portals are also touted as a way of cutting down on translation costs. Some MLVs build and promote translation marketplaces where everything below them in the supply chain is left for the quickest and cheapest to grab. Where should the development of portals and marketplaces end?
I don’t think we should stop when the buyer is satisfied, or at project management level. Let’s develop online systems that minimise the production steps at all levels. Let’s develop systems that can be connected to others via APIs. Systems that are simple and intuitive to use for the buyers, the LSPs and the translators.
But let’s stop short of the cheapest and quickest. Let’s use our online systems and portals to create lean translation management workflows, not to compromise on the quality of the translations we produce or the calibre of the people producing them.