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Shaking up the translation industry

We all know the world is rapidly shrinking under the pressures of globalisation and the immovable barrier of language is always present. The need to buy, sell and trade across borders means we need to get our message across to a new audience in their own language. For business this is often an aspect of the global economy that isn’t always considered when planning a shift into a new country, but if you can’t speak to the local market in their own language, you just aren’t going to be in business. No surprise then to learn that the global turnover of the translation industry was US$34 billion in 2011.

Skilled human translators have been the backbone of the industry but technology has been chipping away at them for many years. However, machine translation will never completely replace the need for a skilled human translator due to the subtlety of language and its context.  Despite the advances in technology, the industry is slow to innovate and the same problems exist regardless of global changes.

Traditionally the translation industry quote prices on the basis of word volume, e.g. how many words need to be translated multiplied by a per word rate. For a first time, or one-off job, this model makes sense, as it is often the best way to give a guaranteed price. However for ongoing and repeat work this model costs clients a lot more.

So what happens when an ex-paratrooper, a mother of 3 and an Irish-Australian take on the translation industry? You get a major revolution in how translation costs are managed. The team at Straker Translations have spent the good part of a decade developing the technology that will revolutionise the way the translation industry charges for its services.

Grant Straker, the ex-paratrooper turned revolutionary, explains how they came up with a solution to this age-old problem.

“In 1999 we set up Straker Interactive and built our proprietary content management system Shado as part of the burgeoning Internet. What we didn’t realise was we’d also developed a dynamic system that could easily manage multi-lingual websites. One of our first major clients, the EU Parliament, needed their content to be available in all the languages of the EU and Shado enabled them to build a single website in a master language that could then be translated into as many languages as they needed without the need to set up a separate site for each.”

Over the years the team at Straker refined and expanded their system to include automatic machine translation, originally starting with Google Translate as a backbone, but quickly developing their own. However, the same problem remained, inefficiencies in the translation industry made the cost of translation for their clients with large-scale translations prohibitive. Compounding this was the free-lance nature of translators. Each of them has their own tools and methods for managing their own jobs, no two are exactly the same. This frequently added the issue of inconsistency across jobs for a single client.

“The traditional way of charging for translations is by the source word in. The problem with this model is it has no correlation to the actual time taken to complete the job; in nearly every case any time saved is a bonus to the translator, not to the client. This is where the Straker ‘translation by the hour’ model is a winner for our clients. The faster the translators, the less our clients pay. Everything above the line is a saving for the client.”

Straker’s team of developers, who had worked on the problems of improving efficiencies in the industry for over half a decade, then spent the next few years developing a highly advanced model of an online translation management system, RAY. ultraRAY enables translators to work together using a common toolset, with integrated memory on a client by client basis to ensure consistency of content regardless of which translator does an individual job.

RAY is a proprietary system, which allows Straker’s project managers to track translator time and efficiency on jobs in real time. While other translation companies send content out to translators in plain text or PDF format, this leaves them with no visibility on how long translators are spending on a job or what their productivity is. In real terms, this means there are few metrics that can be measured to identify gains in efficiency.

In a service-based industry, time is used as a measure of cost however, traditional pricing methods for the Translation Industry create no correlation between the two. Straker Translations has been able to link the economic cost of the service (a translation), to the time it takes to complete that service, then focus on improving the efficiency of delivering that service (speed of translation). This in most cases has the outcome of significantly dropping the price to the client.

Straker translate over a million words per month, from small 500 word jobs to large 100,000+ word projects, and using their ultraRAY portal can save up to 40% in translation costs for their clients.  With their roots as a software company, they have developed systems and tools to ensure quality control, real cost per word, with measurable and visible productivity throughout the translation process.

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