In Reach #3, Vasco chats with Anna Schlegel, Head of Globalization at NetApp.

You need to remove language as part of the equation… I’m not interested in translation. I’m interested in when they (customers) need the content, why they need the content, why are your customers going to be excited by this content, where they want it published. That’s more interesting.

Topics Covered

  • Anna’s extensive background in translation/localization (she was translating back when documents were still delivered to P.O. boxes!)
  • Machine translation as a tool for localizing large amounts of content
  • Content categorizations and classifications
  • Challenges of entering China

Whatever your country is, hire people that have travelled, hire people that have lived outside or that tend to speak several languages or that have done business or have studied elsewhere would be typically a little more open minded and will make you more successful in going global, that would be one thing, so hire global talent.

Read the full Reach #3 transcript below.

Anna Schlegel is Head of Globalization at NetApp
Anna Schlegel of NetApp

Reach #3 Transcript

Vasco (intro): Hi and welcome back to Reach! Today we’ll be speaking With Anna Schlegel of NetApp. Anna has over twenty years of experience in translation and localization and deep expertise in taking a company international. In this episode, we’re going to learn a bit about Anna, including how she got started in localization. Then we’ll learn about the potential for machine translation and content classification in your localization process. We’ll end the discussion with Anna’s thoughts on the challenges of doing business in China.

Vasco: Today on Reach we have with us Anna Schlegel. Anna is the head of globalization at NetApp and an expert at entering global markets. She was part of Cisco’s first localization team and led Xerox, VeriSign and VMWare and Digital Groups. She is co-founder and board member of Women in Localization which has more than two thousand members, catering to localization expert; this is an association at Foster’s membership, now working in best practices for companies to go global. She’s a native of Catalonia, speaks 6 languages, grew up trilingual and has a variety of linguistic and philology graduate degrees and has been featured in numerous publications such as Fortune and Forbes. Welcome it’s a pleasure to have you and have a chance to talk to you. Thank you very much.

Anna: Of course, thank you.

Vasco: So before you joined Cisco, initially you started with your own translation company in San Francisco and now you are the head of globalization of a public company with more than 12,000 employees. It’s been quite a trip and you’ve seen both sides of the market, as a vendor, as a buyer in this market. What was the journey like and what do you feel were the main changes over the years?

Anna: It’s been quite the journey. The changes over the years, so when I had my own translation company, we didn’t talk about localization, we talked about translation and editors and we used Word Perfect and we used to drive across San Francisco with CDs and discs, not even CDs, it was floppy discs and hard discs. That’s how it was back then. I used to print a lot of the projects and hand deliver those projects.

Vasco: How did you divide that, the practicality of dividing work amongst people…

Anna: Phone calls and fax machines. I had interns in my business where they were printing resumes. The resumes would get to me in a P.O. Box via snail mail. I would put ads in the newspaper like, I need more translators. There was no internet back then.

Vasco: So you had to get translators locally

Anna: All my translators were local.

Vasco: Oh, wow

Anna: All my Japanese and Chinese translators initially they were all local. I used to do a lot of work for Levi Strauss and for the city of San Francisco, so yes everybody was local. You can imagine then that changed to email and we got out of Word Perfect within a couple of years and I remember hearing the word localization initially and with anything, that’s scary, like the first time I heard machine translations. The first time you heard, you need to deliver this via email or you need to upload it to a fpt. All these things were very scary back then,

Vasco: Now you are one of the more vocal people about the potential of using MT solutions as in globalization. This is kind of awesome. I have a lot of questions. Go ahead, maybe we can address MT afterwards, which is kind of an interesting topic.

Anna: I think your question was, how did you go from owning a translating agency to leading a globalization team. It takes many years, trying different jobs at different companies. I was a translator myself, I was a project manager then a program manager. I was a QA tester for Lucent for a couple of years so I wrote test scripts; I had to then try my own thing. I worked a lot with telephone companies to do all the IVR3 for their phones, messaging in different languages. I ran web teams. I was an operations manager for a main translating agency on the West Coast. It takes a lot of business savvy and understanding all the different corners of the business. So I was never about to be just a translator or a project manager. I wanted to try out all the different aspects of the business.

Vasco: Did you know that early on, even before you started your own translation company, did you know that translation is just a path to something bigger?

Anna: No. I started my translating company when I was 23. I had no idea what I was doing. I just knew that I had a degree in different languages and that I could translate. Not necessarily that I could translate anything that was technical. It was when I was hired by Cisco to start their first team that I got into the technicality of the Silicon Valley and the routers and telecommunications and engineering, which was very foreign to me because I was coming from a Masters in Linguistics with Nietzsche, Goethe, Schiller, and Vladimir, and I had no clue what they were talking about.

Vasco: It’s a very different language and Silicon Valley has such a unique culture.

Anna: I remember having panic attacks at the beginning. There were talking about objectives and goals and visions and charters and teams and reporting structures that was the biggest shocker of my life, so that’s how you start you just trust and at the next company you do it better and you understand more and you see different models and basically the goal is to learn something at every company that you are and if you are somebody that wants to be exposed to more then you might need to be ready to change companies and move up and try different things and follow your gut and give that much to how much you want to learn how much you want to learn and then move on.

Vasco: I’m sure it is just the beginning of the journey, it is quite impressive. Yes so as I was saying before one of the things that strike me as really interesting is kind of the shift that seem to be happening in the space towards starting to embrace machine translation as one potential tool and I feel that there is still a lot of division where there is maybe some mistrust sometimes and sometimes well deserved from especially from people that have a lot translation background but you seem to be kind of one of the proponents that like, well we’re changing towards where customers really value speed and efficiency and the ability to really just communicate and we should just embrace these technologies as a way to provide better customer service. I assume that is something that you guys do at NetApp?

Anna: That is right, so NetApp is a highly innovated company itself. NetApp is constantly releasing announcements, product launches, new ideas, solutions on a daily basis to the market, so NetApp as you know most companies out there have fierce competition, so if you want to allow your company to go global at the rate that they deserve you need to be able to keep up with what they want to say in different languages around the world.

Vasco: Yeah.

Anna: So you are not going to do that with a very a traditional method. If you put your content and your ideas and solutions through a regular work flow, or your tools or products are not ready to go global you won’t be able to help your company and so for us to be able to keep up with the pace of the company we have to automate, we have to be consistently cutting work flows and obviously we have different solutions for different types of content and machine translations is one of them. Obviously translation management systems is one of them, connecting digital content management systems through the translation management systems is something that we’ve done here as well. So you cannot rely on a traditional, regular process. You just can’t rely on that.

Vasco: So is it easy to sell that inside the company or do you find resistance where certain offices and certain branches and certain countries will see some MT and will maybe complain about a particular translation that happened. Do you have to demonstrate specific ROI or do you have specific metrics that show that this provides much better value for what we’re doing.

Anna: I have a secret.

Vasco: Ok cool

Anna: We don’t tell anybody. I just do it.

Vasco: That’s awesome.

Anna: Why do you want to make your internal customers nervous about it?

Vasco: Of course.

Anna: As long as they get content that they like, the quality that they like, by the time that they need, in the languages that they requested. I don’t tell them how the content got there.

Vasco: That’s interesting. The quality that they like, but do you ask them a priori what is the quality that they expect?

Anna: Do you know anybody that has read a product manual in Chinese?

Vasco: That’s a good point.

Anna: We have a content classification where you know inside a company that field marketing managers are going to read what you give them. They will probably want to massage the content, probably want a rewrite, or restyle some of the content. So if you’re producing a press release, they will want to read it. If you’re producing a 200 page product manual, they are going to scan it at best and eventually, so what we do is we negotiate with partners in China or in Japan or different countries. If they would be okay with receiving automated machine translation content, we first get the agreements that way. We don’t let anybody within our company know what methods we’re using for localization. It would just give them a heart attack I think and so what we do is we devise the best work flows and yes we tell them that we use automation but we don’t go into details, as to what sort of automation. They understand that content fits in repositories and there is some black box and black magic happens to return that content into X number of languages. Yes we believe in automation.

Vasco: That’s great. It makes a lot of sense and I always feel that a lot of the problems exactly, when you start the discussion. Every time you have a discussion about language, it’s very easy to get into situations where it becomes so subjective, that in cases like …

Anna: You need to remove language as part of the equation. I think the translators and project managers, we need to move the conversation, and change the conversation I’m not interested in translation. I’m interested in when they need the content, why they need the content, why are your customers going to be excited by this content, where they want it published. That’s more interesting. What are the metrics that you expect? What do you want this content to do for you versus do you mind if I use machine translation. That is the totally wrong conversation to have.

Vasco: And it’s not even a very Silicon Valley approach. Ask for forgiveness not for permission.

Anna: They don’t care, that’s why they hire us to give them good solutions to keep up with the rest and don’t bore them with the details. I keep it very black box so to speak, the methods that we use, we have good senders that give us good quality so we spend a lot of time in this black box, designing the black box, putting the right systems to right automation but that’s a conversation that I need to have or that my team needs to have…

Vasco: So it’s internal. That makes a lot of sense.

Anna: That’s my philosophy.

Vasco: Especially as we move towards the need for speed to keep things updated and it reminds me of something else that I read, one of the things that you wrote about social, which I think is very evident in social, more and communications are happening social. Customer service conversations, the interaction between customers and companies. In that case you even need to be faster in terms of turn around times of communication. Which is kind of a problem, especially when it comes to Twitter for example, machine translations doesn’t really work well on Twitter yet. One of the things that I was reading that was very interesting is how you describe that one of the trends for this year is companies should pay more attention globalising their social presence. How much of an issue do you think that’s going to become?

Anna: That is a huge issue. When I mean globalising social media doesn’t mean that you need to translate the Tweets. To me globalising social media means the following: Why are we tweeting to China via Twitter. They don’t use Twitter, they don’t use Facebook, so why are companies doing that? Find other social networks that are working out in China. Now that’s number one. The US corporations, or European corporations or African corporations that want to get into APAK as an example, they need to understand that landscape really, really well. They need to have people onsite to be able to do that for them. So that’s one part, the other part it there is a social listening that needs to happen and it’s not happening. People are not reading these 100 product manuals anymore. They are hooked up to their sites, their social media sites, whatever that may be. To me a lot of the writers, they’re writing for these big manuals. I would rather see them spending time in the community or spending time answering questions on communities and forums where the actual users and potential customers are going.

Vasco: That’s a great point

Anna: We actually need a little bit of a revolution around all these information engineering and tech spots stories and that’s what I mean, we need to globalise this social media.

Vasco: That makes a lot of sense. It feels to me that one of the issues is that there is still this expectation and sometimes legal expectation that there is going to be this manual. That at some point you’re going to be able to go into this book or even digital format and everything is going to be laid out there. You’re right, that’s not how people interact with information anymore for the most part. People expect the ability to have much more dynamic information and customized and interacting with the human or someone that can customize that information for them is a much better experience than having to deal with this big manual. A lot of the times the language, it’s not even relatable. That’s a great point. You mentioned China a couple of times and I read other things that you wrote about entering the market in China. Should China be the first thing that a company not in China should think in terms of entering a market?

Anna: No!

Vasco: How was that? So NetApp entered China in 2007 and now there is …

Anna: China is very complex, so if you are not in Asia yet, it’s not that Japan is easy but Japan has more similarities to let’s say the States or Europe in the form of conducting business. I know there are huge cultural differences but at least there’s more regulations. China is the wild west right now. They have obviously grown up and studied and in China there is incredible government regulations that are very different than our concepts.

Vasco: Can you give us an example?

Anna: Sure, I can give you an example where you will follow a regular agile product process here in the States to deliver a product in China and they can approve you or use your acceptance testing and then when you’re ready to launch your product they don’t like it anymore.

Vasco: Why is that?

Anna: Because they can, it’s as simple as that. They don’t follow agreements in a common sense way for us. Their common sense is their common sense. So if I do a project with you and we meet five times and we agree we’re going to remove this, we are going to add this, these are the features, we’re going to launch these bags, we’re going to probably go for that goal in a much easier way than if I do that with a Chinese company

Vasco: Do you think it’s because it’s a matter of perhaps having a stronger interaction with the customer in that case?

Anna: No.

Vasco: No, okay!

Anna: I’m not talking about American companies in China, I’m talking about Chinese companies. So government run companies, state owned companies, finance banking institutions. They are not relying on American companies yet but they would like to partner with them to either grab their ideas or ask for their source codes. I mean they are a number of companies right now or regulations coming in from China where they are trying to ask for the source codes of products that are made in Europe and products that are made in the States and so there is a lot of mistrust right now and if your product is a purse it’s very different than if it’s an engineering product, let me put it that way. If it’s a purse, they will probably replicate it and sell it as if they had made it.

Vasco: Do you think that is always the case, the goal of getting access to the source code or the idea is for replication? Or is it meant…

Anna: Have you been to China?

Vasco: I haven’t, unfortunately not yet.

Anna: Then that is very much the case now yes.

Vasco: Okay

Anna: I live it all day long. Today is January 28th; there is an article today that I was reading on the New York Times that was talking about some of the new regulations that they are being demanded by the Chinese governments as to releasing source codes to several companies and so American companies or European companies are going to have to wake up and are going to have to put some sort of foot in front of this because they are really getting ahead and securing their production and their ideas as if they were theirs.

Vasco: Well and yet at the same time it seems that from reading some of your articles and a lot of other information that the only way to actually get into China is to get a partner. That’s almost a requirement that you need to.

Anna: It is. If you are entering to sell something or produce something that they already have or is similar to something that they have, you are at the disadvantage. If you are there to sell something new, you have an advantage. If they haven’t created it yet, you have the upper hand.

Vasco: That’s interesting and yet you keep hearing and it is true not only in Silicon Valley but in Europe especially that continuously small companies see China as this great potential. So whenever I ask companies where you think of expanding…

Anna: It is. It’s a little bit short sighted or it’s a very delicate balance and everybody should try to get into China. I think the balance is finding the right partner you can trust who is not going to have access to your source codes and so if you have a very strong legal team and their legal team agree on IP protection and brand agreement et cetera, then obviously the relation can be very productive and very successful. But right now, you do see American companies starting to do some interesting things to be able to get in while they are leaving and losing their identity and their brand. So you see different models like co-branding or rebranding or de-branding so there is many different ways of doing this, it’s not an easy process and it requires legal teams and engineering and marketing teams and usually product marketing agreeing on how much are they willing to give up. Because basically you are not going in with your brand.

Vasco: It’s really hard if at some time you want to establish your brand.

Anna: I am talking about technology; I am not talking about if you’re Chanel. I was just there last week. So you do see Chanel stores already.

Vasco: And they’ve had huge success in this last quarter in China.

Anna: Huge success. That’s right. The problem is that you can also buy Chanel for a tenth of the price if you go to their silk market.

Vasco: Typically what we see on that part of Chanel is more what comes out. Kind of fakes that you can buy outside. I imagine that is much more appealing once you’re inside.

Anna: That’s right.

Vasco: That’s great. So is there any advice that you would give for young companies that are trying to be global. I hear also more of this idea of global from day one and I see two sides of this argument because on one hand there is strong advice from don’t try to reach too far, try to focus on your home market or one specific market until you really understand your product. On the other hand a lot of companies are becoming global by design but from the beginning where there are web services and they start getting customers all over and things kind of grow organically. Do you have any advice for what strategies do you think makes sense and if so is there are particular countries that you think are particularly easy in terms of regulatory or in terms of culture if you’re a U.S company for example to get into.

Anna: If you are brand new, I would start by hiring the right people. Whatever your country is, hire people that have travelled, hire people that have lived outside or that tend to speak several languages or that have done business or have studied elsewhere would be typically a little more open minded and will make you more successful in going global, that would be one thing, so hire global talent. The other thing would be the right infrastructure, so if you are implementing SalesForce.com, or you’re implementing a content management system for your website or a field portal for your partners or your customers. In your requirements up front make sure that you pretend that you already went global. That you already need this for Japan, you already need this for Greece or The Middle East or Israel or wherever it is that you are planning to go global and sell your product. Again these are thing that you can do from the very beginning. Hire global talent, people that are experienced in running global teams. Whatever it is, legal global expertise, HR global expertise, IT global expertise that is very, very important.

Vasco: Well how often do you get to China?

Anna: I go to China, once or twice a year. I’ve been going for probably 7 or 8 years now.

Vasco: It’s going to very interesting as China becomes a bigger market and more mature and its now by some accounts bigger than the United States. It’s going to be interesting to see if they are going to start seeing the reverse problems.

Anna: Yeah.

Vasco: In the next few years if they don’t slow down, it’s going to become very interesting to see where it leads and how much in terms of globalization. A lot of the world doesn’t speak English but for businesses working in English is still easier than working in other languages, unless it is your home language. But for Chinese businesses I wonder what’s going to happen once they try to become global. Once Alibaba goes international and Xiaomi goes international. What’s going to be their strategies for globalisation and how they are going to deal with issues that American companies have been dealing with by going global.

Anna: That’s right.

Vasco: That’s going to be very interesting. Well thank you very much. It was great having you.

Anna: Absolutely.

Vasco: Thank you for being a part of Reach and I hope to talk to you soon.

Anna: Very good. Thank you.

Vasco (outro):Thanks for listening to Reach! I’m Vasco Pedro. Be sure to listen next time for more insights on how to succeed in a global market.