Eric Ries' Lean Startup started on a blog, became a best-selling book, and is now a thriving global movement. (There's a slick overview of the evolution here.) Despite the title, and some of Ries' arguments, its popularity can't be attributed merely to the relentless startup mania and the armies of 20-year-olds burning white-hot with dreams of instant Instagram billions.
In the book, Ries defines a startup as "A human institution designed to create a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty."
He allows that anyone leading such an endeavor should be considered an entrepreneur, whether s/he's a product manager working with a team of 100s at GE or in a garage with angel funding. And yet he does attempt to exclude "most businesses -- large and small alike" on the basis that they don't "confront situations of of extreme uncertainty." He continues:
"To open a new business that is an exact clone of an existing business all the way down to the business model, pricing, target customer, and product may be an attractive economic investment, but it is not a startup because its success depends only on execution."
The problems is that Ries' characterization of the execution-centric business applies fully to only one very particular kind of undertaking -- namely, franchises -- and not to "most businesses." (Moreover, even if the success of, say, a new Taco Bell is largely a matter of sticking to plan, I can assure you that the bright men and women at Yum Brands (which owns Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut) are working feverishly (and successfully) to constantly innovate and respond to new challenges across their global consumer touchpoints as well as internal employee experiences.)
The machines created this mess; let them clean it up.
On the one hand, enterprises need to make ever more content available in multiple languages. As I noted in my last post on translation, the drivers include the flood of content generated online (much of it created by consumers), the growing importance of business in emerging markets, and the desire to enable global collaboration among employees. On the other hand, advances in machine translation and new approaches such as crowdsourcing are making translation ever faster and less expensive. This is no fortunate coincidence: The very computing dynamics that enabled the Web and especially Web 2.0 -- rapid increases in processor speed, cheap storage, and high-speed networks, combined with social technologies -- also empower the latest technology-based solutions to translation and localization.
What it means (WIM): Computers have allowed us to create a problem that only computers can help solve.
This is the first of an irregular series of blog posts on how technical advances, new solution paradigms, and evolving client needs are changing translation services and providers (TSPs). I'll begin by offering a select glossary of some of the unfamiliar terms end users encounter when they begin to investigate translation services.
MT: Machine Translation, which simply means the use of computing technologies and software to assist with the translation of content (usually text, but voice recognition is of growing importance) from one language ("the source") to another ("the target"). Machine translation takes two primary forms, namely:
A specter is haunting the enterprise -- the specter of email. Where is the knowledge worker who has not felt the oppressive weight of email overload? Where is the business leader who has not complained bitterly of the wastefulness and productivity drain?
Two things result from this situation:
I. Email is depicted as a disease that must be eradicated, or a foe to be defeated.
II. Vendors and consultants offer fever reducers, defensive tactics, and visions of a utopian future free of email.
Last week the English language news sites were atwitter (in both senses) with the announcement by Atos CEO Thierry Breton that the French technology company intends to ban internal email usage among its 74,000 employees within 18 months. Perhaps thanks to my last blog post on email, The Independent called for an interview on "the death of email." The BBC did a radio debate, but obstinately refused to change their programming to accommodate my schedule.
It’s hard to avoid the tired old metaphors of “explosion” and “flood” when speaking of the exponential expansion of Internet and other digital content. Consider this startling factoid: According to Google’s recent Think Quarterly on innovation, “In 2003, five exabytes of information existed. Now we generate that every two days.”
Three key factors drive the spike in inquiries Forrester has seen this year about translation technologies, practices, and service providers. The first is this inundation of content. Even if only a tiny percentage of it could be valuable in other languages, it overwhelms the capacity of human translators.
Second, the strongest growth in consumerism and purchasing power is happening in countries with young populations and expanding economies, such as the so-called BRICs and CIVETs. (That’s Brazil, Russia, India, and China plus the more obscure Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, and Turkey.) Maintaining a consumer-oriented web presence in a single language today is akin to selling only to left-handed customers.
(And it’s futile anyway. Site visitors can use services like Google Translate to render your site in dozens of available languages, without your knowledge or any control over the quality of the translations.)
Finally, even if you ignore the consumer opportunities – and many companies still do – there’s the challenge of multilingual employee collaboration. Due to an overemphasis on the technology, many global enterprises seem surprised to learn that their slick new collaboration platform doesn’t do much to help the French collaborate with the Koreans or the Saudis if there is no common language.
Next to "Why won't Google allow me on +?" a currently popular question among content and collaboration professionals is, "How do we encourage employees to use social and collaboration tools?" I hear this question frequently in discussions with clients about intranets and the Information Workplace. My colleague and collaboration guru Rob Koplowitz probably answers it in his sleep by now and published a summary of best practices last year.
Last week, the question unsurprisingly popped up on the extremely useful LinkedIn Intranet Professionals forum. There has been a rich set of responses so far, including some healthy scepticism about the fundamental value of enterprise social. I encourage you to see the ongoing exchange in it's entirety. For the sake of the Forrester blog audience, here is a slightly modified version of my LinkedIn response.
Stop me if you've heard this one before . . . but think about Babe (Universal, 1995). Contrary to all tradition and expectation, Babe the pig becomes really good at helping Farmer Hoggett herd sheep. It's fantastic! A huge success!
But there's no inherent value in herding sheep. You don't herd sheep for the sake of having well-herded sheep -- you do it because having the sheep where you want them when you want them there makes it easier and more efficient and more productive to extract value from the sheep. (Such as shearing them, or . . . other ways of extracting value.)
Hype accompanies technology innovation like a shadow. When the inventor of fire was touting its benefits (“Makes mastodon meat more tender!” “Creates a romantic ambiance!”), there was no doubt someone at the back of the cave shouting, “Ach, it’s all just hype!”
Unfortunately for the critics of hype, people tend to remember only when they are hilariously wrong. A 1995 Newsweek article titled “The Internet? Bah!” mocked the proponents of the web: “Nicholas Negroponte, director of the MIT Media Lab, predicts that we’ll soon buy books and newspapers straight over the Intenet. Uh, sure.” Borders certainly wishes that prediction had been accurate.
The accelerating pace of change creates ever new opportunities for the hype police to look foolish, faster. Facebook will suffocate in its superficiality. The iPad will be an embarrassing flop. Twitter is just plain stupid.
In the software realm, hype is often associated, or even equated, with marketing. In one sense, it’s true that marketing is hype (and I say this as a former software marketer). Vendor claims about the benefits of their products are almost always unrealistic -- because they are usually based on abstract, imaginary, and ideal use cases. The challenge for any vendor selection process is (in principle) to separate the abstract scenario from the real benefits achievable given your specific business environment and goals. POST is a tool to help you determine and measure that delta.
UK-based translation service provider SDL plc has announced it will acquire statistical machine translation (MT) vendor Language Weaver for US $42.5m. Why does SDL want to pay 3.5 times revenue ($12.2m in 2009) for a money-losing ($1.0m in 2009) technology company? According to one active blog-o-tweeter (who coincidentally represents an SDL competitor), it's a cynical ploy to impress the London stock market by demonstrating that SDL is becoming a software company rather than a services provider.
Well, ฉันคิดว่าไม่ได้. (That's Thai for "I think not," according to a free translation powered by Language Weaver.) SDL wants Language Weaver because they correctly realize that there is a huge future opportunity for machine translation. This combination makes sense for SDL because it solidifies their translation value chain (MT plus translation memory databases plus humans plus WCM plugins). And it will impact Content and Collaboration professionals because:
Timeline: In my session on the Information Workplace at Forrester's IT EMEA forum in Lisbon last Thursday, I suggested that "Humans have lost the war against information overload. Only analytics can save us now." (Pedantic pop quiz: What obscure German philosopher is the Ur-source for that formulation?) One of the attendees tweeted this quip, and it enjoyed a few minutes of fame on Twitter. Five days later, IBM announced its intention to buy analytics vendor Coremetrics. Is this mere coincidence?
Forrester's web analytics expert Joe Stanhope has smartly dissected the acquisition in his blog. But what does it mean for Information and Knowledge Management professionals? I think it's another indication that IBM isn't just blowing on its marketing vuvuzelas when they talk about helping clients create and manage "exceptional web experiences." (Borrowing a line from Joe, I note that: The deal is subject to standard regulatory approvals in the US and Europe prior to closing.)
Email sucks, right? It undermines workplace communication and knowledge sharing with its 1-to-1, letter-writing paradigm. Its lame attempt to be open and communal via carbon copies (yes, that’s “cc”) leads only to splintered conversations and further confusion. And then there are attachments, which are modeled on the stuff that used to accompany your letter.
(“Dear Sirs: Enclosed please find the 1500 page unsolicited manuscript of my first novel, entitled ‘Email: Threat or Menace? – A Comedy.’ I have also enclosed a testimonial from my 8th-grade creative writing teacher, Mrs. Cartwright, and a home movie of my visit to Walden Pond. I trust you have a Super-8 movie projector handy?”)
Attachments mock security policies and the effort to establish a single version of the truth, and they surrender control over the structure and flow of a multiple-part presentation to the random whims of the order in which the receiver opens (or, doesn’t open) the multiple attachments.
Enterprise 2.0 enthusiasts (count me in) have argued for several years that Email’s manifest deficiencies could and would be overcome with open, social, and dynamic 2.0-based communication and collaboration tools. However, there’s also long been the recognition that Email – or rather, Email users – would not go down without a fight.