Thinking back to when I joined the company ten years ago, perhaps the most striking change over that time has been its size. As well as more space, we also – and more crucially – have a bigger team, both in house and in our external network of expert freelance translators and proofreaders. Of course, having more staff means greater capacity for client work, but it also allows for increased flexibility – splitting individual jobs and texts between several suppliers to meet challenging deadlines, for instance – and permits a more nuanced approach to job placement. After all, having a wider variety of specialists on our books allows us to really pick out the best individual for even the most niche of subject matters.
However, “critical mass” by itself is no guarantee of quality. With order volumes increasing so significantly, it would be all too easy to focus exclusively on the figures at the expense of nurturing personal relationships with clients. Yet this has not been the case at AST. In fact, our understanding of quality has actually deepened rather than been diluted over the years. Processes have been streamlined, formalised and tightened up; we have made substantial investments in improving the efficiency of our project management engine; and our philosophy of continuous improvement has ensured that at no stage have we rested on our quality laurels.
Key to this has been our certification to ISO 9001:2008 back in 2010, followed by our successful recertification to its successor standard ISO 9001:2015 last year. Achieving compliance with the standard meant developing an entire quality management (QM) system from scratch and ensuring that procedures were in place to guarantee translation quality and sound business management. Perhaps the best reflection of our achievements in this area is the fact that our rate of justified quality complaints has been dropping steadily over recent years – despite considerably higher order volumes – and now stands at below 0.5%. Needless to say, our procedure for handling any complaints that we do receive has been continuously fine-tuned over time too.
As we have grown, we have also become increasingly conscious of our role in helping to develop the next generation of language professionals. In introducing internship and work experience opportunities for current language students, we have been doing our bit to counter the general decline in language learning in the UK as well as stealing a march on the competition when it comes to spotting young talent.
Keeping our ear to the ground and our eye on the ball in this way is vital, because our industry has been changing too. The onward march of technology has impacted on the translation sector just as it has on many others, if not more so. In response to these developments, we have upped our investment in computer-aided translation (CAT) software and enhanced our expertise in machine translation (MT) and related new technologies.
In light of all this, you might be forgiven for thinking that the environment I found myself in ten years ago would be completely unrecognisable now. And while the terminology may have changed – “language service provider” or “LSP” has dislodged “translation company” to describe what it is that we do, for instance – our underlying philosophy remains reassuringly familiar. We continue to be driven by a focus on quality and on cultivating personal relationships with new and existing clients, and in the office our corporate culture is still one of cheerful professionalism coupled with linguistic excellence. It is a winning formula, and one that is bound to keep on bringing success over the next ten years and beyond.