Cloud Translation

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Presentation released at Translation Forum Russia 2011 in St. Petersburg during the conference opening session of September 23, 2011.

Presentation released at Translation Forum Russia 2011 in St. Petersburg during the conference opening session of September 23, 2011.

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  • 1. Cloud Translation<br />Abstract<br />Has the washing machine changed the world more than the Internet? Do the latest technological advances really free translators or just tether them to their desks more than before? Why should one consider switching to cloud computing? We will search an answer to these questions by discussing cloud computing and collaborative translation technology to make process simpler, lean, and parallel and face the new translation industry mantra of “cheaper, faster, and better” to meet the growth in volume, velocity, and volatility. Doing more with less costs more, and technology is not enough; it must always be coupled with people.<br />Wording<br />About six years ago, I went to the gap to buy a pair of jeans. I tend to wear my jeans until they’re falling apart, so it had been quite a while since my last purchase. A nice young salesperson walked up to me and asked if she could help.<br />“I want a pair of jeans—32–28,” I said.<br />“Do you want them slim fit, easy fit, relaxed fit, baggy, or extra baggy?” she replied. “Do you want them stonewashed, acid-washed, or distressed? Do you want them button-fly or zipper-fly? Do you want them faded or regular?”<br />I was stunned. A moment or two later I sputtered out something like, “I just want regular jeans. You know, the kind that used to be the only kind.” It turned out she didn’t know, but after consulting one of her older colleagues, she was able to figure out what “regular” jeans used to be, and she pointed me in the right direction.<br />The trouble was that with all these options available to me now, I was no longer sure that “regular” jeans were what I wanted.<br />Barry Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice, Why More Is Less<br />When Konstantin Dranch asked me to speak at this conference on cloud computing, my thoughts immediately went to the presentation I gave at the 6th EUATC conference in May. Then, I quoted a cue that Oscar Wilde made Lord Goring, the main character, say in An Ideal Husband: «I love talking about nothing. It is the only thing I know anything about.»<br />In fact, cloud computing is a vague and obscure term conveniently used to convey a poetic vision of the Internet and of something we already know and do. Is it just a buzz, then? Not exactly, because the underlying technologies are mature, but it may sound just like this, and talking about cloud computing may thus be like talking about nothing.<br />Then my thoughts went to Wernher von Braun, the German-American rocket scientist that led the development of the booster rocket that helped land the first men on the Moon. When he was asked what was the purpose of the moon race he used to say: «What is the purpose of a new born baby?»<br />Innovation is not simply the introduction of something new, it is a change effected by implementing an invention. Change revolves around innovation, and innovation-originated changes provide better results than any “invisible hand”.<br />Typically, the language services industry has a conservative approach to crises, and sees any change as a major change, with companies relentlessly seeking to cut costs. In an industry almost entirely based on outsourcing and freelancing, reducing staff is not a impractical solution to cut costs, so language services companies commonly resort to lowering pays and occasionally to technology. In fact, a recent Common Sense Advisory report showed that the translation industry is generally a low-tech industry where “do more with less” is an imperative that very few can follow.<br />It is ironic that the localization industry, specialized in adaptation and customization, has been insistent on its existing process model and is not adapting itself.<br />On the other hand, an innovative approach to crises relies on product innovation, which cannot but be very limited in a century-old activity. It could happen only with the so-called value-added services, and this partly explains why many still look at translation as a cost, and the consequent competition on prices.<br />Competing on prices also implies that compensations are no longer enough to retain the best resources, while, when too low, they could only attract the worst.<br />Vendors should compete on the scope of services and responsibilities, but this raises the range of services and the required skill set while exposing vendors to the client's organization.<br />Therefore, only process innovation can be effective, but standards and interchange are needed to build productive solutions. Developing standards, however, is not enough per se; standards should be defined, promoted, and used, while industry fragmentation slows down or even impedes their adoption.<br />Again, technology is used to streamline processes because the new translation industry mantra is “cheaper, faster, and better,” but doing more with less costs more, and technology is not enough. Technology can help increase volume and speed, but processes are made by and pivot on people. Therefore, the people in the translation industry must first redesign processes, but very few people in the translation industry are willing to repudiate their education.<br />If the last product innovation in the GILT industry dates back to two to three decades, the last input or organizational innovations are lost in the mist of time. Many market innovations have taken place, although all minor and pertaining to the business sphere. A few major innovations came, ça va sans dir, from information and communication technology.<br />The current technological shifts in communication are unprecedented. Today’s technology wonders make reality outpace the imagination of magic. For example, the first Harry Potter book appeared in 1997, just a year before Google launched its search engine. So Hermione Granger had to spend hours in the Hogwarts library to find out what a basilisk is or how to make a love potion, while the kids in the movie theater poked their parents with a «Why doesn’t she just Google it?»<br />Is the Internet changing the way we think? Is Google making us stupid?<br />According to Cambridge professor Ha-Joon Chang, the washing machine has changed the world more than the Internet. Nevertheless, when the washing machine was invented, there were people rallying that it was evil, others said that it would free women, while others claimed that its price would not pay out the price of the dozen books one just could buy.<br />Technological changes definitely influence work habits, and sometimes even radically change them.<br />What is happening today with information technology happened with printing presses that according to Erasmus would «fill the world with pamphlets and books that are foolish, ignorant, malignant, libelous, mad, impious and subversive.»<br />Let’s take the software market. The market of apps is growing rapidly, and so is the demand for localized apps. To meet this demand speed and readiness are prerequisites, more than knowledge and ability. Speed and readiness can be offered through community services enabling developers to start their localization projects in a matter of minutes, with a few clicks, with nothing to download or install.<br />At the moment, these services are possible via cloud computing only, with shared servers providing resources, software, and data on demand in a typical location-independent service-oriented architecture. It is an Internet-based IT service model, where virtualized resources are dynamically scaled and provided.<br />In fact, the term cloud is used as a metaphor for the Internet, based on the cloud drawing used to represent the Internet in computer network diagrams. The computing is in the cloud, i.e. the processing (and the associated data) is not in a specified, known, or static place. This is in contrast to a model in which the processing takes place in one or more specific servers that are known.<br />The spreading of cloud computing is a consequence of the ease of access to the Internet. More and more frequently it takes the form of web-based applications that users can access and use through a web browser as if they were installed locally on their own computer.<br />Generally, cloud computing customers simply consume resources as a service and pay only for the resources they use, with everything they need being out in a cloud on the Internet, where hundreds of machines are working together.<br />The typical cloud computing architecture is a three-layer reversed triangle.<br />The first layer is SaaS (Software as a Service): the software is delivered over the Internet (virtualized) by a provider licensing it to customers on demand, through a subscription; functionalities are used to augment or replace real world processes.<br />The second layer is PaaS (Platform as a Service): a runtime system and application platform available over the Internet with the sole purpose of hosting application software.<br />The third layer is IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service): traditional computing resources, such as servers, storage, and low-level network and hardware resources offered on demand over the Internet.<br />So why should one consider switching to cloud computing? The advantages of this model are:<br />Accessibility from anywhere, through an Internet connection;<br />No local server installation required;<br />Pay-per-use or subscription-based payment methods;<br />Rapid scalability;<br />Reliability;<br />System maintenance included in service.<br />Cloud computing helps to bypass wasted time, money, and product limitations on traditional business applications, achieving a more efficient, centrally controlled business, and allowing access to all applications from anywhere the Internet is available, without worries concerning servers, office space, power, etc.<br />In fact, capital expenditure is reduced by not having to purchase servers or full copies of software, while SaaS can be deployed more quickly as no local installation is required freeing up resources to focus on core business activities.<br />The model also presents a few drawbacks, from security and data integrity issues to the increased revenue cost of paying for the use of the services, from the dependence on Internet connection availability to the lower flexibility and the higher customization costs.<br />Anyway, cloud computing is a major innovation also in the translation industry, with a deep impact on organization, process, and market, opening the door to real collaborative translation.<br />Collaborative translation is not crowdsourcing that is just one model of many to leverage massive online collaboration for translation.<br />A major implementation consists in parallelized process instead of the typical serial approach found in most translation workflow systems. This approach resembles the assembly line, and it is why, in a Common Sense Advisory report of December 2007, Renato Beninatto and Don De Palma described collaborative translation as the end of taylorism in translation.<br />The new translation industry mantra is “cheaper, faster, and better”, coming from the impressive increase in technical and business content of today.<br />In a period of economic slowdown, companies apply strategies to reach new markets. Companies of all sizes and from all industries all over the world are being advised to find more international customers as fast as they can, and to increase their exports even faster as the economy becomes increasingly globalized and companies sell products and services in multiple markets. These strategies involve adding languages, and this partly explains why the content requiring translation is growing every year.<br />The content requiring translation is growing because of the unprecedented ease of content creation of the so-called Web 2.0. Nevertheless, most of this content is ephemeral and is not intended for commercial translation, but it also makes the number of customers grow.<br />Not only do companies apply strategies to release their products more quickly while adding more languages, they also strive for localization readiness, more agile development processes, and to reduce the amount of content or leverage it.<br />‎Even though the number of customers interested in translation is rising, in a period of economic slowdown their willingness and capacity of expenditure is limited. In addition, these customers mostly see translation as a commodity, and no one wants to spend much for a commodity that is believed, as such, to be available in large quantities without qualitative differentiation.<br />Commodities go through boom/bust cycles where high demand leads to overproduction. This causes prices to drop to unsustainable levels, with production capacities eventually diminishing again through neglect, and then the cycle starts over again.<br />To win the challenges of global business, a systematic re-thinking of the translation process is necessary.<br />The traditional translation process is a chain, as strong as its weakest link, and the longer the chain, the more weak links will be found in it. The supply chain in the professional translation industry still goes from the global enterprise content creator to the internal localization department to the MLV, to the SLV’s, to freelance translators who are the weak link in the supply chain. This means that the translation industry is still at a vendor management stage and makes LSP’s generally underdeveloped for a mature market.<br />Vendor management is the largest cost budget item that could be huge for companies with hundreds or thousands of vendors. It requires dedicated technology and staff and involves delicate tasks like quality assessment and several vendor managers to rotate to keep healthy relationships with vendors.<br />To keep pace with the changing situation, the translation process must become “agile”, and “cloud translation” could be a way.<br />A collaboration platform allows the client to minimize project management, and take on the role of facilitator, helping many-to-many communications, reducing e-mail transactions, capturing knowledge for immediate leverage, and providing a clear assignee at each project stage.<br />Cloud computing is the foundation for cloud translation, which exploits SaaS platforms for large scale pooling of translation professionals, terminologists, and domain experts, as well as for sharing linguistic data. These platforms could also serve as online marketplaces for translators where customers and translators can be connected directly or with a minimal intervention by a middle man, thus opening the way to disintermediation.<br />In a collaborative environment, not limited to crowdsourcing and social translation, name recognition and reputation are the equivalent of gold. For freelance translators they are the same as branding for companies.<br />Outbound marketing will still be necessary to reach prospective clients, but to build or improve their reputation in the industry, and disseminate their name, freelance translators could and maybe should use social media. The best use of social media is to share information, and spread views and opinions to be known and grow in authoritativeness: getting any referrals from colleagues could eventually result profitable even with customers.<br />Don’t be shy: «there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.»<br />Speak at conferences, seminars, and webinars. Run your own blog. Write for industry newsletters. Social media are especially useful when you volunteer for an association to keep in touch with colleagues you know and meet those you know not. You will build an invaluable experience that you will soon pour in your working life.<br />Translation technology has laid dormant for a decade or more because the largest translation buyers invested only in traditional translation technology. In the last few years they have been looking for further cost reductions through process optimization, and invested in workflow and content management software.<br />This led these very large translation buyers to fragment their translation projects. Therefore translation jobs are getting smaller and instantaneous, while clients are expecting vendors workflows to be tightly integrated into theirs.<br />And here come cloud computing and collaborative platforms whose essential flavor is scaling and parallelism. Projects are split into tiny chunks that are dispatched to the members of a community specifically set up for each project, who will process it concurrently. The work is kept unabridged since chunks are reassembled in real time. Scaling and parallelism can help reduce dramatically lead and turnaround time and overhead or make it possible to recruit specialists who might otherwise not be willing to commit to the full job.<br />In a typical collaborative environment, team members can track the work that is left to do, rather than just the work that is achieved to date. This will improve transparency of the remaining work and highlight revision costs, inconsistent authoring, etc., while marking the areas where the whole process can be improved.<br />Translation is made on the web, all the time, by the best specialists available, regardless of location or ownership of desktop translation tools.<br />In a collaborative translation project, the project manager is actually a facilitator whose task is to create a community with translators, recruit a subject matter expert to answer questions about the topic, collect and provide all the tools to run the project, and assure support to translators where they need help. A few consultants will also be hired to handle the shared translation memories and the term base, develop the style guides, and tune the machine translation engine.<br />In a collaborative translation project, there is no need for reviewers and editors that could be disruptive for harmony and confidence in the project team, with the project facilitator and the consultant doing their best to have translators strictly follow the style guide and glossary.<br />Cloud translation allows for data centralization and resource decentralization, and the relevant technologies are widely available today, even for free.<br />Yet, the translation industry is still tied to the quality axiom. A corollary to the quality axiom says that fewer translators produce a more consistent output, as if a reader could distinguish some ten thousand words in a million. Moreover, it still happens to hear translators express concern about the use of translation memories as per quality, intellectual property, impoverishment of the language, and so on.<br />Nevertheless, another axiom derived from the quality axiom is the asset axiom, where glossaries and translation memories are assets, and, as such, are supposed to carry some value. However, glossaries and translation memories do not necessarily carry an intrinsic value, since in this case value comes from their exploitation, and exploitation, in turn, depends on the ability of highly skilled translators.<br />Crowdsourced translation is a typical implementation of cloud translation. It relies on online communities, distributing the workload across dozens, or perhaps hundreds of contributors for greater volumes, higher speed, broader consensus on meaning, and possibly lower cost.<br />This rent-a-crowd approach generally results in lighter workloads for individual translators.<br />Anyway, translation crowdsourcing is not free and does not necessarily rely on volunteers, typically amateurs. Actually, it costs money to manage work, whether workers are volunteer or paid, and build a collaborative translation capability.<br />Professional translators should not undervalue crowdsourcing. Translators should not underestimate crowdsourcing, and be careful not to emphasize the difference with amateurs involved in social translation projects. When warning that a crowdsourced job was not done professionally, they might be told that even Noah’s Ark was built by amateurs and the RMS Titanic by professionals...<br />A model is possible to blend efficiency with highly skilled professionals by recruiting specially selected communities of paid translators. Yet, a specialized back-end infrastructure is needed to bolster the productivity of the community.<br />In addition, everybody here knows that it could take months to recruit and pool a qualified staff, and months to run a localization project of some hundred thousand words.<br />Therefore, free is not the point. Time is.<br />Hence, not only are highly skilled individuals no longer enough, technology is no longer enough either. A close combination of the two with a new process model could be an answer. Continuously flowing content streams demand translation production lines. A possible solution could be to create and support communities on demand to maximize knowledge reuse and increase speed.<br />In fact, today, speed and agility are the drivers. Costs become truly important only when these two requirements are met. Speed is for volume, and agility is for content type, while quality is a prerequisite and is taken for granted, even though different thresholds are commonly envisaged.<br />Therefore, language service providers must learn to actually differentiate their service offerings to accommodate the trends in content and arrive at different levels of quality to meet their customers’ needs in terms of speed, cost, content type and quality.<br />Anyway, buyers won’t ever start going directly to SLV’s as this would require efficient processes and a collaboration technology infrastructure, and MLV’s could redesign their production workflows to tie translators rather than to pursue efficiency.<br />Yet, LSP’ are the only ones who see translation as a service. Buyers see it definitely only as a product. This product hardly presents any meaningful qualitative differences. LSP’s often struggle to make a convincing case to justify translation costs while buyers are willing to pay for the perceived value. Products presenting no meaningful qualitative differences are usually labeled as commodities, and the path to losing real and strong value-add is named commoditization. The shift towards online tools will increase the use of auctioning and a further commoditization, unless non-price factors prevail.<br />This reaffirms the chance for cloud translation to reduce intermediation and open the way to disintermediation.<br />However, for full disintermediation in the translation supply chain, the translation market should be highly transparent for customers to be aware of supply conditions (e.g. pricing), and find a viable and sound alternative to traditional channels. In addition, factual bidirectional standards are required. Therefore, in a technology-driven disintermediation, buyers could simply purchase from wholesalers, who would resort to individual translators instead of using SLV’s as intermediaries but would require to pay less.<br />In general, LSP’s share the same pool of resources, and testing freelancers is expensive and not reliable. The solution to reduce overhead is then shortening the production chain. Therefore, the trend towards increased automation of translation processes will continue unabated. Collaborative platforms combining workflow and computer-aided translation capabilities into one application are the future. Humans can translate texts of any kind, rank the translation for accuracy and provide final edits, all via a browser from anywhere in the world. Machine translation will capture the translated texts and then suggest a possible translation when the words or phrases appear again, thus reducing the overall time and effort required for translation. No overhead for administrative activities, no duplication of work.<br />Anyway, collaborative models will still require resources for platform management, team management, quality management and intelligent work assignment. Therefore, domain expertise and competence with technology and collaboration platform will become a differentiating factor for LSP’s, together with the ability to retain any professional, knowledgeable, skilled, and experienced staff.<br />There will also be room for small LSP’s for neighborhood shops in the market, even though small customers never lead or make the market. The future is for wholesalers; even retailers, at least the smaller ones, will be expunged from the market or marginalized since customers are now irreversibly accustomed to choose one stop shops that can meet all their needs. In fact, more and more often customers ask LSP’s to be relevant to their processes, and with the great changes in content, even in smaller clients, this is becoming increasingly hard even for a mid-size LSP.<br />Cloud translation platforms (like Google Translator Toolkit, XTM Cloud, Lingotek, or Wordbee) operate independently. Like XTM Cloud, Google Translator Toolkit comes from a player outside the industry and has its own API’s to help integration into any project management workflow, but it’s free.<br />Everybody within the GILT industry talks about innovation. Google developed the technology because the translation industry was not providing the solution they needed.<br />The future of the GILT industry is probably in collaborative translation, but it will depend on how vendors, certainly not customers, will use the cloud, implement collaborative platforms, and integrate translation memory management, terminology management, workflow management, project management, as well as accounting and billing applications.<br />For its intrinsic scalability, cloud translation could also help redefine the business model of an entire industry, which is now visibly obsolete, allowing LSP’s to find themselves a size that fits.<br />In the years immediately ahead, the survival of the translation industry will be played around linguistic data (corpora, translation memories, glossaries) and on the ability to deal with it. Today the focus is on compatibility and interoperability of formats and platforms: when they are fully achieved, tools will be unimportant, one will equal another.<br />Online work environments promise both simplicity and completeness, bringing work tools, business administration, collaboration, and other resources together into one easy-to-learn, easy-to-use web interface.<br />To have broad appeal, these environments need to be open and gather a cluster of LSP’s that must build specific capabilities and applications within the platform.<br />At the same time, don’t forget King Gillette’s lesson on marketing. It took two decades for the disposable-blade safety razor to take off, and Gillette tried every marketing gimmick he could think of. Eventually, he decided to sell cheaply to partners who would give away the razors, which were useless by themselves, to create demand for disposable blades and make its real profit from the high margin on the blades. What is your razor and what are your blades?<br />Stop, breathe, think: a problem is a problem only when it has no solution. Instead of throwing more resources onto a problem, just throw more process improvements on it.<br />Bio<br />090170Luigi Muzii has been working in the documentation field for almost 30 years, as a translator, localizer, technical writer, and consultant.<br />After 12 years in several departments of a major Italian telecommunications company and two in a broadcasting service company as education manager, taking part in many projects, on both the domestic and European markets, and developing a sound technical and technological expertise, some a decade ago he started a consulting firm to act as an information design and delivery consultant.<br />He was a founding member of the Italian Association for Terminology and of Gruppo L10N, a group of GILT (Globalization, Internationalization, Localization and Translation) professionals 'volunteering' in localization educational programs.<br />He published a book on technical writing, and dozens of papers and articles on documentation, translation, and terminology, speaks regularly at conferences, and holds seminars and workshops.<br />Recently, he has collected some articles from his blog, written between 2007 and 2011, in a book published by Lulu titled Taccuino barbaro (A barbarian’s notebook).<br />