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Why is outsourcing so painful?

Ensuring quality in outsourcing medical translation servicesThe current issue of tcworld, tekom's newsletter, contains an article on outsourcing practices. I don't really agree with the premise of the piece.

The author basically says that the selection of suppliers is all about quality and look what can happen when you choose incorrectly - he lists recent quality issues with toys, clothes, milk, and toothpaste as examples. He then goes on to say that to avoid these, companies need a strong quality system so that they can be sure to satisfy their customers' needs.

To be sure, I agree with all of the elements. In a service business, client satisfaction is hugely important. Similarly, a robust quality system is a basic requirement for providing medical translation services. And because so much production work is outsourced multiple times along the translation supply chain, appropriate supplier selection is of paramount importance.

My skepticism stems from the fact that these pieces don't add up to an effective outsourcing model. You can implement the letter of any quality system based on ISO 9001, TQM, or any other philosophy mentioned by the author yet still regularly outsource work to "wrong" suppliers.

Similarly, customers being satisfied with a translation supplier's work doesn't mean that the supplier was appropriate. In fact, it doesn't even mean that the supplier provided good quality. (Ah, but that gets us into what is translation quality and how to prove the existence of quality. We'll leave that discussion for another day.)

All of this doesn't mean that outsourcing is an island to itself. More than anything, outsourcing practices in the medical translation space require robust processes to determine customer requirements, effective pricing/negotiating strategies, and, ultimately, a company-wide strategy that they support. Yes, quality and customer satisfaction are important. But without these additional elements, outsourcing is just another word for spinning your wheels.

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