Sometimes, existing or potential translation buyers think of translation as something completely secondary to their products or services. This understanding is typically based on a strong belief that the product itself is good enough to generate sales in any market. Another typical attitude is to underestimate the importance of translation quality and therefore reduce the vendor selection process to simply choosing someone with the lowest cost.
These perceptions are based on approaching the translation in the same way as a company would approach e.g. their newly purchased computer hardware. Such hardware is tangible. You can see it working every day and can usually measure the impact of this hardware on your company’s performance pretty well. This provides a clear, visual justification of your investment. The same approach doesn’t work with translation too well. Translation is basically an intangible asset, something stored as a file on your PC or intended for the company’s clients only, not for the company. Frequently, translation is just an addition accompanying a product and doesn’t generate any direct profit. Or, it can be used for marketing purposes, and it’s difficult to measure its specific contribution to a marketing campaign.
As a stakeholder, I’m not exactly in the best position to judge whether these perceptions are correct. I do understand, though, why some decision-makers underestimate the value of high-quality translation for their business. But what do other stakeholders think about the value of translations?
Recently, one of such stakeholders announced their opinion on this matter. Microsoft named Lionbridge, the leading translation services company a Vendor of the Year 2008. From the point of view outlined above, Microsoft’s choice is not very clear: why exactly is translation so important to them? Lionbridge outdistanced not only the larger and more renowned Toshiba, which received a less prestigious Technology award, but also other companies, which you’d expect to contribute more to Microsoft’s success than translators. How come Lionbridge “beat” MV Transportation, a major transportation company that helps 2,000 Microsoft’s employees commute to work every day, or Compass Group that provides food management services to Microsoft’s kitchens? The remaining nominees include the lodging company Marriott International, real estate company Grubb & Ellis, event management and registration company CRG Events, and Revonet that helps Microsoft’s partners win competitive engagements.
Surprisingly, Microsoft is paying huge attention to translation underpinned by the understanding that localization has a direct impact on their market success. To this end, the company even has a special Language Excellence team, which manages Microsoft’s terminology. And still, despite having extensive internal language team, Microsoft chooses outsourcing services when it comes to translation. And now they even give the Vendor of the Year award to the translation services firm. This recognition underscores the fact that translation is a much more important investment than many assume automatically when they can’t see its value immediately.
I believe that we as translation professionals must be thankful to Lionbridge. This kind of award recognizes the hard and important work that Lionbridge does, promoting translation industry and translator profession. Lionbridge has been a solid vendor of high-quality translations to Microsoft for years. I know this myself because I use Russian translations of Microsoft’s products every day. And, even though it might be impossible to measure the value of Lionbridge’s services to Microsoft directly, there’s no doubt this value is high. Vendor of the Year 2008 award is a testament to this value.