I like to keep an eye on the Global Watchtower, the blog of the Common Sense Advisory. I enjoy their strong business-analytical approach to the language services industry, but I also relish their use of management speak which would occasionally give even Martin Lukes a run for his money.
Advisory analyst Donald A. De Palma has conducted some research into consolidation in the language services industry, with the aim of establishing what the industry might look like over the coming years. This data was used to extrapolate pretty wildly in a post earlier this week on the Global Watchtower, and I wasn’t especially surprised at today’s post which comments on some of the feedback they received from language service providers (LSPs) as a result.
I’ve been following all this with interest. Not because there’s anything especially life changing in there for me just yet – I don’t tend to work for the global companies covered in the study, as their business models don’t tend to fit mine. They often work to tighter deadlines than I can comfortably manage, with weekend work and low margins the norm. (I’m not saying that they are all like this or that I would not consider working with them in the future, of course. Just that it doesn’t suit me right now.) I’ve been following all this because I spied a couple of interesting nuggets that do a good job of placing the language services industry within the wider context of the business market. Here’s what I got from it:
A contradiction, well put: translation is an essential part of global business, yet translators, localisers, and other service suppliers are not very visible on the corporate scene. Until they make an expensive or embarrassing mistake, of course.
“Information asymmetry”: what a great term. De Palma says it exists when information relevant to a negotiation, business practice, or technology is unevenly distributed amongst the relevant parties. He concludes that this may lead to to inefficiencies as not everyone has enough data to make properly informed decisions. To me, this also sums up the situation between would-be freelance translators, their more experienced counterparts and potential work providers. (Hint: joining a professional body is a good way to address this imbalance!)
For translators who aspire to owning their own language services business, the report itself claims to offer an insight into what buyers may be looking for in the future. Now, I would think you’d need to have pretty concrete aspirations to purchase the full report for this reason alone, as Common Sense Advisory reports are generally only available to subscribers, with the price of subscription available on application. However, if you are interested in reading about the needs of the buyers of tomorrow, then it’s certainly worth keeping an eye out for future blog posts addressing this particular aspects of this research.
I gave a little whoop of joy when I saw De Palma also predicts an increasing interest in open-source content and collaboration from translation buyers. I’m sure there will be plenty of translators who will see this in terms of threats to the copyright of their work, translation memories, etc., but I see it as good news as it should increase the demand for, and hopefully availability of, open-source translation tools. It’s even better news for the developers of the excellent open-source translation memory OmegaT, who deserve to see their application being used more widely.
DePalma’s point about the language services industry experiencing an absence of direct comparables is an interesting one. He suggests accountancy and payroll services as potentials. Taking this down to the level of the freelance translator, accountants have already been compared to translators in terms of their status as portfolio workers. I’ve recently been thinking about how graphic designers would also make a useful comparable. And although not a direct comparison, Philippa Hammond over at the Blogging Translator sparked off a thought-provoking discussion when she drew a parallel between the career transitions of EFT teachers and translators. So I’ll be very interested to see what The Global Watchtower comes up with in this area.
Some characteristics of the language services industry include:
- it has very few publicly-traded firms
- LSPs can be categorised as Human-Delivered Services Companies
- services are typically delivered “through a combination of wetware (that is, human power) plus automation” (wetware?! Is that’s what we translators have been reduced to?! 😉 )
All in all, useful information for any translator interested in learning more about the wider industry in which they practice.