Translation Companies Aren’t Good at Translating Themselves

I read today that the translation firm RWS Group has changed its name to ENLASO Corporation. Now I understand that the letters RWS hardly roll off the tongue, but is ENLASO any major improvement?

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According to the press release, the new name “was created to convey the nature of the company’s enterprise language solutions, language experts, resources, and quality processes.”

Huh?

Will someone see the name ENLASO and think “enterprise language solutions”? I doubt it. While I don’t see the name change as a big step backwards, but it’s certainly not a big step forward. And redesigning the Web site, letterhead, business cards, etc. is not a trivial expense.

This announcement hits on a theme I’ve been returning to again and again over the years — translation agencies, with a few exceptions, do not speak the language of their customers.

When a customer says, “I want to globalize my Web site,” an agency will often reply, “You mean, you want to internationalize and then localize your Web site.” I started using the term Web globalization a long time ago simply because this was the one term that most customers understood; many people within the industry still resist using it. And did you know that the world’s second largest translation agency, Lionbridge, got its name by playing off the abbreviation for localization (L10n)?

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People within the industry know this, but I wonder how many of their customers know, or care.

The name business is tricky, and I could be wrong — ENLASO could be a hit. And it’s always good news for business card industry.

Life Sciences Translation Demand Booming

Bowne Global Solutions cites the results of a study it commisioned through Capgemini that finds translation demand booming in the life sciences industry. The ever-expanding European Union is driving this demand, as all medical devices and pharmaceuticals must be translated into the language of each member country.

Here are the most interesting findings from the study:

    Ninety percent of life sciences companies believe their need for translation services will increase during the next five years, and 23% of those companies expect their need to increase drastically, according to a new report produced by Capgemini, one of the world’s largest providers of consulting, technology and outsourcing services.

    Among survey respondents, 80% indicated that international markets comprise at least 25% of their total company revenue. This statistic reflects the foreign market growth that has exploded in recent years, driving demand for translation and localization service companies. However, despite the existence of translation firms, 77% of life sciences companies prefer to handle translation duties in-house, citing a desire to retain control of the process.

Naturally, Bowne wants more life sciences companies to outsource their translation work. And based on anecdotal feedback, Bowne has done an excellent job of winning over this industry. There are a number of smaller translation firms that specialze almost exclusively in the life sciences industry, but Bowne is bringing its massive scale to bear, and winning a growing number of accounts.

Siemens and Translation: Outsourcing vs. Insourcing

Large companies are in a constant state of flux about how to best manage translation. Should they do the work in house or should they outsource it to a translation agency? Ask any translation vendor and they will passionately tell you that outsourcing is the only way to go. Ask any in-house translation team and they will argue the opposite.

Some companies, such as Siemens, rely on a combination of both internal and external teams. As an $80 billion company, Siemens has plenty of translation work to go around. Although Siemens has had an internal translation division for years, it did not require its divisions to use them. Similarly, this internal translation team was not required to work only on Siemens projects; today, roughly 25% of its revenues are generated by non-Siemens work.

But this arrangement came to an end on April 7th, when Siemens formally spun off (or “carved out”) its translation agency. According to the press release, the move was part of Siemens’ “continuing strategy of concentrating on its core portfolio.” This new company is known as LS Language Services GmbH (www.ls-international.com). It has 20 employees and manages up to 70 different language pairs. In 2003, the company generated sales of 9 million euros — a very respectable figure for a firm this size.

I suspect that this move was largely driven by Siemens’ stated goal of reducing head count, but I also believe there are other factors at work here.

I spoke with Ilona Wallberg, head of sales and marketing at LS Language Services. Although LS Language Services is still owned by Siemens, she believes that it now has a degree of independence that will help it win new business. In the past, her company lost out on non-Siemens projects because of conflict-of-interest concerns. For instance, a telecoms vendor would naturally be reluctant to give translation work to a division of a company that it competes closely against.

Wallberg believes these concerns will be less of an issue now that her company has a new name and an independent business plan. She expects that in five years approximately 50% of the company’s revenues will be generated by non-Siemens work. She also believes her firm will expand its industry focus far beyond IT and telecoms.

So what does this development signify, if anything? Here are a few thoughts…

    Some skills may be better kept in house

    While I realize that companies are always looking for ways to reduce head count, I can’t help but wonder if Siemens is outsourcing a skill set that would be better off kept in house. Consider the value-added services that a translation division could provide to a large company, if it were effectively used. Translators and project managers could educate the many marketing and product development teams to better understand the cultural issues of each market and region. It could even provide high-level cultural and linguistic analysis of every new product name, color, positioning statement – just the types of services already being outsourced to naming and brand consultancies (many of which do not have global expertise).

    Granted, most in-house translation teams do not provide these types of services today. They translate text and manage print and electronic localization projects and that’s about it, which is why they are so easy to “carve out.” But I do believe these are the types of services that companies increasingly need and are not getting from their conventional translation agencies. This in turn opens the door to consultants (such as Byte Level Research).

    Who’s going to manage that Web site?

    LS Language Services is one of many handlers of the Siemens Web site. Wallberg notes that there are hundreds of people involved with updating content to the site and only a handful of those people are professional translators or project managers. Last year, in our Web Globalization Report Card, we gave the site a score of 62 on a scale of 1 to 100. The site clearly has room to improve, and I’m not convinced it will get there any faster by outsourcing all work. In fact, I believe it will be increasingly important to have full-time Web content managers in house to work hand-in-hand with product developers and marketing managers.

    Translation agencies are not viewed like advertising agencies – which is both good news and bad news for the industry

    In advertising, it is rare to find competitive companies using the same agency. For example, the agency that has the Verizon Wireless account won’t also have the AT&T Wireless account. Companies view their agencies as consultants or partners, privy to high-level strategic intelligence and planning.

    Now look at the translation industry. It is much more common for a translation agency to do work for competing companies simultaneously. Companies may have their concerns about such an arrangement, yet these concerns are not as frequently an issue. Non-disclosure agreements are signed, and that’s the end of it. On one hand, this is great news for a translation agency, as it can thrive by focusing on specific industries. But it is also bad news because it means that companies do not view translation agencies as highly as they view advertising agencies. In other words, a translation agency is akin to a print shop, not a partner.

World’s Largest Translation Agency Is Getting Larger

The BBC writes about the expanding translation demands of an expanding European Union. When 10 additional countries join the European Union on May 1st, they bring with them the demands of translating and interpreting nine additional languages. This is on top of the existing 11 languages the EU currently manages (and Turkish will be next).

The world’s largest commercial translation agency, Bowne Global Solutions, is a $200 million company. Compare that with the EU, which is about to devote more than $1 billion (US) to translation and interpreting.

Here are some interesting stats from the article:

    EU Translation: Before and After

  • European Commission has 1,300 translators
  • They process 1.5 million pages a year
  • They cost the EU 550 million euros

    After May 1st, staff will almost double in size:

  • They will translate 2.5 million pages a year
  • Their budget will be over 800 million euros

The article also touched on the challenges of interpreting. For example…

    The need for translation already takes away the cut and thrust of a normal parliamentary debate.

    When the Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, last year likened a German MEP to a Nazi camp guard, it took several seconds before the German realised he was being insulted and pulled off his headphones in disgust.

This is a great article, as it touches on so many issues. Some within the EU are calling for a common language. Naturally, English has been proposed, but the French will have none of that. Esperanto has even been proposed. I think it’s safe to say that for the foreseeable future, European translators and interpreters face a bright future.