Oct 2, 2010

Poll: Barriers to Cooperation

Recently in the sidebar of this blog, the following question was asked:

What are the significant barriers for you in collaborative projects with colleagues?

The responses were distributed as follows:

12%    None. I do it all the time without trouble
25%    Organization: coordinating & scheduling tasks
29%    Technology: suitable means and methods of resource sharing
45%    Networking: I don't always know suitable people to work with
31%    Trust: I'm afraid of having clients stolen or being held responsible for the failures of others
6%    Other reasons
It's interesting that the most frequent response indicated a lack of suitable partners for cooperation. Whether this is a perception issue or a real matter of getting out and getting to know qualified peers is probably very much an individual issue. In my case I simply don't know a lot of linguistically qualified German to English translators with a significant knowledge of chemistry and related sciences and a healthy dose of legal competence. When I see otherwise very good translators going at such texts armed with a dictionary and boundless confidence, I can't help but cringe, especially if I'm involved in the review somehow. I have bad flashbacks to the day that a superb legal translator took on an IT text on entity/relationship modeling and asked me if some key term had the same meaning as it does in contracts. Not even close.

Trust was another major issue. This was not unexpected given the paranoia I observe at times in various fora. I don't worry much about client "theft" and often freely pass on contact data for qualified colleagues, with the understanding that the parties involves in any transaction bear all the responsibility for the results. Concerns about responsibility for bad quality from others is understandable, but here proper project management - enough time allowed for review and rescue and a sufficiently high margin to allow for any contingencies - can offset a lot of potential trouble. This is an important organizational issue that many freelancers are neither prepared to qualified to handle, so caution in this regard is probably praiseworthy.

Technology as a barrier is more a matter of knowledge than the actual technology available. Not everyone has the resources or inclination to maintain a translation server with SDL solutions, memoQ, Déja Vu or other options, but new entries to the market like Wordfast Anywhere (a free collaboration tool with privacy features) could be game-changing here, and little birds tell me that SaaS solutions may soon be available at affordable cost for small freelance teams. About a year ago I had the pleasure of being involved in a nice project where a memoQ server license was leased for a month; the only down side to that was the hardware problems the project coordinator had figuring out the IP addresses with his router. Technical options for collaboration outside of agency structures are increasing, and it is worth investigating developments in this area. In one case we brought a collaborative project to an agency that had the necessary infrastructure (a memoQ server), and the results were quite satisfactory, so this is one option that may be worth exploring with small, flexible LSP partners.

The challenges of coordinating and scheduling can be considerable. Many freelancers lack experience as project managers and may not have had occasion to develop the necessary interpersonal skills and "toughness" to deal with difficulties that may arise. The *technical* aspects of assigning, scheduling, coordinating and delivering jobs can be handled adequately with affordable software solutions. The best option I currently know for this is the Online Translation Manager (OTM) from LSP.net, which for a basic monthly fee of 29 euros per month gives anyone full access to all the IT infrastructure needed to run an agency of any size. It's "software as a service" with automated backups and top-notch security; the cheapest option for setting up my own server and other software adds up to several years of OTM fees at the very least. OTM also gives me completely secure file transfer for clients and cooperation partners. This is important for paranoid patent lawyers and others. I've been looking for and testing solutions in this area for seven years now, and although there is still significant optimization needed by the provider for the average freelancer or small team, OTM is the best option for small teams looking to grow on a budget or medium-sized LSPs who need competence, security and cost control. The provider currently offers free trials to interested parties.

Of course, collaboration isn't for everyone. I'm often of two - or even three - minds on the subject. But for those who are interested in working together with others as a way to grow their business, there are many options and many exciting developments ahead.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting to note that in the recent ProZ conference presentations by ProZ themselves, two of the key areas flagged as significant changes coming over the next few years were...

    * Increased collaboration
    * Translation Management Systems

    It seems that large companies like HP are already integrating both together in their systems.

    What I liked about the HP approach was that they provide ALL the tools and software licences. That's they way it should be. None of this fuzzy discounting nonsense for using efficiency tools you've paid for yourself. ;)


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