The LSP Journey to Digital Transformation - Our Analysts' Insights

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The LSP Journey to Digital Transformation

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“Digital transformation” has become an inescapable buzzword. The COVID-19 pandemic sped up the shift to everything digital – even for predominantly paper-based language service providers. However, what LSPs call digital transformation (DX) ranges from eliminating every scrap of paper in their business to reinventing their whole business model. As a result, providers are all on a different step in their journey.

The 3Ds: Digitization, Digitalization, and Digital Transformation

Like many other professions, LSPs mistakenly use three words interchangeably when discussing their DX plans – digitization, digitalization, and digital transformation. These terms actually refer to three separate steps in the journey, each with its own agenda:

  • Digitization makes information accessible. It’s the long-running process of converting paper-based information into an electronic format. For example, when you scan old invoices to a text or PDF file, you’re digitizing that information.” 
  • Digitalization enables you to process digitized information. Once you have all that text and data in digitized form, the next step is to tech-enable all of your operational processes and applications to read and write – and potentially benefit – from digitization. A common example involves taking meeting notes on a tablet or laptop instead of using pen and paper, thus making notes more easily shareable, searchable, and potentially actionable. The benefits flow through to being able to view, monitor, and audit entire projects.” 
  • Digital transformation leverages digitized data to rethink the business. DX integrates digital technology into all areas of the business, fundamentally changing how you operate and deliver value to your customers. For example, think about how analyzing data on marketing content engagement could help you decide which sales prospects to prioritize. Artificial intelligence (AI) commonly plays a prominent role in leveraging business data.” 

Most LSPs Have Started the Journey 

Our survey of CEOs at the largest LSPs found that 83% are currently working on DX initiatives. However, that number most likely involves just one or both the first two steps – digitization and digitalization. Why do we think that? In our briefings and conversations with LSPs, we find that many LSPs often view digital transformation as simply the act of going paperless – that is, digitized content and digitalized applications – without the business reinvention that should result.

83% of the largest LSPs report currently working on digital transformation. 9% consider their transformation complete. The balance did not make it an initiative.


The Goal of DX for Most LSPs: A Paperless Business

The drive for a paperless world has been a topic of discussion for decades. Why? The US Environmental Protection Agency found that 45% of the paper used in an office is discarded within a day. The CEO of one of the five largest LSPs emphasized the importance of their war on paper: “Paper is our enemy. We avoid using it at all costs.”

We asked CEOs of the world’s largest LSPs to list which tasks they regularly still rely on paper to communicate within their organizations and externally with clients, vendors, and government authorities.

Areas where LSPs reported still relying on paper include among others: legal contracts and agreements, invoices, human resource documents, paperwork for government authorities, some client-facing documents such as RFP responses, and the proofreading of long documents.


For many of the largest LSPs, the processes and applications that they haven’t digitalized remain beyond their direct control because the paper requirement stems from government authorities or client preferences. The CEO of a leading LSP in Eastern Europe explained: “We print documents only in cases for which they are specifically required by law, the civil service, our clients, or if a manual signature is required.”

The DX Journey

To lead your company toward a paperless state, start by putting someone in charge. Give them a suitable level of authority, a budget, and a timeline. Then get a commitment of full cooperation from internal stakeholders to get everyone working toward the same goals. 
While DX is not that simple, seven core initiatives can help guide the effort:

#1: Assess. Inventory where you use paper internally and when interacting with suppliers, clients, and government authorities. Identify data flows and the potential of each datapoint. Uncover dependencies between data, processes, and systems – what touches what, where the information flows, and what depends on what.” 

#2: Strategize. Decide how far along you want to go on the DX journey, taking into account business requirements and goals. Document the plan to get there. Cover a variety of angles such as opportunities to replace paper with digitized documents and messages, rethinking your office usage, and revisiting hiring models. Without a clear plan, companies tend to create islands of digitized content that can’t communicate with other systems.” 

#3: Prepare. Add the infrastructure necessary to support the reduction of paper usage and design new processes as needed. Where should you start? Review common functions and plan to adopt electronic billing, switch to esignatures, and use phones or tablets to take meeting notes. Then move on to more ambitious digitalization tasks such as scanning years of paper archives, building an internal wiki to share information, and implementing a multichannel electronic communication platform.” 

#4: Communicate. Detail clear benefits of the initiatives to employees, contractors, and clients to generate buy-in for the initiative. You may find some resistance. To alleviate the fear of changing “what works,” provide ample training and support for new tools you decide to implement. For example, “market” the plan internally by showing the number of steps and untraceable (or hard to trace) paper communications that you typically use, then show the more direct routes that will result from the digit(al)ized operations.” 

#5: Mandate. Implement company-wide protocols and minimize exceptions to paperless rules. Monitor that the changes occur, but don’t let the internal ban-paper police go over the top. For example, the observed reality is that a reviewer does a better job on a printout of a translation – so allow that instance of paper communication as long as the reviewer’s comments and changes become part of the digit(al)ized workflow, translation memory, or audit trail.

#6: Analyze. Establish key performance goals for cost, time, and overall efficiency. As you digit(al)ize, measure the impact of changes on those KPIs. Then enhance applications to act based on the uncovered intelligence. You will encounter paper-centric strongholds for some functions – regularly reassess them against the performance metrics you have for the transformed operations.

#7: Innovate. Leverage the new data-centric capabilities to build responsive, digitally aware offerings that meet the expectations of customers and prospects. Those offerings range from process automation to MT training to new services like machine subtitling and sentiment analysis.

Digital Transformation Means More than Paperless Offices

LSPs should extend the journey beyond the reduction or elimination of paper. Digital transformation – as the name clearly says – involves a full transformation. You need to renovate and reinvent your business model. A full digital transformation can be so deep that it changes how an LSP self-identifies. It may no longer just see itself as a translation company but as a global content service provider (GCSP).

Forward-thinking LSPs invest in training, data collection, and processing to make data “work” beyond its original purpose. Such advanced capabilities enable LSPs to better identify trends, train processes and tools, and respond to prospect and client needs for data. This in turn enables them to assist clients pursuing their own digital transformation on a global scale. 


About the Author

Hélène Pielmeier

Hélène Pielmeier

Director of LSP Service

Focuses on LSP business management, strategic planning, sales and marketing strategy and execution, project and vendor management, quality process development, and interpreting technologies


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