Emerging Technology

The digital translator speaks any language… Women create new workplace culture… IT outsourcing’s traps and tips…

SmartCompany /

A good translator can be hard to find – unless it’s in your briefcase.

Electronic language translators are not new, but until now they have tended to operate more as electronic phrasebooks than handy, babelfish-style universal translators. Well, according to techie trendwatchers OhGizmo, a new product on the market is set to change all that.

VoxTec’s wizzbang new Phraselator P2 device provides fast and accurate translations of spoken phrases in any language. All you have to do is speak into the built-in microphone, pick the language desired, and out come the translated words. Alternatively, you can pick from an extensive range of common sayings – again, in just about any language.

At $US2000, the Phraselator is pricey, although not crazily so if you are constantly doing business in countries where you don’t speak the language. And you won’t need to worry about accidentally dropping the thing – it was designed by the US military to be very tough and completely dust and waterproof.

Women change workplace culture

Nearly one in two Australians (49.3%) believe that the increasing number of women in leadership positions in the office is fundamentally changing the way we work by introducing a more feminine values in the workplace, according to research by recruiters Talent2.

Women feel the change more than men – or are in denial. Forty-six percent of men say the influx of female managers is not influencing the way they work. Only 30% of women say it is not changing the way they work.

Talent2’s Susie Tooth says most big bosses have seen the writing on the wall: 65% of CEOs and MDs say the typical male management techniques are becoming outdated and are disappearing as women (slowly) climb the corporate ladder.

“Typically, male leaders act more like a drill-sergeant while females act more like a coach to their employees,” she says. “Females, traditionally, are better communicators, use influencing skills rather than authority, are better team players, more readily show appreciation for the efforts of others and are more expressive of their thoughts and feelings than male managers.

“Many females feel they need to, or naturally do, employ ‘male’ management techniques as there is a feeling they need to prove themselves, or to be part of a boys’ club. The jury is still out, and probably will be for a long time, on which management style is best.

“Male and female managers need to find a middle ground on management styles to keep their employees happy. Some may prefer a ‘male’ style, while others might prefer a ‘female’ style. At the end of the day, a large part of a manager’s job is to find and practice what works best for their staff.”

Outsourcing technology traps and opportunities

Everyone is doing it but it’s not easy to make it work well. WSJ.com Start Up Journal has compiled a list of dos and don’ts for outsourcing technology from Paul Horowitz, the national leader of PricewaterhouseCoopers’ LLP’s outsourcing practice. This is what SMEs need to know BEFORE they sign with an IT vendor.

Have an exit strategy. Think through what will happen in the event things don’t work out. There could be an operations change, acquisition, financial instability, a shift in business models or other changes – at your firm or the vendor’s. The contract should spell out how a transition would be handled if the work is brought back in-house or handed off to another vendor. It should cover as many what-if scenarios as possible.

Meet the account team. Often, business managers are wowed by a vendor’s sales staff, but they don’t meet the person who will be running the project on a day-to-day basis. The contract should include the names of the top three to five employees on the account, how much of their time will be dedicated to your work, and under what conditions their assignments can be changed. Meet the account employees in person and find out about their skills, expertise in your industry and comfort with the technical environment they’ll be working in.

Don’t breeze through reference checks. Do more than a cursory check of three referrals. Horowitz encourages clients to ask for at least 10 references, and to choose those most aligned with their industry or particular needs. Find out what worked about the relationship and what didn’t.

Don’t fall in love with one vendor. It’s a good idea to have a second choice, and let the first-choice vendor know that if the deal doesn’t work out, you have a backup. Likewise, let your second choice know that it’s next up should something go awry. Getting into renegotiations at the last minute “puts you in a huge position of weakness”, he says.

Be prepared for “scope creep”. This is the gradual introduction of requirements that weren’t part of a project’s initial planning. To minimise it, make sure there is as much clarity as possible around the scope of a service. The contract also should include arrangements for covering additional work, including the need for the vendor and client to agree to the dollar-per-hour charge and the number of hours needed. It’s also a good idea to include an arrangement for an arbitrator to resolve any disputes.

Have a plan for disclosing any outsourcing decision to employees. A vendor should be able to help you design a strategy to explain the reasons for the change well before the work is taken outside. Some firms keep the move under wraps for fear of a mass exodus. But often, employees quit en masse when they learn outsourcing has been in the works for months because they feel betrayed.

Find out how your data will be protected. Your vendor should have the same kind of security policies and procedures that you follow at your own firm including information-security audits, physical controls in the workplace and employee-background checks. Learn whether a vendor may expose customer data or your firm’s intellectual property to another vendor, such as one outside the US that may not have the level of security you would want.

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