Captains of the Translation Industry Talk About the Single Biggest Thing They've Learnt
TAUS spoke with Christophe Djaouani, Senior Vice President and Managing Director of Donnelley Language Solutions. At the core of the conversation lies this question: “What is the single biggest lesson that you have learnt about the translation industry?”
Christophe Djaouani: I began life in the translation industry in the Financial Services business unit of RR Donnelley & Sons that is now a separate public company named Donnelley Financial Solutions. This unit, and now stand alone company, operates in the highly regulated financial industry. This involved high volume, sensitive information requiring fast turnaround all year round. For me, therefore the one big lesson has been to learn how to use this focus on a single industry and then apply it to other verticals by means of organic growth. Translation requires a focused vertical approach, so my major learning curve has been finding out how to develop a “verticalize” strategy.
At Donnelley Language Solutions we’ve evolved through four phases over the past 15 years:
- We developed a translation department to support our financial client base in a highly regulated environment.
- We later shifted from US-based to an international strategy, by creating teams for different geographies and verticals.
- We then created customized workflow solutions, adding in our MultiTrans® technology, to create customized services with a centralized multilingual hub.
- We’re now moving towards industry-specific solutions based on MultiTrans and the hub which are customer-specific. Our ambition is to feature among the top ten LSPs by 2019.
Now the critical part in this verticalization dynamic is that you need to align not just your software and your people but also your expertise and knowledge of the environments of your customers in your target industries. And all these other industries are also changing rapidly.
TAUS: This means learning to become both agile and relevant. You can’t just say we were good at translating in finance, so we’ll simply replicate this in life sciences or legal. There’s a whole cultural dimension that goes along with a given industry – including down to where their offices are and how they dress – and this conditions the way you need to approach a new industry. You have to learn how to be relevant to them. Why not stay and grow further in the financial industry?
Christophe Djaouani: It is true that the financial sector is a very large market, but it has also proved to be highly volatile with often times non recurring revenue. We wanted to ensure a stable recurring revenue, so it seemed appropriate to diversify to limit risk. The question was, how do you choose where to diversify to? We wanted first of all to develop strongly in one domain, so we needed to know something about it first.
One key factor in financial, of course, is that it is a regulated industry, which in turn accounts for the large-scale flow of business for translation. One financial sector that we worked in was that of pharma transactions, so we felt we could shift easily enough to pharma localization as it was another regulated industry, and then to life sciences more generally. We leveraged our credibility in finance to get traction with new clients, otherwise the transition is very hard.
Meanwhile, despite the financial crisis we still kept growing in that industry as there are also different levels of finance to deal with from a localization perspective. So knowledge of the clients in one vertical enabled us to expand to a new vertical by offering technical, managerial and commercial relevance.
TAUS: How much translation-specific knowhow can you transfer in practice from one industry to a new one?
Christophe Djaouani: We believe that about 70% of what we do will be the same from one industry to another, specifically in those fundamental practices around time-to-market, quality and cost. But 30% of the work will be industry-specific and this is where we need to be fully relevant. You need a combination of service and innovation, and this means taking ideas from outside the vertical you are trying to enter and bringing them in as an innovation to this new industry. That is the hard part.
A further complexity is that in a verticalization approach, you have to deal with numerous sub-components: for example, the life sciences cover both healthcare and pharma sectors, and each user persona is different. Our experience in the past decade in handling the specifics of the environment, internal domains, and technology of a given vertical means that we are better positioned in terms of servicing different verticals.
For example, we see energy as an upcoming sector ripe for localization, which will need its own adapted workflow and resources. The art is to focus on the right vertical that enables you to leverage your existing tools, software and knowledge, while adding that additional audience-centric relevance.
TAUS: Surely most of the audience in a given vertical have some awareness of what translation involves.
Christophe Djaouani: This may be true, but what is needed in addressing a new vertical is to find the right mix, the right outside-in approach. This is not just about bringing in language skills, or taking the existing data from the company or industry and processing it to deliver a solution; what you need is to pair an industry expert with someone from our translation industry and leverage their mutual experience. The best recipe for this is to find the best possible balance for this outside-in approach so that we minimize the risk.
The danger comes when you think you know what a customer wants but you don’t validate it first. What we try to do is create products with our customers that trigger a new dynamic in the vertical. By doing this we can gradually drive our way up into the industry, and grow more connected to others.
As the translation industry – and industry in general - knows, almost every large customer in a vertical needs to globalize their products, and that a combination of software and language technology can help them go global.
However, what these vertical industries really need is someone who can make this general fact about translation relevant to their specific needs by bringing in something new from the outside. That makes all the difference!