Thursday, August 12, 2010

Innovation in Localization

I recently had a series of impromptu, spontaneous chats with Renato Beninatto on various issues affecting the professional translation and localization world. These are now being presented as short videos on MilengoTV. I thought it might be useful to expand on the themes we discuss in the video in this blog. Our last discussion was focused on innovation in localization. (There is also an older presentation by Renato (with FR and BrPt subtitles) that has been very popular where he touches upon innovation).

Some of the key points we make in this chat:
  • There is very little innovation in the localization world
  • Generally, industry outsiders are the most likely innovators in many markets. Often insiders are too timid and preoccupied with preservation of the old way and don’t want to rock the boat
  • Google and Asia Online are innovators for the translation industry and Madcap has also been innovative in the multilingual CMS space
  • Innovation comes from people who look at the basic industry problems from a different angle 
  • It is important to look at problems with a really new eye, like a child, not being afraid to ask stupid questions
  • Some innovation comes from simply looking at new problems that may be related but yet quite different
  • The new problem for the translation industry is the ever growing stream of content that demands to be translated, quickly and efficiently. What production models make sense for this? 
This theme of “projectless” localization, or “translation as a utility” is something that is beginning to gain some momentum.  Translation as a utility is a concept describing an always-on, on-demand, streaming translation service that can translate high value streams of content at acceptable quality for reasonable rates. And this is more than just MT. It is a man-machine and process alignment that allows agile, efficient and continuous response. As far as I can tell, there is not much in the market today that can claim this and I expect the urgency will only grow.  I have written about the driving forces behind this trend previously in:
The Data Deluge and the Growing Need for Innovation

So what might looking at the same problem in new ways involve?

This was covered to some extent in The Coming Disintermediation and Disruption in the Translation Industry conversation between Renato and Bob, but I think there are probably several other dimensions to this:

  • New Production Models: More workflow automation, customized MT integrated into production workflow, increasing process and inter-agency automation and connections
  • New Collaboration Models: Professional and amateur (community and crowdsourcing) working together in the supply chain to create new eco-systems to take on really high volume projects
  • New Tools & Processes: Language asset management, concordance, the web as a dictionary, collaborative sharing of language assets, integration with customer data and information infrastructure, solid and robust linguistic data interchange standards that are strictly adhered to.
  • New Products & Offerings: Translation of customer communication streams in support and social networks, SMS translation, High value knowledge silo translation and high quality just-in-time translations.
For any of this to happen, it is necessary to break away from the software and documentation localization (SDL ;-)) mindset that rules the industry today. The biggest translation industry opportunities lie elsewhere. Innovation by definition carries with it uncertainty and risk. Any idea about which we are confident is probably not very innovative. The innovators who figure out how best to develop translation solutions for the growing content  “stream”, are likely to be less invested in the old model and may not even be part of the professional translation industry today.

The Consortium for Service Innovation has considered this issue for some time and share some wonderful nuggets of information and advice on innovation. Here are some excerpts from the CSI site and a BCG study on Innovation:
  • Innovation is more about culture and values and not about process.
  • Innovation is an inherently human activity. If you want to innovate faster, you have to learn faster.
  • Innovation requires a level of trust (humor is a strong indicator of trust) and a respect for diverse perspectives, it is about people and interaction
  • Senior executives are often major roadblocks to innovation because they have no innovation education, are risk-averse and are control freaks
  • The emerging world, long a source of cheap labor, now rivals the rich countries for business innovation with India and China leading the way in “frugal” innovation
  • The BCG also points out that changing business models is also an approach in When the game gets tough, change the game.
“The good news is that customer-led innovation is predictably successful. The bad news is many managers and executives don’t yet believe in it” – Patty Seybold

And some tips on on creating an innovative culture:
  • Alignment to a compelling purpose and a set of values replaces command and control thinking
  • Learning is more important than success or failure
  • Removing the arbitrary boundary that keeps your customer out of your business and find ways to make their presence persistent
  • Recognize the importance of collaboration and focus on continuously increasing the number and the diversity of players
  • Innovative leaders are comfortable with ambiguity.
  • Develop knowledge management systems to capture organizational learning
  • Remember that there are a lot more smart people outside your company than inside it
However, having said all that, the most disruptive innovation often seems to come from those who focus on new problems rather than improving the old ways e.g. Microsoft with PCs left IBM in the dust and Google in turn left Microsoft completely unaware of the power of new free+ads value creation models. The big disruptors all focused on new problems. I think we are at a turning point and this time of change is a great opportunity for innovators. Many of us seem to sense this and evolution demands it.

So here’s to finding the fundamental new translation problem.

And for those of you wondering what other major trends are likely to affect us as we figure this much out, take a look at this video (40 minutes+) for some insight from David Siegel on how the next wave of the web’s evolution (which is sometimes called the semantic web) might evolve. More change coming.

1 comment:

  1. Great interview. Thank you Kirti.
    I agree with most of the insights besides:
    "Innovation is more about culture and values and not about process."