The world economy as a whole and our industry in particular create opportunities for the birth of a true regional localization power in Latin America. With attractive prices, geography, economy and resources, translation and localization providers should not miss the opportunity of creating a collaboration atmosphere to show their clients in the Northern Hemisphere that Latin American Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese can finally become a language group of its own, representative of this region.
In 2009, the global economy has gone through such radical changes that everything seemed to be collapsing at once. Yet another revolution has been going on for years now: emerging economies, especially the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China), have entered the global arena to play a much more important role than the one to which they were delegated a few decades back. What is more astonishing is that the superpowers in the Northern Hemisphere today are in a much more complicated situation than Brazil, for instance. The ever-promising giant that for decades had been praised by Brazilian politicians, economists and the people in general as “the country of the future” only recently started to accomplish its own messianic predictions.
In a recent interview to BBC Brasil, Jim O’Neill, the Head of Global Economic Research for Goldman Sachs and the man who created the term BRIC, said, “There has been a big slowdown in growth everywhere, yet if you look at contributions to global consumption, it is very clear that the BRIC countries are the only people that are in positive territory. Brazil, as it has been shown by this crisis, has a very good macroeconomic framework for economic policy.” Chief Marketing Officers of major corporations seem to agree with O’Neill’s predictions. In March 2009, they gathered in São Paulo for a Conference of the World Federation of Advertisers. Simon Clift, Chief Marketing Officer of Unilever, said, “For now, the Brazilian economy is healthy and the crisis has not hit the country so hard.” He also noted that Brazil is one of the few countries to bring his company’s revenues to the next level. Competitors seem to agree: “Here there is a lot of potential to grow,” affirmed Bernhard Glock, Vice President of Global Media and Communication for Procter & Gamble. Despite the 3.6% drop of the Brazilian GDP for that year, announced in the same week of the event, multinational companies had not suspended their investment plans in the country, as they believed that the Brazilian market was one of the few not to be so negatively affected by the crisis. “In Brazil, we are still hiring people and maintained our goals to have a two-digit growth in sales,” said Steve Rusckowski, executive vice-president and CEO of Philips Healthcare.
According to economist Marcio Aith, the Executive Director of Economics of Veja magazine, one of the largest and most recognized Brazilian publications, there are a few reasons why Brazilians should be optimistic with the possibility of living through the 2009 world crisis with only a few scratches – and with heavy chances of emerging in 2010 with robust growth:
- Reserves of $200 billion still untouched six months after the crisis exploded
- Competent and regulated banks with low exposure to risk
- Absence of credit and real estate bubbles, with a high potential for growth in these sectors
- Strong domestic market with growing purchase power
- World’s “greenest” energy matrix, while the country is no longer dependent on imported oil
- Political stability with democracy enthroned as a national asset
- Economic stability; imperfect yet predictable regulatory system
- Largest food exporter, guaranteeing volumes of external sales in any scenario
- Diverse external market, with buyers from all over the world; goods and commodities of growing added value
- The same projections that point to stagnation abroad forecast a GDP growth in Brazil for 2009
My personal experience reflects this positive scenario as well. After years struggling with an over valuated local currency, Ccaps experienced a 70% growth in 2008, which was much higher than the industry average. This was not only due to the devaluation of the Brazilian Real, but was mostly the result of an increased demand for Brazilian Portuguese and Latin American Spanish services, which forced us to hire new people and streamline our processes to meet the increased demand of our clients. Such demand remained steady in the first quarter of 2009 and, even though we are expecting at least a 40% growth for 2009, it actually reached 60% at the end of the year.
Cutting out the middle man
How can this affect our industry and businesses and what can we do to make the most of this positive and unprecedented scenario? In the short history of localization, other parts of the globe have managed to create a niche of their own based on the languages spoken in these regions. We have seen the birth of FIGS (French, Italian, German and Spanish), CCJK (Simplified and Traditional Chinese, Japanese and Korean), the Eastern European and the Scandinavian group of languages. Local companies successfully upgraded to a status of regional language vendors (RLVs) to compensate for the gap between multi-language and single language vendors. I am not aware of all their individual histories, but they probably started as local vendors, migrated to the position of RLVs and finally became true global companies with revenues that range from $30 million to $120 million. Examples abound, such as euroscript, LCJ, the Honyaku Centre, Moravia, all of which appear in Common Sense Advisory’s ranking of Top 25 Language Service Providers.
In the same report, Europe appears as the region with the largest market share, followed by the US and Asia, a trend that seems to persist for several years to come. Latin America however is included in the little exciting group called ROW. Sadly enough, together with other regions, we only represent 3% of the market; we still are badly positioned as the “Rest Of the World.” As language service providers, we obviously do not have the power to change the world economy and force corporations and the public in general in our own countries to increase the demand for language services to a point that will secure us a larger piece of the cake. What we can do however is to create awareness among buyers that such important languages like Brazilian Portuguese and Latin American Spanish can and should be bought directly from the source, instead of relying simply on the well established LSPs in Europe, the US and Asia.
Latin Americans do have quite a few advantages when compared to other regions, such as attractive pricing, a favorable time zone, cultural similarities and the most invaluable local knowledge. But how does one start fighting for direct customers while based in a region that so far has been unable to prove itself to localization buyers as efficient, reliable and predictable? The answer lies on the three pillars that I came to call as “the CID approach”: Collaboration, Innovation and Determination.
Think tanks in our industry have been talking about crowdsourcing as one of the next things to look out, either if one sells or buys language services. Not many LSPs have actually managed to implement crowdsourcing in their workflow or as part of their service offer. Yet to open source software developers crowdsourcing translation has been a reality for quite a few years now. On the client side, Google, Facebook and Sun Microsystems, companies that pioneered in this area, were followed by Flickr, Hi5, iStockphoto and others, and they have all succeeded in their crowdsourcing attempts. This means that potential clients are bypassing LSPs and doing the whole process by themselves, sometimes using amateur translators. Who gains with that? Not us for sure! However, there are other forms of collaboration available.
Collaboration simply means working together to achieve common goals. For example, take Milengo, which started as a network of European companies that were to form an EEIG (European Economic Interest Group) yet later had other partners from Asia and South America join the initial group of LSPs. At that point, the shareholders decided to incorporate the company in the US to better position ourselves. Today, Milengo has reached clients in the largest markets of the globe that we, as individual local players, would have a fairly hard time to acquire if we were to target them individually. As a latecomer to the alliance, I saw the great potential that was opening for my business and became deeply involved with the company’s affairs, which led to an invitation to join the Milengo Board, of which I am the Chairman today. We share ideas, join forces and split costs. This combination has allowed us to not only build strength and increase revenue but has also made us better professionals and individuals with a better understanding of the market and of our colleagues. When you learn from your peers, you are more likely to retain the knowledge they share, and when you must deal with people who have different backgrounds and cultures but are at the same hierarchic level as you, you are bound to become a more flexible person.
In terms of progress, the language technology industry is more or less stuck in the Windows 95 era of personal computers. A much-talked about and controversial issue these days seems to be machine translation and how it will affect our industry, but we need to be innovating more, not less. Take Trados, for example. As far as I can remember, and this goes back to the mid-1990s, it has had the same interface and has suffered very little improvement in its most basic features. We are talking here about the most widely used translation memory in this market! SDL has developed SDLX and later bought Trados and WorldServer. Yet what great improvements have they created for each one of these tools? We still have to run completely different environments with no synergy between them. If mobile phone manufacturers were as fast as language system developers, 3G technology would be a reality indeed only three generations from now.
OK, maybe in Latin America we do not have as many investors promptly accessible or the necessary funds available at reasonable costs. We might not even have the desire or the skills to bring innovation to language technology. That is fine then; let us innovate in other areas. Customer service as family treatment, unusual pricing structures, project management with a twist, shorter turnarounds at lower costs, some added-value service previously unheard of — there are quite a few areas where we can exercise our creativity while offering a unique experience to our customers. Only then, can we stand out from the crowd and bring the attention of translation and localization buyers to us.
The Translation Automation User Society (TAUS) has recently released a report on the seven areas to look out for in terms of innovation for the localization industry: translation automation, language data sharing, community translation, open translation platforms, localization and support convergence, continuous translation and personalization. The report was the result of a March 2009 meeting in Edinburgh with 50 decision-makers representing the buy and the sell side of the market in equal proportions, who gathered to discuss the design of the localization future. In a more recent April gathering in Córdoba, I had the pleasure of discussing such ideas with industry peers during the IMTT 6th Language and Technology Conference. Events like these, whether they have a local or global reach and flavor, are not only about networking and selling, they can also be fantastic opportunities to learn from others and let your creative juices flow.
All these actions can only be achieved if we are determined enough. Convincing prospects that we are up for the job is never easy, regardless of where one is and what one has to offer. The first thing to do though is sell our services professionally and consistently. Make clients understand that we can deliver whatever they might be looking for, in a better way than our competitors. We can play the game. We have been in business for quite some time now. All we have to do is put our best practices in place, use all the tools and methods we have learned and show them what we’ve got.
Just like Susan Boyle, an unemployed and unattractive Scottish lady who clumsily started her audition on the TV show “Britain’s Got Talent,” yet went to prove that she had a beautiful voice and touched the hearts of those who never believed in her potential, LSPs in Latin America should make an effort and convince their “audience” that we are worth a try and that we’ve got talent. To gain industry attention, we must create the “Susan Boyle effect” and show prospective buyers that their preconceived judgment should and will be changed once we are given a chance to prove our professionalism and capability.
Clients will not come knocking on our door; we must go after them and show that there is life south of the Rio Grande—intelligent life, in fact—the kind that can help them succeed in their attempts to reach the customers in Central and South America they are so keen to acquire. We know the region better than anyone else, we are aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the resources with which we work, we can charge the very right price for high quality services, and over the years we have acquired the knowledge and skills necessary to transform Latin American Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese into a language group of its own.
Reprinted from MultiLingual magazine (2009, #104 Volume 20 Issue 4) with permission from Multilingual Computing, Inc., www.multilingual.com.