M&E Journal: The Need for Speed: Automating the Localization Supply Chain

By Von W. Johnson, CEO, MCF Media Solutions, LLC

Language dubbing and subtitling have been standard distribution practice since the 1930s. The process and speed of localizing filmed entertainment content evolved as technology progressed from decade to decade. Magnetic striped film was replaced by audio tape formats of various configurations. Picture references advanced from film to videotape. Until the 1990s, audio and picture assets were physically shipped via courier or overnight services to points around the globe for translation and adaptation.

During the first decade of the millennium, the explosion of internet-based communications and file-based audio and video formats accelerated the dubbing and subtitling process, enabling distribution companies to release feature and television content in multiple languages and formats on the same day and date.

Coordinating assets and schedules with local and international suppliers has always been a challenge. Many distribution companies track key milestones in online calendars, online spreadsheets or proprietary database programs. Global communication has evolved from telephone and fax to email and text.

Email and text are convenient communication tools, but the volume of emails combined with time differences and language challenges can cause misunderstandings and mistakes. Human forgetfulness is a factor as well, when one forgets to answer an important and timely question, or neglects to attach a document that suppliers need to finish their tasks.

Modern software-as-a-service (SaaS) and file-sharing platforms (e.g., Sharepoint) provide an illusory sense of collaboration. File sharing platforms are convenient, but may not meet the client’s security standards. Online spreadsheets are a convenient tool for sharing dates, but it’s the ultimate “honor” system since users can change those dates and introduce errors.

Task management

Lesson learned? Managing tasks is more productive than managing dates. A date in a spreadsheet or database is just a date. Managing dates does next-to-nothing to move the project forward or contribute to the work itself. Similarly, shifting files from one email or server to another assumes that the person doing the task is aware of the file and knows what to do with it. Hence the avalanche of emails asking “when, where, how and who” that underscore the limitations of email, spreadsheets and other disparate applications as reliable project management tools.

A better approach is to:

Creative a truly collaborative environment where the schedule, projects, tasks and assets are together in one place.

Assign tasks to the person responsible for the work and automatically provide them with the assets they need to do their task.

Automate the workflow and communications for team members, so everyone knows when it’s their turn at bat and when the assigned task is completed.

Automate the status of the project in real time, and automatically send the status to team members at predetermined intervals. Eliminate ad-hoc reports, and guessing the whereabouts of assets and the status of a task. Automate reminders that tasks are underway.

Automate the asset path and store assets and deliverables precisely where management wants them to reside for the long run rather than moving assets from email to email, platform to platform, work-in-progress to archive.

For the past two years, Von Johnson and Associates, Inc. (VJA) has participated in the development of Speedy Suite from MCF Media Solutions, LLC (MCFM). Speedy Suite, or Speedy for short, is a cloud-based set of collaborative project management tools that manage voice tests, assets and workflows, assigns tasks and communicates project status to participants.

The goal is to facilitate tight collaboration between multiple suppliers along the localization supply chain in real time, including production, post-production, script preparation, dubbing studios, translation Q.C. specialists, audio description, subtitling, mixing engineers and content aggregators. Automating the workflow creates rapid, real time synchronicity regardless of geographic location. Team members are free to focus on completing their tasks at just the right moment in time. No more emails asking “who, when, what and where.”

The benefits of automation

The benefits of automation are obvious in a side-by-side comparison to spreadsheets, email and disparate platforms as project management tools.

The example in Figure 1 is how a typical dubbing project may appear using a spreadsheet scheduling method. Episode numbers run along Column A with task definitions along Row 1. Anticipated event dates are thrown together with due dates. The documents and technical materials the team requires are elsewhere, and the person responsible for doing the work is anyone’s guess. Project managers may choose to assign color codes to cells that indicate the status of a particular task, but there’s no guarantee that participants will comply. Team members may inadvertently change dates and introduce errors. Tracking dates is tedious and time consuming.

The example in Figure 2 displays how automation can combine scheduling with task management and reporting. Tasks are clearly defined and assigned to the person who conducts the work. The Gantt chart (named after mechanical engineer and management consultant Henry Gantt, who in the 1910s devised a way to illustrate the start and end dates of tasks within a project, plus the dependent relationships between the tasks) on the right displays the tasks as they appear in time, with the vertical bar representing today’s date.

Schedule-to-actual dates are automatically captured and reported, reducing errors and creating opportunities to identify process blockers and improve workflows. The questions about “who, what and when” are eliminated.

Team members are not burdened with entering dates or changing cell colors to signify status. Instead, they change the workflow status to “completed” as they finish their assigned tasks. This action automatically notifies the team that the task is complete and changes the task from yellow (“in progress”) to green (“completed”). The automated workflow engine fires off the next task in line, and notifies the appropriate team member that their task is available.

Making materials accessible

Nearly every task in a dubbing or subtitling project requires access to documents or technical materials, and many tasks create new materials that other team members need. For example, project managers traditionally use email to transport domestic scripts to dubbing studios for translation, then reverse directions when translations are complete. Some companies review translated scripts for improvement opportunities.

Adding that step increases the number of emails per project. Multiple emails and email threads regarding the same topic increase the chances for error and misunderstandings.

For technical materials, distributors can choose from standalone, third-party methods, or grant limited access to their internal networks, servers or content management systems. Using this approach, team members are required to surf different servers or applications for the documents and technical materials they need.

A flurry of emails occurs when materials are not where they belong, or not available in a timely manner.

Alternatively, the approach in Figure 3 ensures the materials are available when project management activates the task. The question of “where” is eliminated, since the materials sit alongside the task itself. Tying materials to their respective tasks and limiting access to users who truly need them enhances content security.

A fully integrated content management system ensures that documents and technical materials reside precisely where management wants them to be for the long run.

This approach effectively eliminates the gap between work-in-progress content management and long-term archive.

In conclusion, it’s difficult and time consuming to gauge precisely where a project sits in real time using spreadsheets and email. Emails get out of control, and spreadsheets are “snapshots” of reality rather than reality itself. Users may forget to answer emails or update spreadsheets, causing panic when dates are missed.

Managing technical materials outside the project and separate from the task is inefficient.

Alternatively, automating workflows, task management and communications with content management produces notable results.

From our experience with Speedy, VJA can report several observations:

Questions regarding “who, what, when and where” have virtually ceased to exist and the amount of email is substantially reduced.

Automated workflows replace effort that is normally delegated to staff.

One hundred percent of the suppliers, dubbing studios and Q.C. contractors along the localization chain are participating.

User issues are generally limited to password- related questions.

Integrating DAM/CMS causes users to place delivered assets precisely where we want them to reside for the long run. Managing work-in-progress assets separately from archived assets is no longer necessary.

Most importantly, automated project management, task management and integrated content management returns hours of time per week to team members, enabling them to focus on other, more profitable activities.


Click here to translate this article
Click here to download the complete .PDF version of this article
Click here to download the entire Spring 2017 M&E Journal