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October 25, 2007 

 Q&A: InterPro Translation CEO Ralph Strozza on Translation Tools, Costs 9/18/2007
The mission of Going Global, which appears on MidwestBusiness.com on most Tuesdays, is to educate and inform Midwest technology companies on what local technology companies are doing internationally so other firms can learn from the successes of like-minded peers.

CHICAGO Ė In part three of a three-part Q&A, InterPro CEO Ralph Strozza spoke with Michael Muth about translation tools, keeping up with changes and costs associated with translation.

Michael Muth: Do translation tools interact more or less with humans today?
Ralph Strozza: From the language point of view, humans are as necessary as they ever were. Technology can enable it to be done faster and better. For example, one online help system weíre localizing has more than 12,000 files. We have processes for preparing files for translation that can be done in an automated fashion with our own proprietary tools.

Machine translation is a totally different beast. I know of people who will go to Babel Fish and use the output from that site. As they donít know about language, they go ahead and put it on their Web site because they donít view it as costing anything. As a language service provider, Babel Fish in my opinion does more harm than good.

If clients donít know anything about language, why should they pay for it if they can get it free on the Web? It also delays the process for both the client and for us to reach their target market by projecting the image they want to project. The client will then come back to us back months later to get it done the right way.

Itís embarrassing for them when they learn about the bad quality of what they got automatically. It hurts more than it helps. Itís not rampant because businesspeople are generally smarter that that. Still, we do get people who take a look at our quote and compare that to getting it done for free. Why should they pay for it? They eventually find out why.

MM commentary: Itís best to think of localization as a service rather than a product like Babel Fish.

MM: Can clients carry translation memory banks from vendor to vendor?
RS: Yes. They can even specify the format they want. We can provide proprietary Trados format files if the client has or is going to purchase Trados.

If it needs to be application independent, we can export it to a text-only format that basically provides the source-language segments and corresponding target-language segments. This file can then be imported into another tool. Itís very rare that a client asks for it. For us, we specify it as a project deliverable.

MM commentary: If I were a client, Iíd guard my translation memories just as closely as my original content. Itís the same thing (just in different languages).

MM: Web sites are changing quickly. How do you keep up?
RS: Everything is a little different. Things change on a daily basis. Littlefuse uses a proprietary, custom-made content management system (CMS). When thereís a change they want to have translated into multiple languages, we receive an auto-generated e-mail message with a link to where on the Web site the change is taking place.

We also receive specifications on which languages the content needs to be translated to. We have a dedicated project manager who receives the e-mail, locates the content, puts it into a Trados-usable format, sends it out to our partners and posts the final translation for review by Littelfuseís in-country staff.

Once approved, we then post the translation to the Web site. This entire process usually happens in less than 24 hours. In general, clients donít want everything translated on their Web sites mostly because of cost concerns. Decisions on what needs translating are usually made overseas.

MM commentary: Though it doesnít happen instantaneously, the process is getting nearly to real-time to allow for a little human intervention.

MM: What are the indirect costs of globalization, internationalization, localization and translation (GILT) most decision makers miss?
RS: They miss a lot. The person will compare a quote of 21 cents per word to a quote of 8 cents per word for the same language and the same number of words. What do they miss here? The reason youíre paying less is some services that are assumed to be included may simply not be happening at that price.

For example, there is a level of technical knowledge required when translating hot keys or resource files for an application software user interface. When the translation gets delivered to the client, it may be handed over to software engineers to be compiled. There may be lots of errors in the less-expensive translation.

The clientís software engineers (who are not inexpensive) are then assigned to fix the technical errors.

That per-word cost of 8 cents has now become 18 cents. Clients will often then go through an internal, in-country quality assurance process that ends up taking longer and at greater cost. The per-word price of 18 cents has now reached 24 cents. Delays also cost money.

How much is it worth to launch your product on time? How much does it cost not to launch on time? You need to start generating revenue now rather than later. All these costs do not get calculated because you donít normally see an invoice for in-house costs. Decision makers are usually looking at the per-word cost. Period.

MM commentary: The argument is to let the professionals with proven processes do it to avoid large opportunity costs, which can be much more expensive than the quoted costs.

MM: Why shouldnít a global company just send their GILT work to their local offices?
RS: At SSA, I worked with our in-country distributors who in turn worked with professional, local translators. In Egypt, translation had to be done because users required an Arabic version. It had to be done right. If it wasnít up to snuff, the distributor couldnít sell it. Having internal resources take care of translation causes problems if they arenít professional translators.

Unless their main job is translation, itís just another task added to an already overburdened workload. Do they understand English well enough to translate from it to their native language?

Can they write their own language correctly? Just because youíre a native speaker of a language doesnít mean you speak it well, are qualified to translate into it or have adequate writing skills. They donít use translation tools and theyíre not trained translators. They are translating when they should be taking care of more urgent client requirements.

MM commentary: Again, let the specialists who have proven experience do it.

MM: GILT has a reputation for being expensive. What are the alternative opportunity costs?
RS: They donít realize what the real cost is of not doing it. When IBM released the first PC in 1981, do you know how much revenue they lost because they didnít have the user documentation translated when they launched in Europe?

They lost revenue for several months because of laws on the books that required products and supporting documentation to be available in local languages. As those who translate with internal resources donít get an invoice for translation services, they donít perceive that thereís a cost associated with having it done.

MM commentary: While the cost of lost time canít be accurately calculated, it is significant.

MM: You lived and worked abroad. How has that helped you?
RS: The most positive aspect of living abroad was that it allowed me to gain another perspective. Most of my work experience while living abroad was in France and Italy. I learned two main things. First of all, I learned how to work in partnership.

There was a strong emphasis on not working alone. ďWhat can we do together?Ē was the motto. It spilled over onto the client side. It was the same at IBM in Paris (much more so than in the U.S.). I was shocked when I returned to the U.S. and saw the extent to which people worked as independent, separate cells.

The other thing I learned was the importance of language to people at all levels (even with people who werenít considered highly educated). I lived with a family in France while I was studying there whose level of education was no more than high school.

In the middle of a conversation, you would ask about a correct word choice or usage and they would haul out the family dictionary and research the right word. It was the same with my Italian in-laws. Using language correctly was very important to them. They really took it seriously.

People respect you especially if youíre an American who can speak another language. If you speak it well, they put you on a pedestal. Theyíre very grateful if you make the attempt to speak their language because itís so important to them. Weíve got such a long way to go in this country before we get to that level.

MM commentary: ďGaining another perspectiveĒ cannot be underestimated. Getting inside the heads of foreigners and learning their values and how they make decisions takes time. Most of us havenít taken the time to learn different business cultures. These are best learned living and working abroad.

MM: How does your French-, Italian- and Spanish-speaking ability help you at work?
RS: It makes you very credible in that you can understand the problems involved in working with languages. If you were talking to someone about a computer language, youíre going to put more stock into what they say if theyíre a programmer. If you know a language, you can better understand the problems inherent in working with them and the solutions.

The soldiers (not the chiefs) are the language speakers because theyíre getting the work done. The higher up you go, the less likely you are to find someone who speaks additional languages. Itís also very satisfying to be able to work with our partners and speak with them in their language. Itís very much a differentiator.

They all speak English, but if they have a real problem, itís comforting to them that they can revert to speaking in their native language. It also helps me to be credible with my employees. For the languages I know, the project managers will come to me with questions and to ask my opinion. Theyíre more likely to come to you if they know you can understand the problem and help them in coming up with the solution.

MM commentary: When I lived and worked in Germany for a couple years, I gained much more trust and respect from German businesspeople when they recognized that I could speak German well. As I tried to speak in Polish when I spent six months in Poland, at least they appreciated my attempt.

Michael Muth is managing director of GATA, an international business development consultancy that helps technology companies build international partnerships. He can be reached at muth@midwestbusiness.com.
Click here for Muthís full biography.

Previous Columns in 2007:
Q&A: InterPro Translation CEO Ralph Strozza on Globalization, Translation (9/11/2007)
Q&A: InterPro Translation CEO Ralph Strozza on Intercultural Translation Issues (8/7/2007)
Q&A: Madison Capital Partners CEO Larry W. Gies on Specific Country Issues (7/10/2007)
Q&A: Madison Capital Partners CEO Larry W. Gies Jr. on Cultural Differences (6/26/2007)
Q&A: Madison Capital Partners CEO Larry Gies on International Private Equity (6/11/2007)
Q&A: Scott H. Lang of S.H. Lang & Co. in Chicago on Foreign Deal Making (5/15/2007)
Q&A: Scott H. Lang of S.H. Lang & Co. in Chicago on Middle-Market M&A (5/8/2007)
Q&A: Scott H. Lang of S.H. Lang & Co. in Chicago on Middle-Market Firms (4/24/2007)
Q&A: George Filley of NAVTEQ in Chicago on Data Localization, Reach (3/27/2007)
Q&A: George Filley of NAVTEQ in Chicago on Partners, Personal Privacy (3/20/2007)
Q&A: George Filley of NAVTEQ in Chicago on Digital Mapping (3/7/2007)
Click for 2006 column archive.
Click for 2005 column archive.
Click for 2004 column archive.

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