Change vs. Innovation

Business Model CanvasLast year, at Localization World Dublin, many insisted that the buzzword for the next future in the industry would be ‘change.’

At the ATC Conference 2015 in Manchester, almost all speakers talked about change.

Most of them, though, seemed to confuse change with innovation. In fact, while ‘to change’ means to make/become different, to replace with another, ‘to innovate’ means to do something in a new way. So, there could be innovation without any substantial change, just like one could change also deeply without innovating.

Paula Shannon charmed the floor with quips and jokes renewing an old presentation. But the only take-away from her speech would probably be just a now well-known video clip on voice-recognition technology, unless one considers “use your own business data on customers to develop new services” as a take-away. She also brought in ATMs as an example of disrupting innovation although they were patented back in 1960 in the US, and are more a case of sustaining innovation.

Clayton Christensen and disrupting innovation were at the core of Anne-Marie Colliander Lind’s presentation, too. She also brought in KPIs as a real innovation for most LSPs — because still very few seem to measure their business performances — but she failed to name translation-relevant KPIs. On the other hand, most TMSs still do not offer to their users a clear-cut dashboard and require them to build and run complex, customized queries.

Many speakers and delegates agreed on the need to introduce new sales and marketing techniques, and the best-selling sales advice in Manchester seemed social selling, although it has yet to prove effective.

It is hard to tell common sense from commonplace, the obvious from the mundane. Advising to hire people who are better than you and have new skills could seem obvious, even though, five centuries ago, in The Prince, Niccolò Machiavelli wrote, “The readiest conjecture we can form of the character and sagacity of a Prince is from seeing what sort of men he has about him.” In the same way, reporting a say in the industry about more sales people leading to better growth could be obvious too, but apparently, there was plenty of ‘captains obvious’ at Old Trafford.

In fact, the warm reception the floor reserved to Miklos Ban’s, chair of the Hungarian association of language service providers Proford, came as no surprise. He presented the agreement between his association and the Hungarian translators association, alongside the many efforts to overcome the same old mutual bias that every local industry seems gripped into, including in the UK, if ownership of translation memories was one of the most challenging topics in the negotiation and one of the most appealing the audience.

Similarly, no surprise — and innovation indeed — came from the academic panel, although the EMT does not seem to have led to cartels across the Channel.

Richard Brooks did his best — although possibly unnecessary — effort to convince the floor that translation is bloody not a commodity, also quoting Warren Buffet and bringing in Rolls Royce Aerospace and Michelin — and obviously Gillette — as examples of freemium as an alternative business model. He also referred extensively to the Business Model Canvas, but although this model has been around for a few years now, most delegates heard about it for the first time in Manchester. The floor seemed very much impressed by the part of Richard Brooks’s presentation where he showed a model in which a 2% increase in price generates a 40% increase in profits. Given the price pressure and margin squeeze, which most delegates and speakers agreed on as something that has been affecting the industry for a very long time, a reverse model could have helped too, i.e. what happens when accepting a 2% reduction. In a rate-per-word business, ±2% on a € 0,25 rate means € 0,005. Of course, this is true for the vast majority of industry players who still profit from translation. In Richard Brooks’s own words, his company gets more than 80% of its revenues from consulting. Richard Brooks’s insistence on getting away from pricing and beef up value in the customer’s eyes seemed to tip the scale, but no actual hunch came on what value.

In her stimulating presentation on ‘game changers,’ Manchandan Kaur Sandhu quoted Malcom Gladwell, Albert Einstein, and Bertrand Russell and ended with Uber as a perfect example of disruptive innovation. Maybe she was right in saying that game changers never play the game. In fact, Uber was founded by outsiders, and possibly no taxi driver could be thought of bringing it in. So, ultimately, only outsiders are possibly game changers.

Tony O’Dowd, in turn, made a good point when suggesting to take any job request as a challenge, even from returning customers, and to devote some time to know every customer and the game you are playing. In this respect, he brought in the example of Michael O’Leary as the architect of a seemingly unconceivable business model.

Diego Bartolome suggested adopting the agile method to innovate in a translation business: start immediately, move fast, build, measure, learn, improve and iterate; break down your processes and scale them once they work. He stayed on the implicit topic and ended his presentation with a quote attributed to Jack Welch, “Change before you have to.”

The panel on quality saw Monika Popiolek going through the novelties introduced with ISO 17100. Actually, as I recently wrote, despite the insights offered by a member of the drafting committee, the new standard will most probably not improve — not even slightly — the reputation of what is still considered a lesser business.

Maria Gabriela Morales gave a vivid presentation on the importance of a grassroots — although neglected — task like in-country review.

Finally, Konstantin Dranch gave a sharp — and yet almost aseptic — presentation of the data from his recent industry survey of the UK market. Despite the much too easy remarks of obviousness, there is just one thing he should better have told: everybody lies.

In the end, despite the much-vaunted push for change and innovation, the industry seems to be going on idly, especially as long as the belief remains unchanged that “informing customers is a secondary point — it’s all about lead generation.”

Quoting Captain Obvious, the ATC Conference staged routine content clothed in great style. This could not seem much, but it actually is, in an industry that is fairly short of topics. This is a good reason in itself to say that the ATC Conference has been excellent, not only for networking, but also for gathering useful information about the industry. The organization has been outstanding, too: many, many thanks to Geoffrey Bowden and the people who helped to make this event a real treat.