Size Matters! Exploring the big questions on change, innovation and success from a small LSP's point of view

The following is a summarized outline of some of the key ideas and topics addressed by Burckhardt Rueffer and Miguel Sevener at their GALA 2017 presentation in Amsterdam.

UPDATE: A variation of this presentation was given at the GALA track during tcWorld 2017 in Stuttgart, Germany.


Coming from two radically different backgrounds and an important generation gap, our intention was to make the case for intentional, directed and sustainable growth for small LSPs. Our first step was to acknowledge the amazing speed at which ours and every industry seem to be evolving, and the effect this has on our good use and understanding of the technologies that aid this growth. The basic thread of our presentation is what we called "the Cleaner Fish analogy":


The mutually beneficial relationship between whales and the fish that clean them of parasites was our metaphorical vehicle to explore the state of the industry and how it evolved from a healthy ecosystem with a number of different players into a new landscape defined by consolidation and a technology monopoly.


We called this new ecosystem "The Era of the Language Service Colossi". It is inhabited by 3 players: the whales, the sharks and the little fish, with both the sharks and the little fish competing for the whale's skin.
These "little fish" are up against a fierce competition dictated by the demands of a market that is often ignorant of the profession itself. In this scenario, the "big ones" have many advantages, but the little ones also have some good cards to play...We worked out several scenarios for small LSPs, including working for the sharks, competing with them, finding a niche and becoming the "pilot fish". We concluded that a future in this business would be for those LSPs who:

- Solve comprehensive translation problems and respond to complex requests.
- Become a client's partner in their overall globalization strategy, not just a supplier, and provide more than a "simple" service.
- Perform very specialized, high value and finesse-driven human translation work.


We found that commoditization of our industry only happens when the players are unable to clearly demonstrate their value add to a client. This is when price becomes the prime determinant of who gets the business, as you are easily replaceable.

In the end, our favorite option for small LSPs is "going rogue", not just becoming a "better fish". In the midst of the automation revolution and what some call "the end of the employment society", it is ingenuous to believe our Industry will be untouched. If we want to survive, we might have to grow legs and step out of the pond.