Cost-based or accreditation-based procurement?

All that is related to public or civil service tends to be regarded in an extremely favorable light in Brazil. Civil servants are well paid, with salaries that are often higher than in the private sector, and they are always paid on time. There is even a new term in Brazilian Portuguese to refer to people who have turned the entire process of applying for a job with the government into an occupation. They are not merely candidates; they are concurseiros. This is not at all surprising in a country where a few “lucky” public officials are paid super-salaries of over R$300,000 per month – way more than a Supreme Court Justice.

Therefore, a contract with the government is coveted by all kinds of companies in a number of different industries, including the translation and interpretation industry. The thought of signing a huge contract that will keep a lot of people busy for a long time is indeed extremely appealing. Many translators work as freelancers and must tackle hunting for new jobs on a daily basis, but closing a deal with the government would make all that just go away. If translators found security in a government contract, they would not have to worry about marketing their services or prospecting clients. With the 2013 Confederations Cup and the 2014 World Cup just around the corner, there are huge expectations for new business opportunities here and everyone is dying for a piece of that cake.

One of the major problems, as TNC explained, is that the lowest price is almost always the key factor that will define a government procurement process. Her post lists several reasons why this is a bad idea, and I can think of a few others to complement her thoughts. The red tape involved in the process is one of them reasons – and it’s not for the faint-hearted. It could take months for companies to be paid for services rendered, and they in turn take months to pay translators as well. No self-respecting translator would submit to such demeaning conditions, and many drop out of the project midway because they have found something better to do. In this situation many contractors will just shamelessly feed their material into free automatic translation software and deliver the sub-standard results to their client. Finally, since accountability seems to be a foreign concept to many people in this country, government agencies end up paying for a service they do not ultimately get.

I imagine quite a few of those government agencies had terrible experiences with language service providers in the past, because in the last couple of years a new category of government procurement seems to have been used more and more often: accreditation. Agencies that need to procure language services provide a list of requirements that contractors must fulfill in order to become an accredited provider. Those requirements usually involve minimum qualification standards for the provider, terms and conditions of service, and other relevant details. Individuals or companies are welcome to apply, but only those who meet the standards are accredited by the agency and included in their roster. The agency also sets the rates to be paid to translators/companies, thereby eliminating competition based on the lowest possible price. In my experience, rates have usually seemed reasonable, and I do hope that is true for accreditation-based procurement in general.

This could be an interesting procurement alternative, but whether it will yield better results than the others is yet to be determined. It basically comes down to which standards are set by the translation buyer for accreditation. Those who are not well informed about the language industry most likely do not know which requirements will make a difference in the product quality and will end up accrediting inadequate service providers.

As for language services for the Confederations Cup and the World Cup, there is still not much information officially available, and translation and interpretation services seem to be handled mostly internally (something that can be worrisome, such as the disgraceful case described in another article by TCZ). However, given Brazilians’ penchant for procrastination, I would not be surprised to get a last-minute call desperately seeking a professional. Or am being I too hopeful?

Freelancer or translation agency?

“Many corporations prefer to work with large translation agencies so they only have to deal with one vendor for multiple languages. On the flipside, other corporations like working with very small businesses because of the uncomplicated interaction and lack of red tape.”
—Dagmar and Judy Jenner

The profile of translation clients and their types of projects generally give us hints as to whether they’re better off hiring a freelance translator or a translation agency. How much text do you send for translation at a given time? What kinds of deadlines do you impose on translators? How many languages do you need your material translated to? Do you require services other than the translation itself?

In most cases, hiring a freelancer directly should cost you less than hiring an agency to do a translation. After all, agencies must pay their employees and infrastructure, and costs are expected to increase with a longer supply chain. Under some conditions, though, the translation agency approach may turn out to be more cost-effective than hiring a freelance translator. Most of the savings depend on the cost of your own time as a service buyer.

Let’s say you have an unusually large translation project with a deadline that would commonly be acceptable for a mid-sized text. A translation agency is geared to set up a whole team of translators, so they all work in their normal routine, at their normal rates. The agency often also arranges for text standardization and reviewing, as needed.

If you hire a freelancer to handle this large project alone, s/he’ll most likely have to deal with schedule disruption and overtime work, which usually translate into a surcharge on your end. Some translators hate everything about project management and prefer to work solo no matter what. But it’s common for freelancers to team up with one or two colleagues whom they trust and offer the same kind of “package” agencies offer. If they are truly professional and care about quality, one of the team members will be responsible for reviewing the whole text and checking for consistency and standardization. This step takes time and, again, usually results in extra charges. One of the posts under the cost-time-quality triangle category, “Common scenarios,” has a brief discussion on this and other related topics.

If you decide to set up a translation team yourself, imagine how much of your time you’d spend to recruit and select professionals, provide clear directions, follow up throughout the process, and manage their invoices and payments. You’d normally have to do all or most of this even when you’re working with one professional. Now multiply this work by the number of translators needed to complete the project. On top of that, someone would still have to be responsible for assembling all the pieces and turning them into a smooth and uniform product. This person can be you or someone else you will hire and pay extra for this task. Trust us: it’s not as simple as it sounds. What if you don’t even speak the language?

Similar situations arise when you have to translate a text into several languages, or when additional work is involved, like desktop publishing, text formatting, web editing, audio recording, video subtitling, and DVD authoring. Besides taking care of the project management steps cited above, you run the risk of one vendor having quality issues with another vendor’s delivery, and it may involve delays until all stages of production are harmonized.

Of course, some translators offer services beyond translation proper or may work together with professionals that complement their linguistic work, as Carolina and Bianca pointed out in the case of subtitling and video editing. Also, it’s common to see translators who take on projects that involve languages they don’t speak because they have established partnerships with other professionals who work with those languages. This might involve surcharges or not.

Your best bet is to explain all your needs in detail when you request a quote and see if your service provider is ready to deal with all the stages and languages involved. Resist the temptation to manage complicated projects and save yourself the headache and risk of achieving sub-standard results. Hiring qualified professionals to take care of your projects and having more time yourself to do something else will most likely pay off.