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GALA 2011 conference – Notes from Lisbon

in Market Research


We joined over 250 delegates from all over the world at the annual Globalization and Localization Association (GALA) conference in Lisbon to listen and discuss the latest ideas, trends and news within our industry. The title for this year’s conference was: The Language of Business. The Business of Language.

GALA’s organization of the event was highly polished (amazingly so considering the GALA folk are mostly US-based); they kept all of the attendees’ schedules packed with a mixture of keynote speeches, roundtable and panel discussions as well as networking opportunities. We particularly loved the intensive “speed networking” event where we got to pitch to 90 different people in as many minutes!


Here were some of the key themes from the GALA conference:

The language services industry is in a phase of structural change. Disruption to traditional processes and business models is coming from new technology and new ideas on workflow management. New technology is automating the manual workflow steps involved in integrating translation with content production and content management in the publication supply chain. It is also empowering greater numbers of people to work collaboratively by using functionality-rich text authoring and editing tools hosted ‘in the cloud’.

A frequently recurring term at the conference was Machine Translation (MT) with proponents and critics voicing their opinions in equal measure. Some large buyers of translations showcased their successful deployments of MT and pointed to significant productivity and quality gains. Dell had recently run a controlled experiment on a group of product pages, one version of the pages had been machine translated and human edited. The other version had been human translated. Both were run consecutively over several weeks on the Dell site. After analyzing the web statistics, they found no material difference in the primary web metrics such as click-through or conversion rates.

Language providers had a more sceptical tone about MT than the buyers on the whole, in particular, highlighting the difficulty of finding translators prepared to work with text after it’s been through an MT engine. Convincing translators of the economics of MT (getting them to accept lower rates of pay per word) was also cited understandably as being an uphill struggle.

Jochen Hummel, one of the founders of TRADOS, remarked in his keynote that he believes the technology (open source, cloud-based, collaborative tools) is ripe for business model disruption across the whole industry just like the concept of word repetition discounts did for TRADOS and TM.

The strong focus on technology confirmed our commitment to reducing our clients’ translation costs over the long-term by being early adopters of disruptive technology and processes. The technology discussion led on to GALA announcing that it is working with a leading figure in technology standards to spear-head a new standards initiative (following the closure of LISA). The necessity for a set of industry standards is more apparent than ever as the lack of compatibility is costing the industry millions of dollars every year. There is a clear dichotomy though between the desirable aim of interoperable, open-source technology systems, which translators can use at zero cost, and the proprietary technology providers’ ‘walled gardens’ which generate significant software licensing revenues for those firms.

Collaboration between language service providers was another key theme of the conference. There was an intriguing session with Google and Dell about how their language service providers have had to work together (driven from the client-side) to share language assets, knowledge and collaborate on processes (Google even employ 1 agency as a reviewer and supply chain co-ordinator for their other suppliers).

Rare language skills and unusual pairs were under the microscope. Chinese from and into Portuguese, for example, is a rare language pair that has seen an increase in popularity recently due to growing Chinese exports to Brazil. There is often a limited supply of linguists with the relevant rare language skills. If there were more transparency of linguist rates and availability in rare languages, then access to rare in-demand skills would improve while costs and delays would remain low.

In summary, the GALA 2011 conference gave attendees a fair representation of the current stage of progress within the language services industry and brought key stakeholders together from the buy-side, sell-side and technology providers. If future GALA conferences can match up to the standard set in Lisbon then they will be not-to-miss events for industry professionals.

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