Thinking Big about Interoperability
Mention “interoperability” and many localizers think of yet another conference panel about the value of XLIFF, or why they should care about Translation Memory eXchange (TMX), or the arcana of ISO technical committees. The reduction of the topic to technical standards is understandable given the focus these topics have enjoyed over the past two decades since the release of TMX in 1998. However, CSA Research’s examination of the topic has revealed that interoperability is a much bigger issue with implications for all areas of operations for LSPs and enterprise localization groups alike.
What are some of the kinds of interoperability problems that can arise?
- Differing expectations about how to convey project information. Lack of a common way to describe and transmit requirements for language services can lead to failing to meet clients’ intrinsic expectations and even conflict. Buyers often do not know what they need to provide and many LSPs are unwilling to ask for full project specifications lest they scare off customers. Even if they do receive instructions, details may not flow down the production chain. As a result, the linguists who actually do the work may not get the information they need to carry out the work.
- Time wasted on non-essential tasks. CSA Research’s analysis shows that often less than half of what buyers spend actually goes to language-oriented tasks. Although some overhead is necessary, much of it arises when parties deal with a variety of incompatible systems. For example, some translators report to us that simply changing their status in all of the LSP portals they interact with can easily take half an hour, and they may need to do this multiple times every day as they accept jobs. This situation even applies in cases where the LSPs use the same translation management system (TMS) simply because of the need to manage credentials and log-ins. If the industry could solve such problems, linguists could lower their rates and still make more money than they do today.
- Lack of communication between technologies. When a content management system (CMS) or TMS cannot communicate with other technologies, someone has to create a connector. Every LSP or buyer that faces this problem may create its own connector. Every new version of a technology has the potential to break what they’ve built. The result is an endless cycle of duplicated effort that could be resolved if the systems shared a common communication protocol. Absent that, a dedicated middleware solution, such as that offered by Xillio, offers the best route to reducing how much companies spend reinventing the wheel.
- Lack of competitiveness. You may well ask what this point has to do with the others, but the connection to interoperability is clear: The more resources you spend on wasteful activities due to lack of interoperability, the less you have to focus on differentiating yourself or delivering value to the organization. For enterprise buyers, increasing the cost of localization makes your executives less likely to invest in your team or in adding additional languages. For LSPs, interoperability problems increase your overall headcount but reduce the level of staff focused on meeting client requirements.
What are some of the things you can do? As described in “The Interoperability Dilemma,” focusing on a broad concept of interoperability helps you identify and resolve hidden sources of waste (“Improving Efficiency through Process Mapping” and “Remove Process Waste for Greater Efficiency”). Some of the steps you can take are:
- Think big about interoperability. Move beyond thinking about data standards to address every layer of the organization. Interoperability affects the relationships between individuals, teams, technologies, companies, and any combination of them. Any time you have multiple ways of doing something or the output from one of these does not match what another needs, you have an interoperability problem.
- Audit your processes. Identify inefficient actions that involve manual hand-offs or rework. Identify activities that contribute to waste. Use the results to find ways to solve problems and reduce overhead. And remember that today’s productive activity may become wasteful in the future as technologies or processes change.
- Preserve metadata. Your organization churns out massive amounts of metadata: data about your operations and content. Most companies either never capture it in the first place or ignore it. However, business analytics applications can spin this seeming straw into gold as they find hidden predictors for success and help you identify root causes for problems.
- Stay abreast of new technologies. One of the big promises of artificial intelligence is its potential to reduce repetitive manual tasks. Although this can be scary for those whose jobs are on the chopping block – a category that supposedly includes research analysts like me – it promises to free up workers from routine “scut work” and let them focus on value-adding tasks, such as interacting with customers, planning strategy, or getting ahead of problems before they become crises. Even as increasing numbers of LSPs worry about how technology may affect them, it also promises to give them serious advantages in the marketplace. On the enterprise side, technology promises to extend your capabilities and help you do more with your budgets.
Understanding how interoperability problems – broadly understood – affect your business is vital if you wish to prepare for the future and ensure success. Taking the hard steps to reduce waste and improve interoperability can pay long-term dividends as it makes you more agile and able to deal with change. It will also help you reduce costs and deliver better results as you focus on what sets you apart and what you do well.
About the Author