Business Continuity Planning: Where Is Your Translation Memory?
We have frequently and long been asked who owns translation memories (TMs)?” In today’s COVID-19 environment, the better question might be “Where are my TMs?” If you rely on one or more LSPs to manage and maintain your translation memories, terminology, and other linguistic assets, now is a good time to revisit your disaster and recovery plan (DRP) for technology, and business continuity plan (BCP) for the entire organization’s processes. Even if you host and manage your TMs centrally within a translation management system (TMS), take the opportunity to examine your – and your vendors’ – DRP with an eye for gaps or omissions. Consider TMs as if they were money in the bank – they are fine where they are as long as business proceeds as usual, but you should have both a plan and a backup in case you need to make the asset liquid immediately.
Disasters Affect All Components of the Supply Chain
While working from home is not as much a disruption to the localization industry as to many other environments, the people working in the supply chain are as vulnerable to the effects of the pandemic as any other. While the majority of LSPs believe their business continuity plans were adequate, strong, or very strong leading up to the pandemic, more than one-half of the LSPs that responded to our recent COVID-19 survey told us that their overall business has decreased. With an overall slowing – or halting, depending on the vertical market – of global trade, nobody expects the effects of the pandemic to disappear any time soon. Without being unduly pessimistic there will be businesses – both LSP and buyer – that don’t make it through intact. Where does that leave your valuable bank of language assets? Consider the entire process:
- Multi-layered supply chain: The delivery of language services depends on LSPs of all sizes and individual providers that cascade work down to regional or specialized subcontractor-LSPs and freelancers. This affects your business should your main provider close shop or if it delegated the maintenance of linguistic assets to an at-risk subcontractor without systematically backing them up.
- Language technology: Sophisticated cloud-based TMSes, servers hosted in an independent software vendor’s datacenters, or computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools on a freelancer’s laptop are likely locations where you might find all, or part, of your organization’s translation memories, terminology databases, and other linguistic assets such as style guides. Should a technology provider discontinue operations, you or your providers could end up with gaps in process and missing past data or language assets.
- Infrastructure: Software, hardware, networks, and other telecommunications services all contribute to the logistical infrastructure that providers rely on to deliver translations and other language services. If providers must cut costs, they may reduce their investment in backup systems that you may find vital in reliable partners.
If any of these are hindered or disrupted by a disaster there’s a risk to the entire supply chain – and to your business. In early 2020, it is a viral pandemic that’s causing concern, but next time it might be a major earthquake, a tsunami, a volcanic eruption, fire, flood, cyber-attack or sabotage, hurricane, trade war, human conflict, or even a prolonged power outage. Can you easily use an alternative process – and the same linguistic assets – if you suddenly have to divert your translation flow – especially if your providers are not responding?
How Would a Lost TM Affect Your Business?
Major enterprises and other businesses consider systems and processes when assessing risks and planning mitigation through business impact analysis (BIA). The analysis studies all components of an operation: human resources both in-house and external; IT systems; physical assets such as laptops and PCs; content, files, and documents. BIA experts assess the maximum tolerable downtime, loss of data, and other process elements.
If your company conducts formal BIAs, it will include global content flows and translation processes, or the availability and delivery of interpreting services, in your organization’s evaluation. However, while these are all crucial to the success of your business, executives responsible for business continuity do not always rank localization processes and their technologies as critical enough to deserve the highest level of disaster recovery (automated restitution of data and processes). Therefore, it is often left to the localization team – or even LSPs – to take precautionary steps.
Why don’t enterprises rank these processes and deliverables as highly business critical? Because BIA analysis usually shows that the enterprise’s key products and services can tolerate the unavailability of language services (other than interpreting in specific scenarios) for a limited time. There are workarounds and expedients:
- Cost: It might be more expensive to translate without a TM, but a linguist can still render content into another language.
- Customer satisfaction: It might be detrimental to have a web page default to English, but unless the translated content is a matter of life and death it may not be at your organization’s most critical level of importance.
- Visibility: Unless your LSPs only use your company’s TMS, your BIA likely ignores the tools and processes that their project managers and linguists use.
Be careful what you wish for: While it seems desirable to have enterprise translation management systems, staff, and processes ranked at the highest level, the effort required to create and maintain systems with full latency and immediate, automated recovery in time of disaster, is enormous. It is not something to be taken lightly.
Where Is Your Translation Memory?
So now you should be asking a couple of questions much more basic than ownership: Where is my TM today? Who is taking care of it?
We recommend you check your company’s disaster recovery plan for your translation management technology and the business continuity plan for all operations, staffing, and processes, to make sure that they fit your business needs. You might need to add actions – such as regular backup and delivery of linguistic assets – on top of whatever the IT or security department mandates. Whether a buyer of language services, or an LSP with responsibility for the stewardship of language assets for your buyers, or a freelance linguist with a variety of translation memories, there are actions you can take to make sure you have a tangible strategy for minimizing disruption to business.
- Anyone who manages a TMS: Remember that the size of some linguistic databases can be enormous. Plan backup storage accordingly.
- Enterprises with a cloud-based TMS: You should have direct access to download copies of your linguistic assets. Check that your vendor provides instructions for all processes related to disaster recovery should a catastrophe occur.
- Enterprises with hosted TMS: Again, your vendor should have a business continuity plan in place. Check how you access, download, and copy additional copies of your TM and terminology databases for extra security.
- Enterprises with on-premise TMS: Check your organization’s IT disaster recovery plan. Remember that your external translation process might face risks if one or more of your LSPs are struggling to cope and make sure your BCP covers this risk.
- Enterprises where LSPs manage linguistic assets: It’s time to obtain backups. If you choose to allocate guardianship of TM and terminology to one or more LSPs, ask your provider to deliver regular backups or to store them in an escrow location that you control, so that you can access them in case of disaster.
- LSPs that manage enterprise linguistic assets: Take steps to reassure buyers that their TM and terminology is accessible and safe during challenging times. Show them that you have a plan to distribute TMs back to customers should you ever need to stop trading.
- Freelancers with TM and terminology for clients’ projects: Talk with your client LSPs about whether they are providing backups to their buyers – and if they need anything from you.
Nobody knows how the economic landscape will look next month or in six months’ time. This pandemic affects everyone – whether buyers of language services or the providers that deliver work to them – no matter how big or small. Some LSPs will struggle to stay afloat, some will disappear altogether, and some will emerge stronger than before. We recommend that you use COVID-19 as an opportunity to reassess, strengthen, and enforce your business continuity and disaster recovery plans – while taking immediate steps to protect your linguistic assets today. If all goes well, it is a risk management plan that you’ll never need to deploy. However, if a link in your language delivery chain breaks, you will be glad you are prepared to reconnect your important processes.
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